Alsace


Wines made from gewurztraminer grapes can be so floral that they’re off-putting, like old flowers in a vase, or so sweetly ripe that they’re cloying, but find one that’s perfectly balanced and you should clasp it reverently to your bosom, especially when it’s priced as attractively as the Lucien Albrecht Reserve Gewurztraminer 2010 from Alsace. The estate was founded in 1425 and is now operated by the 18th generation.

Made all in stainless steel, the Lucien Albrecht Reserve Gewurztraminer 2010 displays a pale straw-gold color and an alluring bouquet of jasmine and honeysuckle, lychee and mango and a hint of slightly buttery and clove-inflected roasted pineapple; the final fillip is a trace of rose petal and golden raisin. This is a gleaming and (again) golden gewurztraminer which in the mouth is all ginger and quince, pears and pear nectar, though the wine is bone-dry, vibrant with crisp acidity and a piercing line of limestone-like minerality that rivets the finish to your blissful palate. Still, the texture is supple and silken, enveloping in character, and the whole package is sleek and seductive. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’16. We sipped this quite successfully one night with shrimp risotto and the next day with tuna panini. It would also be good with moderately spicy Southeast Asian cuisine. Excellent. About $20, a Great Bargain.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y. A sample for review.

Image, cropped and re-sized, from aglassafterwork.com.

Today we look at seven wines chosen to satisfy the sense of freshness and renewal that comes — or should come — with Spring. In fact, it’s gently raining in my neck o’ the woods at this moment, and all the shades of green in the backyard are pulsing with color. These are mainly delicate wines made for sipping or matching with food more refined that we consumed in Winter, what we had of that season, anyway. There’s a delightful Moscato d’Asti, two wines made in different fashions from the torrontés grape — and I deplore that fact that almost all importers have dropped the accent from torrontés — a robust little Côtes du Rhône red for when you decide to grill burgers, and so on. (I also deplore the fact that WordPress will not allow me to post Macon with a circumflex.) As usual with Friday Wine Sips, I include no technical or historical or geographical data; the idea is incisive notices designed to get at the heart of the wine quickly. The order is by ascending price. With one exception, these were samples for review.
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Callia Alta Torrontes 2011, Valle de Tulum, San Juan, Argentina. 13.5% alc. Not as shamelessly floral as many torrontés wines are, a little more restrained, even slightly astringent; but refreshing, cleansing, chaste, also quite spicy and savory; hints of lemon and lemongrass, zinging acidity and flint-like mineral elements. Screw-cap. Very Good+. About $9, a Raving Great Bargain.
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Trumpeter Torrontes 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. (Rutini Wines) 13.5% alc. Heady jasmine and honeysuckle, orange rind and lemon zest, mango and hints of tarragon and leafy fig; very spicy, very lively, lush texture balanced by crisp acidity; the finish dry, spare, focused. Very Good+. About $13, a Real Value.
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Michel Torino Malbec Rosé 2011, Calchaque Valley, Argentina. 13.5% alc. A beguiling rosy-light ruby color; strawberry and red cherry with touches of peach and rose petal; a darker note of mulberry; bright acidity with a crystalline mineral background; delightful and a little robust for a rosé, try with charcuterie or fried chicken. Very Good+. About $13, representing Good Value.
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La Petite Fontaine 2010, Côtes du Rhône, France. 14% alc. 60% grenache, 20% syrah, 15% cinsault, 5% carignan. Dark ruby color; fleshy, spiced and macerated blackberries, black currants and plums; smoke, briers and brambles, plush but somewhat rustic tannins, very earthy and minerally. Simple and direct, tasty; for burgers, grilled sausages and the like. Screw-cap. Very Good. About $13.
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Luca Bosio Moscato d’Asti 2010, Piedmont, Italy. 5.5% alc. Exactly what you want Moscato d’Asti to be: clean, fresh and lively, with notes of apple, orange and orange blossom and a hint of lime peel; mildly but persistently effervescent, a winsomely soft, cloud-like texture balanced by fleet acidity; initial sweetness that dissolves through a dry, limestone-laced finish. Truly charming. Very Good+. About $17
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Verget Terres de Pierres Macon-Village 2010, Maconnais, France. 13% alc. A lovely expression of the chardonnay grape; fresh and appealing, pineapple and grapefruit laced with jasmine and cloves, quince and ginger; very dry but juicy, sleek and svelte, borne on a tide of limestone and shale; makes you happy to be drinking it. A great choice for your house chardonnay. Very Good+. About $18. (Not a sample; I paid $22 in Memphis.)
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Trimbach Riesling 2009, Alsace, France. 13% alc. Pale straw-yellow; apple, fig and lychee, camellia, hints of pear and petrol; brings up a bit of peach and almond skin; very spicy, crisp and lively, svelte and elegant, nothing flamboyant or over-ripe; delicate flavors of roasted lemon and baked pears; long limestone-infused finish with a touch of grapefruit bitterness. Excellent. About $25.
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You have encountered, I’m sure, punishing rieslings that startle and practically scour your palate with clanging acidity, austere dryness and scintillating limestone elements. The Lucien Albrecht Riesling Reserve 2010, Alsace, is not one of those, though I admire the high-falutin’ style in a masochistic way. In fact, my first thoughts about the Albrecht was that there wasn’t much there, but the wine grew on me, and in returning to it several times over the course of a couple of days, I came to like it a great deal. The firm, founded in 1425, in now in its ninth generation of family ownership and involvement. My admonition is not to serve the Lucien Albrecht Riesling Reserve 2010 at a bone-chilling temperature; cool, yes, but not at frost-bite level (and not, please, at room temp). Give it a few moments in the glass, allow the molecules of air to mingle with the atoms of vinousness (good name for a rock band), and you will be rewarded with an irresistible bouquet — and I use that term purposely — of jasmine and honeysuckle, of ripe pear and juicy lychee with a melon back-note, and under all, the riesling grape’s requisite and intriguing touch of petrol or rubber eraser. The wine is beautifully balanced and harmonious in the mouth, with a smoothness that amounts to a golden luster — to toss a little synesthesia into the mix — artfully poised with the necessary crisp acidity and flint-like minerality that lend their sense of liveliness and tension. Flavors of baked pear and lime peel and a sort of inner spiced peach devolve to a finish that admits a trace of grapefruit bitterness. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y. A sample for review.

Remember, readers, that the focus of the 2011-2012 series of “The Twelve Days of Christmas …” is on Champagne and other French sparkling wines. Remember, also, that since this project began I have not repeated a label, so every sequence brings new recommendations. For this day, December 29 — also the Holy Day of Thomas Becket, murdered by Henry II’s knights in 1170 –our selection is the Gustave Lorentz Crémant d’Alsace, non-vintage, produced in the traditional Champagne method and a blend of one-third each chardonnay grapes, pinot blanc and pinot noir. The distinguished estate of Gustave Lorentz, founded in 1836, is still family-owned and in its seventh generation.

The color of the Gustave Lorentz Crémant d’Alsace is pale straw-gold; a dizzy fume of tiny bubbles surges upward. This sparkling wine is appealingly fresh, clean and brisk; hints of apples and pears are woven with roasted lemon and lemon balm and touches of quince and crystallized ginger. In the mouth, notably crisp acidity pairs with a scintillating mineral element; it feels as if you’re drinking liquid limestone. Naturally there’s considerable austerity through the finish, but this is primarily a completely delightful Cremant d’Alsace, high-toned and taut in structure but expansive in spicy citrus flavors. A terrific aperitif served with almonds and cashews or goat cheese and a great foil to charcuterie. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $26.

Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Cal. A sample for review.

Last night LL made a damned amazing pasta dish using the recipe for salt and pepper seared shrimp from Sally Schneider’s The Art of Low-Calorie Cooking (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1990; large-format paperback edition 1993), a book we have cooked from so many times that the pages are coming loose and the recipes are spotted and stained; try to track it down. (The page with the “Cajun Meat Loaf” recipe actually has a curiously shaped smear of blood, like a clue in an Agatha Christie mystery novel; “I say, Poirot, look at this curiously shaped smear of blood in this cookery book! And what the devil is Cajun?”) Anyway, LL had made pesto from a bunch of basil we brought home from the Memphis Farmers Market on Saturday, and she tossed the pesto and the spicy, peppery shrimp with whole grain fettuccine (also from the MFM); that was it, brother, and it was great.

I opened a bottle of the Hugel “Hugel” Gewurztraminer 2008, from Alsace, and was glad that I did, because the spicy element in the wine — “gewurz” means, and is almost onomonopaeic for, “spicy” — and its vivid acidity proved to be a good foil for the dish, while its intensely floral and fruity qualities acted as a sort of congenial buffer. The “Hugel” designation indicates that the wine is part of the ancient estate’s “Classic” line of wines, and by ancient I mean founded in 1639. Grapes for these “Classic” wines derive either from estate vineyards or local vineyards under long-term contract. The wine opens with gentle whiffs of ripe peach and pear over a mild note of lychee; a few minutes in the glass bring out hints of quince and yellow plum, honeysuckle and rose petal and undercurrents of cloves, allspice and Evening in Paris, the perfume in the blue bottle we all used to buy at the local drugstore for Mother’s Day. The description so far makes the wine sound like a simple sort of an attractive, even seductive “don’t-bother-your-pretty-little-head” wine, but in the mouth matters get a bit more assertive as the spicy character gains momentum, the shimmering acidity and limestone-like minerality take control, and the wine turns itself willingly over to its structural components. Not that there’s not plenty of supple, suave apple, peach and pear flavors available for your pleasure, all of this devolving to a finely-knit, spicy, mineral-inflected finish. Not acutely intense — you would have to go back to 2006 for that — but very tasty and satisfying. 13 percent alcohol. Currently, the 2009 version of this wine is on the market, while the 2007, which you can still find in pockets around the country, is drinking very nicely and is likely discount-priced. Very Good+. Prices range ludicrously, as in from about $18 to $28, with most falling into the $22 to $25 point.
Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York. A sample for review.

Sipping a rosé wine with my cheese toast for lunch is from a view-point more of hope than practicality, since today in my neck o’ the woods the sky is gray, rain is falling relentlessly and the temperature is far below normal. This in addition to the fact that Ol’ Man River is higher than flood stage and its streams and tributaries are in full-flood, driving people in low-lying areas away from their homes and businesses. Matters look fairly serious in the Mid-South, so call it an act of optimism that I broach the Gustave Lorentz Le Rosé 2009, a 100 percent pinot noir rose wine from Alsace. This, friends, is classic. While most of the rosés we drink this summer will be from 2010, don’t neglect the 2009s, many of which are drinking splendidly now, with a bit of added flesh and heft to them. The Gustave Lorentz Le Rosé 2009 is delightful and elegant. The color is exactly what one wants from a rose, a shade of copper slightly darker than the traditional onion skin, a hue a bit more salmon-like than what’s called “eye of the partridge”; how about pale topaz shimmered with tarnished silver? I think you get the idea. So: dried raspberries and red currants, a hint of watermelon, a rosé of stones and bones yet almost juicy with its red fruit and stone-fruit flavors (there’s a touch of peach) and late lavings of mint, lavender and dried Provencal herbs underlain by a modest yet appropriate amount of limestone-like minerality. Spare, sleek and (did I say this before) elegant yet so damned tasty. Yeah, you could just drink it by the freakin’ gallon! (But don’t!) Through September or October this year. 12.5 percent alcohol. I rarely rate rosé wines Excellent, but here goes: Excellent! About $20.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa Cal. A sample for review, as I am required to state by the FCC.

Weary of winter’s woe? In my neck o’ the woods, we’re heading into balmier weather — though at this moment some attempt in the sky is being made to fling down a few rain-drops — but I see from my Facebook friends in other parts of the country that cold temperatures and even snow continue to prevail. Perhaps one or several of these fresh, spring-like wines — eight white and one rosé — will lift your spirits and set your minds on a more pleasant path.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Broadbent Vinho Verde, nv, is made from the traditional grapes of Portugal’s Vinho Verde region, loureiro (50%, in this case), trajadura (40%) and pedernã (10%). The wines are typically bottled with a fritz of carbon dioxide to give them a sprightly hint of spritz, and this lively example is no different. The Broadbent VV, made all in stainless steel, is fresh, crisp and exhilarating, with touches of roasted lemon and lemon balm, thyme and bay and a bit of hay-like grassiness; it’s quite dry and snappy with vigorous acidity and a background of chalk, but all very light, delicate and free. Delightful for immediate drinking and an attractive aperitif. 9 percent alcohol. Very good. About $11.
The Vinho Verde region lies mainly to the north but also to the east and southeast of the city of Oporto in northern Portugal; in fact, one drives through Vinho Verde to reach the Port country of the Douro Valley, passing from the light-hearted to the sublime.
Imported by Broadbent Selections, San Francisco.
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“Lucky Edition” #9 is actually the 13th release of Sokol Blosser’s cleverly conceived, made, marketed and, one assumes, profitable Evolution series of blended white wines, though since the premise is partly based on the notion of luck, well, they couldn’t put the bad luck number 13 on the label, could they? So the “#9″ pays homage to the array of grapes of which the wine is composed: these are: pinot gris, muller-thurgau, “white” riesling (the great majority of producers just use “riesling” now on labels), semillon, muscat canelli, gewürztraminer, pinot blanc, chardonnay and sylvaner. The wine carries an “American” designation because the grapes derive from several states; in that case, also, no vintage date is allowed by the TTB, that is, the federal Trade ‘n’ Tax Bureau that oversees label terminology. Anyway, Evolution “Lucky Edition” #9 — which I wrote about before yet this is the bottle that was sent to me recently (O.K., several months ago) — is about as beguiling as they come, brothers and sisters, wafting in the direction of your nose a winsome weaving of jasmine and honeysuckle, ripe peaches and pears, lychee and guava imbued with loads of spice; the wine is gently sweet on the entry but by mid-palate it turns quite dry and crisp, with a taut, rather spare texture running through juicy roasted lemon, pear and lime peel flavors devolving to a limestone-and-chalk-laced finish awash with bracing grapefruit acidity. Drink up. A pretty damned lovely aperitif and, at the risk of triteness, great with moderately spicy Asian food. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
(Evolution 14th Edition is now on the market.)
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“Sauvignon blanc” says the label of The Climber Sauvignon Blanc 2009, California, but the rule is that for a non-estate-produced wine, the proportion of the grape stated on the label need only be 75 percent, so this is 80 percent sauvignon blanc. What’s the balance? Thirteen percent pinot gris, 5 percent riesling and 1 percent each pinot meunier (seldom seen outside of Champagne) and muscat. These grapes derive from Lake and Mendocino counties and from Lodi. The color is pale straw; first one perceives leafy, grassy aromas permeated by dried thyme and tarragon, and then pungent earthy notes followed by a flagrantly appealing parade of roasted lemon and lemon balm, pear and melon and tangerine. In the mouth, we get pear and melon jazzed with lemon drop, lime peel and grapefruit; the wine is quite dry, quite crisp and lively, though crackling acidity cannot quell a lovely, soft, encompassing texture. The wine is made all in stainless steel, with no malolactic fermentation, to retain freshness and vitality. 13.7 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12.
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Most producers in California label their sauvignon blanc wines either sauvignon blanc, implying a Bordeaux-style white wine, or fumé blanc, a term invented by Robert Mondavi in the mid 1960s to indicate, theoretically, a Loire Valley-style sauvignon blanc in the fashion of Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé. Murphy-Goode has it both ways with “The Fumé” Sauvignon Blanc 2009, confirming what many people assumed long ago, and that there is no differentiation between whatever was once meant by the two designations. Anyway, the Murphy-Goode “The Fumé” Sauvignon Blanc 2009, North Coast, bursts with florid notes of caraway and tarragon and thyme, lemongrass, lime peel and grapefruit with a hint of dusty shale and grassy leafiness; quite a performance, nose-wise. (There’s a dollop of semillon in the wine.) Then, the wine is crisp, dry, snappy, sprightly, scintillating with vivacious acidity and limestone elements that support lemon and lime flavors with a high peal of leafy black currant at the center. Through the 2007 vintage, this wine carried an Alexander Valley appellation but now displays the much broader North Coast designation. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12.50.
Founded in 1985 in Alexander Valley by Dale Goode, Tim Murphy and Dave Ready, Murphy-Goode has been owned since 2006 by Jackson Family Wines of Kendall-Jackson.
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The Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec 2010, Mendoza, Argentina — produced by Dominio del Plata — sports an entrancing watermelon/cerise color that practically shimmers in the glass. This smells like pure strawberry for a moment or two, until subtle hints of raspberry, melon and red currant sneak in, pulling in, shyly, notes of damp stones and slightly dusty dried herbs. This pack surprising heft for a rosé, though it remains a model of delicacy as far as its juicy red fruit flavors are concerned. It’s quite dry, a rose of stones and bones, with a finish drawn out in Provencal herbs, shale and cloves. Drink up. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very good+. Prices around the country range from about $10 to $14.
Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, Cal.
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The Hugel et Fils “Cuvée Les Amours” Pinot Blanc 2008, Alsace, represents stunning value. The bouquet is ripe and exotic, even a little fleshy for a white wine, with notes of spiced and macerated peaches and pears, a hint of lemon and camellia and touches of ginger and quince. The wine — and this is Hugel’s basic “Hugel” line made from grapes purchased on long-term contract — offers a supple, silken, almost talc-like texture shot through with exciting acidity and a vibrant limestone element that burgeons from mid-palate back through a crisp, spicy, herb-infused finish. There’s something wild here, a high note of fennel and tangerine, a clean spank of earthiness that contributes to the wine’s depth and confident aplomb. “Cuvée Les Amours” 2008 should age and mellow nicely, well-stored, through 2015 or ’16. Alcohol content is 12 percent. Excellent. About — ready? — $15.
Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York.
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Here’s another wine that’s a combination of multiple grapes. The Peter Lehmann Layers White Wine 2010, from Australia’s Adelaide region, is blended from semillon (37%), muscat (20.5%), gewürztraminer (19.5%), pinot gris (19%) and chardonnay (4%). Made all in stainless steel, the wine offers a shimmering pale straw color; aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, lemon balm and lemon curd, greengage and yellow plums and peaches entice the nose, opening to slightly leafy and grassy elements and a hint of bee’s-wax. The wine is delicate, clean and crisp and to the citrus and yellow fruit adds traces of tangerine and pear, with, in the spicy, stony finish, a boost of grapefruit bitterness. Completely charming, a harbinger of spring’s easy-sipping aperitif wines or sip with asparagus risotto, chicken salad, and white gazpacho, made with bread, grapes,cucumbers, almonds, olive oil and garlic. 11.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $18.
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The Tesch Riesling-Unplugged 2008, a trocken or dry wine from Germany’s Nahe region, embodies what we mean by the term “pure minerality.” (The estate, by the way, dates back to 1723, which is venerable but not as old as Hugel, which was founded in 1639.) Every molecule of this wine feels permeated by limestone and shale, even its hints of peach and pear and touches of yellow plum and lychee; every molecule of this wine feels permeated by nervy, electrifying acidity, as if you could take its staggeringly crisp, pert nature in your hands and break it into sharp-edged shards. It might as well have the words “fresh oysters” etched into its transparently crystalline presence. The restrictive term Gutsabfüllung on the back label means that the wine was bottled by the producer; the more common usage is Erzaugerabfüllung. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Alcohol content is 11.5 percent. Very Good+. About $20.
Sorry, I can’t find the name of the U.S. importer for wines from Tesch, but the Riesling-Unplugged 2008 is available in this country.
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I was a fan of the 2007 version of Swanson’s Pinot Gris — I didn’t taste the 2008 — and I was equally pleased with the Swanson Pinot Grigio 2009, Napa Valley. Made completely in stainless steel, this is smooth and suave, freighted with spice and touches of roasted lemon and lemon balm, lemongrass, lychee and, in the background, a hint of softly macerated peach and the grape’s characteristic notes of almond and almond blossom. Bright, vibrant acidity keeps the wine, well, bright and vibrant, suitable support for cleanly-defined pear and melon flavors ensconced in a slightly weighty body that deftly combines lean, transparent muscularity with a silken blur of spice and dried herbs. Terrific character for a sort of northeastern Italian-styled pinot grigio, though not many from that area are nearly this good. 13.6 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $21.
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Last night LL made what is probably the best risotto I have ever eaten. And since the wine I chose to match this paragon of ricely beatitude was smack-dab on the money, we had a pretty damned perfect meal.

It was one of those nights of looking around the kitchen, the refrigerator and the cabinets to see what was on hand. We had about a cup of leftover diced butternut squash, so LL broiled that until the pieces had nice blackened edges. She sauteed some chopped shallot and then a few sliced hen-of-the-wood mushrooms, stirred in the rice and some white wine, let the wine evaporate and then began the process of slowly incorporating the chicken broth, a ladleful at a time. Toward the end, she folded in the butternut squash and a handful of chopped parsley and then — pure genius! — about a tablespoon of white miso to give the dish a deep, savory bass note. Readers, it was wonderful, with layers of complementary yet slightly contrasting scents and flavors bound in the creamy, not quite chewy rice.

I opened a bottle of the Hugel “Classic” Pinot Gris 2006, from the venerable firm of Hugel et Fils, founded in the town of Riquewihr in Alsace in 1639. The grapes derive from nearby vineyards secured by the family through long-term contracts and also from a selection of declassified grapes from Grand Cru vineyards on the Hugel estate. The Hugel “Classic” Pinot Gris 2006 is made all in stainless steel and sees no oak. The wine is a lovely medium straw-gold color with a faint green cast. Subtle aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, quince and pear, crystallized ginger and a back-note of woody spices are woven with a strand of smoke and baked apple. In the mouth, the wine is satiny and mellow, slightly honeyed in aspect yet completely dry, with flavors of apple and nectarine and a hint of green grapes, all enveloped in a spicy, smoky haze that opens to a touch of barely mossy earthiness. The texture feels almost cloud-like, and the acidity, while lively enough for some vivacity, is soft and accommodating. What a treat! And the synergy with the risotto was amazing! And I’m using too many exclamation points! Drink now through 2013 to ’15, well-stored. 13.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About — here’s the clincher — $15, though you see prices on the Internet as high as $24; somebody’s making a killing. A Raving Bargain.

Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York. A sample for review.

Why “The 12 Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine”?

For fun, of course. Because I love Champagne and sparkling wine in all their categorical imperatives. Because I adore certain kinds of old traditions, such as the sequence of 12 days that leads from the solemnity of Christmas to the revels of Twelfth Night — that’s tonight –and the Epiphany, the day, according to ancient beliefs, on which the Three Kings arrived at Bethlehem. (The Kings, or Wise Men, were my favorite Christmas characters.) Of course end of the old year/beginning of the new year festivities extend back in history to the Roman Saturnalia and other ceremonies, riotous or not, that celebrate the glimmer of longer days and the foretaste of the coming Spring.

My favorite comedy by Shakespeare is Twelfth Night; or What You Will (to give the full title), a play, written indeed as a Twelfth Night entertainment, that in its witty and touching chronicle of love and loss, mistaken identity and discovery, foolishness and wisdom, pomposity and common sense, malice and miracle exactly captures the spirit of an occasion on which, in Medieval and Renaissance England, people disguised themselves and indulged in fits of merrymaking, feasting, drinking and dancing.

Perhaps the connection of Twelfth Night and sparkling wine is tenuous, but, after all, sparkling wine and Champagne are without doubt the most festive of beverages, and in honor of that conceit, I offer a roster of sparkling wines from around the world that would be appropriate for many, perhaps all, occasions.

These wines were samples for review. Three Wise Men images from mcleananddeakin.com
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Lambrusco got a bad rep in the 1960s and ’70s with the ubiquitous “Chill a Cella” television ads. This essential wine of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, however, is bone-dry, not sweet and sticky, and made to match the rich, hearty indigenous cuisine. As a matter of fact, as I’m writing this entry about the Albinea Canali Ottocentonero, Lambrusco dell’Emilia, I’m sipping a glass of the deep purple/magenta/beet colored stuff with my quite savory and spicy cheese toast. Marked “Sept 2010″ on the back label, the Ottocentonero is lightly sparkling, what in Italy is called frizzante (as opposed to the full-sparkling spumante), a sort of pink tickle-and-tease. A gamay-ish nose of black currants and black cherries contains hints of bubble gum and roses and surprisingly dusty shale-like minerality. There’s a lightness of being here that belies the dark intensity of the wine’s color and broad spicy component, yet it’s well-balanced by ripe black fruit flavors, titillating acidity and a touch of astringency on the finish. Charming but with an obsidian edge. The grapes are 50 percent lambrusco salamino, 40 percent lambrusco grasparossa and 10 percent lancelotta. Very Good+. About $16.

VB Imports, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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The Col Vetoraz Valdobbiadene Prosecco Brut, marked 2009 on the back label, is a superior expression of the prosecco grape. The color is pale gold permeated by scads of tiny bubbles. Pop the cork, and you immediately smell apples, lemons and pears, followed by almond blossom, almond skin and a touch of orange zest. This is a very dry, crisp and steely prosecco whose exuberant effervescence makes for a lively and lovely quaff. Very Good+. About $16.

Imported by Montacastelli Selections, New York.
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The package on the Segura Viudas Brut Reserve Heredad Cava is so ludicrous that’s it’s almost sweet. With its elaborate pewter emblem and carved pewter base, the bottle looks like the Great Seal of the Duchy of Flabbergastan. On the other hand, this is an interesting expression of the Cava style of Spain’s Alt Penedes region. Composed of 67 percent macabeo and 33 percent parellada, traditional grapes for Cava, the first impressions are of a beautiful medium gold color, an absolute froth of bubbles and a sense of buoyancy. This is bright, fruity and savory, with an intriguing (or slightly odd) muscat/riesling-like petrol aroma wreathed with lime, lemon curd and jasmine. In the mouth, this sparkling wine is dry and crisp, smoky and steely, with a sort of dried fruit compote element before a limestone-laced, austere finish. Very Good+. About $25.

Imported by Friexenet USA, Sonoma, Cal.
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Australians have a fetish about sparkling shiraz, which I first tried in the Antipodes in 1998 and thought that it tasted like sparkling blood, not to put you off or anything. Indeed, there’s a meaty, beefy quality about sparkling shiraz that the Paringa Sparkling Shiraz 2008, South Australia, embodies handily. The color is, inevitably, very dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; that darkness pretty much conceals the effervescence, though tiny purple bubbles gather at the wine’s rim in the glass, and of course you feel that liveliness and sort of brooding dynamism on your tongue. This is deep and rich, very spicy, packed with ripe, dusty, crepuscular black cherry and blackberry flavors that feel dense and fleshy; a few minutes in the glass bring up notes of walnuts and thyme. Still, the wine is neither heavy nor obvious, even managing to evince some delicacy of tone. It is very dry. No winsome aperitif sparkling wine, this demands food as large-framed as it is. Very Good+. About — ready? — $10, a Raving Bargain.

Imported by Quinessential, Napa, Cal.
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The Lucien Albrecht Blanc de Blancs Brut, Cremant d’Alsace, made from 100 percent pinot blanc grapes, is completely delightful. The color is pale straw; a flurry of tiny bubbles surges up to the surface, like a reverse snow dome. Aromas of apple and pear permeated by cloves and a hint of spiced peach are deftly circumscribed by elements of limestone and steel. Flavors of baked apple and roasted lemon circulate in the mouth, almost caressed by a supple texture that’s fleetly enlivened (and nicely balanced) by acidity of staggering crispness and cool limestone-like minerality. The entire effect is of purity, intensity, electricity and, ultimately, lovely elegance in temper and tone. Great stuff. Excellent. About $25.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y. Image from redwhiteandfood.blogspot.com

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Here’s another blanc de blancs, separated from Alsace by distance, style and grape variety. The Iron Horse Blanc de Blancs 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County, is made from 100 percent chardonnay grapes, 35 percent of which go through barrel fermentation. The color is very pale shivery blond-gold; the surging gold-flecked bubbles are hypnotic. Yes, this evokes all the green apple and pear, limestone and steel one expects from a blanc de blancs, but adds flourishes of fresh biscuits and cookie dough, almond skin and almond blossom, with traces of roasted lemon and a distant waft of mango; sort of a thrilling bouquet. In the mouth, however, this sparkling wine is very dry, very crisp, very high-toned; a hint of roasted almonds and lightly buttered cinnamon toast bring a touch of winsomeness to the hauteur. I don’t mean the last sentence in a critical spirit; I love these Alpine sparkling wines and Champagnes and their aching sense of being above it all. Production was 1,550 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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We drank the Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé, Crémant d’Alsace, with yesterday’s Christmas lunch: country ham and eggs, grit, biscuits and red-eye gravy. Not the fare of Alsace, perhaps, but appropriate for the American South and the traditional Christmas meal in the FK/LL household. Made in the “champagne method” of second fermentation in the bottle — thus producing the all-important bubbles in the bottle in which it will be sold — the product represents a regional interpretation of a sparkling wine made completely from pinot noir grapes. The Albrecht family has been growing grapes and making wine in Alsace in an unbroken line since 1425, though the company was founded in 1698; the cellar dates to 1772 and holds huge barrels that are 175 years old and more.

Sporting a pale copper-sunset color, the Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé, Crémant d’Alsace, seems at first to embody the essence of fresh, macerated strawberries. Then, no, it must be the influence of dried red currants. But wait, is it not dominated by ripe peaches with an undertow of melon? These attractive and tasty notes flow together seamlessly in lovely appeal, bolstered by considerable minerality in the limestone-damp shale range and by assertive acidity that both stimulates and quenches thirst, keeping the wine crisp and lively, though the texture is more silken than sprightly. Exquisitely charming, and capable of not only lubricating the meal but cutting through some of its richness and the bracing saltiness of the excellent country ham. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. Prices range from $16 to $20.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y. A sample for review.

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