Chardonnay


Here’s a festive way to celebrate the advent of 2014, with the Laetitia Brut Rose 2009, from Arroyo Grande Valley, a small American Viticultural Area in San Luis Obispo County. A blend of 32 percent pinot noir and 68 percent chardonnay grapes, this sparkling wine spent three years in the bottle, resting on the lees to develop complexity. The color is very pale but radiant copper-onion skin, and the stream of tiny bubbles is robust and engaging. In fact, the Laetitia Brut Rose 2009 is robust in structure and liveliness, a fresh and attractive amalgam of strawberry and raspberry notes wreathed with orange zest, lime peel and an undertone of melon and sour cherry; limestone minerality provides foundation and tingling acidity forms a vibrant backbone. The long and resonant finish is packed with cloves, red currants and a hint of chalk, all enveloped in vital effervescence. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,571 cases. Drink through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $28.

Tasted at the winery on April 26, 2013; tasted subsequently as a sample for review.

I love blanc de blancs Champagne, made completely from chardonnay grapes — “blanc de blancs” means “white from whites” — for its elegance and ethereal nature, its tinselly decor and tensile strength, its taut nervosity built on intense minerality. One of the best I have tried recently is the nonvintage Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Brut, and I offer it today as the sixth entry in the current series of “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine.” Holy cow, we’re halfway through the sequence! Time’s a-wastin’! Anyway, Champagne Delamotte was established in 1760 in the village of Mesnil-sur-Oger, what is now a prestigious area devoted solely to Grand Cru vineyards. Delamotte is owned by Champagne Laurent-Perrier, and as such is a sister house to Champagne Salon, one of the greatest, rarest and most expensive of all Champagnes. Our purpose, however, is to look at the more affordable and accessible Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Brut. The color is palest gold with undertones of tarnished silver; a storm of tiny bubbles races swirling to the surface. This is all smoke and steel, limestone and flint, but with notes of jasmine and acacia, spiced pear, lime peel and grapefruit and a chilly errant hint of mint and juniper. A few minutes in the glass bring up touches of biscuits, lightly buttered cinnamon toast, roasted lemon; for all the richness of its detail, this blanc de blancs is ethereal, evanescent, high-toned yet based on the essential vitality of crisp acidity and slightly earthy stoniness. As it’s said of the faces of the Hepburn girls — Katharine and Audrey — this Champagne has great bones. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $40 to $68 — yes, that’s quite a range — so be happy if you pay $50 to $55.

Imported by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala. A sample for review.

My Readers can probably tell by the Italian words in the title of this post that we’re back in Italy for the Fifth Day of Christmas, specifically in Lombardy, where we find the sparkling wine region of Franciacorta, about halfway between the cities of Bergamo to the northwest and Brescia to the southeast. These products are made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. Franciacorta was accorded the official status of DOCG — Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita — in 1995. The Montenisa estate has been in the hands of the Conti Maggi family since the late 16th Century. In 1999, the Maggi family entered an agreement with Marchesi Antinori of Tuscany to share in the operation of the vineyards. Montenisa Brut is composed of chardonnay and pinot bianco grapes with a touch of pinot noir. The grapes are fermented partly in stainless steel tanks and partly in oak barriques; after second fermentation, the wine rests on the lees for 30 months. The color is pale gold, and the fountain of bubbles forms a gratifying torrent in the glass. Montenisa Brut is fresh and clean with notes of apple and spiced pear and hints of yeasty bread and roasted lemon, lime peel and grapefruit. This is a zesty, vibrant, savory and botanical sparkling wine — I mean by botanical slightly minty and floral — with a prominent background of limestone and flint minerality for a lithe and elegant structure, though it does not stint on subtle ripeness and a sense of moderately mouth-filling lushness. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $35.

Imported by Ste Michelle Wine Estates. A sample for review.

I would drink Champagne every day if I could afford it — or if importers would send me samples, I mean, come on! — and the Champagnes I love best are brut rosé and blanc de blancs. For the Fourth Day of Christmas, I offer a superb brut rosé, the Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé 2004. The trend now is to favor small family growers and champagne-makers — also called artisan or farmer Champagnes — over the large established houses, and it’s true that grower Champagne can deliver a sense of individuality and terroir-driven authenticity that the large houses sometimes gloss over. It’s also true, however, that with their sometimes vast supplies of reserve wines, their long-term contracts in excellent vineyards and their decades, if not centuries of experience and tradition, the major houses can turn out enviably great and highly desirable products of depth and complexity. Such a one is the Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé 2004, a blend of 45 percent pinot noir grapes, 31 percent chardonnay and 24 percent pinot meunier. The color is radiant coral that’s almost opalescent, and it’s energized by startlingly brisk and abundant effervescence; my thought was, “How can a fragile glass how these bubbles?” This is a generous and expansive brut rosé, layered with notes of cloves and orange zest, strawberries and raspberries, biscuits and toasted hazelnuts with a hint of tangerine and a sort of dusty peach. The pinot noir and pinot meunier lend a feeling of red wine graphite, almost of a subtly tannic character, while the chardonnay delivers subversive elements of limestone and grapefruit. This is, in other words, simultaneously substantial and ethereal, earthy and elegant, with an extended finish that’s chiseled and crystalline. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $80.

Imported by Moët-Hennessey USA, New York. A sample for review.

Today is Boxing Day, so don’t forget to take all those mounds of Christmas present boxes out to the curb for the garbage trucks or for recycling.

Back on the “7th Day of Christmas” in 2010, which happened to be New Year’s Eve, I mentioned the Champagne Rosé Premier Cru de Veuve Fourny et Fils Vertus Brut, made by a small family-run house, founded in 1856, in the village of Vertus. This producer uses only grapes from sustainably-farmed Premier Cru vineyards. Today it’s the turn of one of that previous wine’s stablemates, the Veuve Fourny & Fils Grande Réserve Premier Cru Brut, a combination of 80 percent chardonnay grapes and 20 percent pinot noir that aged two-and-a-half years in bottle before release. Boy, this is a super attractive Champagne, both elegant and dynamic, just the way I like them. The color is shimmering pale gold, shot through by a splurge of tiny glancing bubbles. Notes of roasted lemon, grapefruit rind, toasted hazelnuts and cloves are highlighted by wood-smoke, ginger and quince and a hint of cinnamon toast. Lovely poise, tension and tone here, with the authority of brisk acidity and the dimension of chiseled limestone minerality, a dry, savory and saline Champagne that finishes with a tinge of mineral austerity. I could drink this every day. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $35 to $50; I paid in the upper reach of that scale.

Kermit Lynch Imports, Berkeley, Calif.


It took the insight of Argentine winemaker Nicolas Catena to understand that chardonnay vineyards could be planted at high altitudes and produce excellent grapes. From the Andean areas of Lujan de Cuyo and Tupungato, grape-growing regions of Mendoza, and family vineyards at heights ranging from about 3,100 to 4,700 feet, comes the Catena High Mountain Vines Chardonnay 2012, from Bodega Catena Zapata, a wine that spent 10 months in French oak barrels, 35 percent of which were new. The color is radiant medium gold. Aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit, with a hint of peach and mango, are wreathed with cloves, lime peel, wet stones and a touch of buttered toast; a few moments in the glass bring out notes of jasmine and lilac. This chardonnay is distinguished by its deeply spicy nature and a lovely, seductive texture that perfectly balances the muscle and bone of limestone minerality and bright acidity with an almost cloud-like, talc-y softness. The wine picks up sinew as it goes, with a close to tannic effect, and builds to a conclusion of tremendous presence, tone and character. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Winemaker was Alejandro Vigil. Excellent. About $20, a Bargain to Shiver Your Timbers.

Imported by Winebow, Inc., New York. A sample for review.

LL made pappardelle with chanterelles; I opened the Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Ka-wham! Synergy. Meeting of true minds. Cosmic twins. Sublime dish with a divine wine. I could probably stop there, but you know I won’t. The wine is made from a high-elevation dry-farmed — that means no irrigation — vineyard planted 39 years ago. What’s remarkable is that the wines went through complete barrel-fermentation and aged in 100 percent new French oak barrels, yet it retains no sense of being woody or over-oaked or stridently spicy; those excellent mature grapes soaked up that oak and came out as a supple, subtly spicy and deeply nuanced chardonnay. The color is brilliant medium gold; aromas of pineapple, grapefruit and roasted lemon carry notes of jasmine and camellia, a hint of cloves, a bell-tone of mango. The wine is unusually dense and substantial without being heavy or viscous; it’s quite dry, almost tannic in effect, but it feels permeated with light and grace and elegance. a lithe and resonant construct of stones and bones, which is to say, abandoning metaphor, that it’s thoroughly enlivened by bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. The Smith brothers do it again. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 463 cases. Drink now through 2021 to ’23. Exceptional. About $30, a price more than fair for the quality.

This wine was a sample for review.


The holiday season stretching from Thanksgiving to Twelfth Night, with Christmas and New Years monumental stops on the road, is almost upon us. If you’re looking for a house sparkling wine that’s far better than cheap tank-generated sparklers but nothing as expensive and thought-provoking as the more luxurious examples from California and Champagne, here’s a candidate. The Laetitia Brut Cuvée, a nonvintage sparkling wine from San Luis Obispo County’s Arroyo Grande Valley, is a blend of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot blanc grapes, produced in the traditional champagne method by a winery noted for its precisely made single-vineyard pinot noirs. The color is pale gold with a slight shimmer of silver in the upward surge of tiny bubbles. This feels like steel and snow, biscuits and lemon curd, apples and pears, with cloves and almond skin in the background and a foundation of scintillating limestone. A few moments in the glass bring in notes of tangerine and grapefruit, the whole package enlivened by crisp and vibrant acidity. Laetitia Brut Cuvée spend 24 months en tirage – no, not triage — that is, two years in the bottle resting on the lees of the yeast cells and touch of sugar that stimulated the second fermentation. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 3,600 cases. Thoroughly enjoyable and engaging, close to elegant. Very Good+. About $25.

A sample for review.

Almost 50 years after its founding in 1965, on a property purchased in 1862 by Jacob Schram, it has become a cliche that Schramsberg is one of the leading producers of sparkling wine in California and that Jack and Jamie Davies, both deceased, were pioneering visionaries in the field, especially in Napa Valley. Cliche or not, however, under the leadership of Jack and Jamie’s son Hugh — winemaker along with Keith Hock — the Schramsberg winery continues to produce world-class sparkling wine using the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. It was a pleasure to taste — nay, drink — these three examples of the Schramsberg line sent to me as review samples. My notes follow. Each of these, or all of them, would make ideal additions to your roster of Yuletide and New Year libations.
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The Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut 2010, North Coast, is made completely from chardonnay grapes — “white from white” — that derive from these North Coast counties: Napa 60 percent, Sonoma 37 percent, Marin 2 percent and Mendocino 1 percent. The color is shimmering pale gold; the effervescence is exuberant and persistent. Notes of roasted lemon and lemon balm are highlighted by quince and ginger, hints of lime peel and grapefruit, freshly baked bread and limestone. This sparkling wine is bright and crisp on the palate, with tingling acidity that buoys a lovely, almost creamy texture that nonetheless is characterized by lithe and lively and slightly angular minerality. The overall effect is of balletic elegance and finely-wrought stones and bones. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The composition of the Schramberg Blanc de Noirs Brut 2009 — “white from black” — is 87 percent pinot noir and 13 percent chardonnay; the North Coast county components are 34 percent Sonoma, 32 percent Napa, 26 percent Mendocino and 8 percent Marin. Pale gold in color, this sparkling wine features a constant stream of tiny silvery shivery bubbles; the initial impression is clean and fresh, with aromas of slightly macerated strawberries and raspberries, lightly buttered cinnamon toast with cloves and candied orange rind. These elements persist into the flavor profile, where the wine takes on degrees of earthy, flinty minerality and notably crisp acidity, arrayed in a spare, elegant body for a high-toned character. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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Last of this trio is my favorite, the Schramsberg Brut Rosé 2009, a blend of 70 percent pinot noir and 30 percent chardonnay, with North Coast contributions of 44 percent Sonoma, 28 percent Napa, 24 percent Mendocino and 4 percent Marin counties. The color is old rose-gold enlivened by an upward surge of tiny glinting bubbles. Aromas of dried red currants and raspberries carry hints of peach, orange rind and a touch of tropical fruit, all enveloped in limestone; a few minutes in the glass add notes of pomegranate and biscuits. This sparkling wine is juicy but very dry, a tissue of delicate nuance, spare and elegant, wrapped in a fleet-footed expression of bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality; its elegance does not belie a sense of tautness and urgency. A beautifully-wrought brut rosé. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $43.
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The sparkling wine from Italy that most American consumers are familiar with is Prosecco, made in a specific area of the Veneto region from the glera grape in the bulk Charmat process. Prosecco tends to be simple, tasty, with notes of apples and almond blossoms, and often fairly sweet, though the best examples imported to this country are increasingly dry. Another area of Italy produces sparkling wine that deserves attention, however, and that’s Franciacorta, in Lombardy, where the sparkling wines use not only the traditional champagne method but the typical chardonnay and pinot noir grapes of the Champagne region. These are sparkling wines of real character that make Prosecco and other Italian sparklers look like mere bagatelles. Not that there’s anything wrong with mere bagatelles; sometimes they fill a necessary place in life. My recommendation today, Wednesday, is the Satèn Lo Sparviere non-vintage Franciacorta from the producer Gussalli Beretta. Made completely from chardonnay grapes, this sparkling wine, which fermented 80 percent in stainless steel and 20 percent in large casks, offers a pale gold color with a gentle surge of tiny glinting silver bubbles. The initial effect is clean, fresh and energetic; aromas of roasted lemon, jasmine, ginger and quince and lightly buttered cinnamon toast are delicate and fine-spun, while the whole package, though enlivened by dynamic acidity, is dry, elegant and high-toned, with great bones and a whip-lash limestone spine. 13 percent alcohol. We drank this delightful Franciacorta over several nights as aperitif with various snacks and appetizers. Excellent. About $22, a Steal, and a terrific addition to restaurant and bar by-the-glass programs.

Imported by Siema Wines, Springfield, Va. A sample for review.

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