Sparkling Wine


So, what is “pet-nat”? Besides being a cute nickname. These of-the-moment sparkling wines, the darlings of astute somms — pétillant-naturel in French — exist at the basic level of making sparkling wine, less complicated than the méthode champenoise, more rustic in effect, yet often delicious and appealing. An added factor is that they seem the epitome of naturalness in winemaking. Simply stated: Wine is bottled before fermentation is complete, so that fermentation continues in the bottle (because of the residual sugar) and carbon dioxide forms: i.e, bubbles. The result is a light sparkling wine, often but not always slightly sweet, that tends to leave sediment as a mark of its down-to-earth character.

Today, we look at two examples of single-vineyard pét-nat sparklers from Onward Wines, fashioned in small quantities by winemaker Faith Armstrong Foster. These examples are bone-dry, spare and subtle, not as robust or complex as Champagne yet delivering very satisfying character of their own, with an unmistakable quality of authenticity and integrity.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Onward Wines Sparkling Rose of Pinot Noir 2016, Redwood Valley, offers a pale coral-onion skin hue and delicate scents of blood orange and watermelon, sea foam and heather; mild effervescence keeps the wine gently but persistently animated. Traces of fresh, yeasty bread and lime peel highlight the nose and the palate, where lithe acidity drives through notes of dried red currants and the slight bitterness of grapefruit rind, all of these elements expressed with spare elegance, lovely balance and a touch of reticence. 12.1 percent alcohol. Production was 174 cases. Excellent. About $30.

Redwood Valley is a small American Viticultural Area (AVA), approved in 1996, in northern Mendocino County.
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The color of the Onward Wines Sparkling Malvasia Bianca 2016, Suisun Valley, is pale platinum blond, a Jean Harlow hue, made lively by a steady stream of tiny bubbles; it’s made 100 percent from malvasia bianca grapes, which lend the wine notes of green apple, apple peel, almond skin and a slightly foxy greenness. This is very dry, almost austere, but delivers fresh and ripe touches of lemongrass and melon, cinnamon toast and orange blossom, energized by bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. 12.6 percent alcohol Production was 350 cases. Excellent. About $24.

Suisun Valley, approved as an AVA in 1982, lies east of Napa Valley in Solano County, bounded by Howell Mountain on the west and the Vaca Range on the east.
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Well, here’s a milestone of sorts: The 300th entry in the Wine of the Day series. My Readers may remember that I started the Wine of the Day in May 2015 when a broken right arm interfered with my writing abilities and I was able only to type in short, erratic bursts. Like Topsy, the thing just grew and two years and three months later, here we are at No. 300. Shall I continue? I would like to hear from you about this issue, bless your little pointy heads and may your tribes increase.

For this 300th posting in the series, I’ll nudge across the line to a celebratory mode and offer a new label and product from the distinguished Champagne house of Laurent-Perrier. This is the Laurent-Perrier La Cuvée NV, which replaces the former Brut NV — “non-vintage” — in the house’s roster. Composed of 55 percent chardonnay, 35 percent pinot noir and 10 percent pinot meunier, the Champagne contains 30 percent reserve wines and attains 94 percent premier cru rating. It spends a minimum of four years in bottle on the yeasts before disgorgement. The color is very pale gold, and I’ll say right here that this was the most energetically effervescent bottle of Champagne I have ever opened; tiny, glinting bubbles surged in what seemed to be an endless foaming fountain in the glass. Aromas of slightly roasted pears, peaches and quince are incredibly fresh, clean and enticing, with touches of just-baked brioche and almond skin and a lightly honeyed aspect of bee’s-wax and white flowers. Incisive acidity cuts a swath through a chiseled texture that feels like the transfigured quintessence of limestone and chalk; paradoxically, on the palate this Champagne also delivers an element of talc-like softness, the resulting tension between the dry, honed quality and the powdery lushness providing a great deal of excitement as you drink. Ultimately, the Laurent-Perrier La Cuvée leaves the impression of fine-boned elegance matched to dynamic power. 12 percent alcohol. Cellarmaster is Michel Fauconnet. We loved drinking this one. Excellent. About $50.

Imported by Laurent-Perrier USA, Long Island City, N.Y. A sample for review.

The Côté Mas Brut Rosé, Crémant de Limoux, barely qualifies as a rosé wine by most measures, being a blend of 70 percent chardonnay, 20 percent chenin blanc and 10 percent pinot noir. In other words, 90 percent of this charming sparkling wine is white, with only a few dollops of a red grape to lend the requisite rosé color, in this case a beguiling light copper-salmon hue animated by a stream of tiny, glinting bubbles. The nose is pure raspberry, peach and lime peel; a few moments in the glass bring out notes of heather and seashell. This is crisp, dry and tart on the palate, where lip-smacking acidity keeps it lively and engaging and the minerality of damp limestone and flint delivers reasonable structure for nice heft and balance, all these elements supporting subtle flavors of roasted lemon and strawberry. 12 percent alcohol. A lovely aperitif. You could sell about a million glasses in bars and restaurants. Very Good+. About $16 and often found discounted to $13 or $14.

Limoux has an interesting history, because the first sparkling wines were apparently developed there as early as 1531, at the Abbey St.-Hilaire, and pre-dating sparkling Champagne by 150 years. These wines, traditionally made from the mauzac grape, underwent a natural process of second fermentation in the bottle in the Spring after the harvest, as the temperature warmed. The fairly rustic Blanquette de Limoux sparkling wines were supplemented in 1990 by the creation of Crémant de Limoux, designed to be more modern and to exploit the increasing acreage in the region devoted to chardonnay and chenin blanc grapes. Limoux — pop. 9,781 souls — a commune and subprefecture in the Aude department in the vast Languedoc-Roussillon region, lies a mere 30 kilometers or 19 miles south of the celebrated castle-city of Carcassonne, nestled in the French foothills of the Pyrenees mountains.

Imported by Esprit du Vin, Boca Raton, Fla. A sample for review.

Fathers & Daughters Cellars only made its first wine in 2015, though the family, longtime owners of the Ferrington Vineyard in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, for many years sold primarily pinot noir grapes to such highly regarded labels as Williams-Selyam, Flowers and Arista. The winery represents a collaborative and multi-generational effort of the “fathers and daughters” in the family: Patriarch Kurt Schoeneman, his daughter Sarah, Sarah’s husband Guy Pacurar, their daughter, Ella, and Guy’s older daughter, Taylor. Winemaker is Phillip Baxter. I was mightily and sort of incrementally impressed with the trio of wines reviewed on this page today, particularly the limited production Ella’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2014, which any devotee of West Coast pinot noirs should search for diligently.

These wines were samples for review.
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First, a sort of jeu d’esprit of a lightly effervescent sparkling wine, the Fathers & Daughters Cellars Sarah’s Rustic Bubbles 2016, Anderson Valley. With no second fermentation in the bottle as is the case with most sparkling wines, including Champagne (or in tank, in the Charmat process), this delightful and intriguing wine is made in what in parts of France is called the methode ancestrale or methode rurale, that is, a young wine is bottled before all the residual sugar has transformed into alcohol, so the fermentation that continues in the bottle produces carbon dioxide, hence: bubbles. For this wine, the initial fermentation was in all neutral French oak barrels. Sarah’s Rustic Bubbles ’16 was made completely from chardonnay grapes, being, in reality, a blanc de blancs. The color is pale yellow-gold, animated by a steady but narrow stream of tiny, foaming bubbles; the bouquet is characterized by freshly cut lemons, ginger, cloves and seashell salinity; the whole effect is of light, delicate brightness, garden freshness, but exhibiting a touch of muscat’s foxy petrol nature and hints of peach, heather and chalk. 13.9 percent alcohol. Could be an essential Summer quaff, except that production was 100 cases. Contact the winery to see if the tasting room can ship you a few bottles. Very Good+. About $19.
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A blend of sauvignon blanc, gewurztraminer and chardonnay, the Father’s & Daughters “The Dance” 2016, Anderson Valley, is a perfect wine for Summer sipping. Fresh as a daisy, with a sort of fruit cocktail-pear compote quality, the wine offers a pale straw-gold color and a light, delicately sweet apple character touched by a broad floral nature and hints of straw and meadowy herbs and flowers. It’s a bit musky — the gewurztraminer speaking — and very dry from mid-palate back through the finish blithely furnished with notes of spiced peaches, quince, lemongrass and limestone minerality. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018. This one really grew on me. Excellent. About $28.
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All right, the previously mentioned wines were attractive, interesting and entertaining, certainly worthy of attention. The Father’s & Daughters Ella’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, however, is something else, as in among the very best pinot noirs I have tasted this year, a wine of profound yet ineffable elegance and power. The grapes were hand-harvested, and fermentation was accomplished by native yeasts; the wine saw no new oak but aged 18 months in 30 percent once-used French barrels and 70 percent neutral barrels. The color is lovely limpid cherry shading to a delicate invisible rim; aromas of ripe black and red currants are permeated by notes of cloves and rose petals, cranberry and loam, beetroot and rhubarb. The wine is beautifully balanced and integrated, lithe, supple and satiny on the palate but pulling up a burgeoning tide of iodine and graphite, briers and brambles and a touch of flinty austerity; a few moments in the glass unfold elements of sandalwood and cherry compote. Energized by bright acidity, the wine delivers a long follow-through for the finish. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink through 2020 to ’22. Production was 110 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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We think of the cabernet franc grape as a fairly robust fellow, but the Gratien & Meyer Crémant de Loire Brut Rosé
turns it into something delicate and elegant. Made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, this sparkling wine offers an entrancing, limpid pale salmon-copper hue animated by a steady stream of lively effervescence and subtle, beguiling aromas of strawberries and raspberries, rose petals and heather; on the palate, this is crisp, lithe and refreshing, unfurling notes of limestone minerality and seashell salinity under hints of dried currants, orange zest and lime peel; a slightly creamy texture balances the bright acidity and mineral element. 12 percent alcohol. A truly lovely, straightforward quaffer of a sparkling wine, made for immediate consumption as you relax on the porch or patio or lounge about the kitchen. I could drink this all Summer long. Very Good+. About $15, marking Good Value.

MW Imports, White Plains, N.Y. A sample for review.

Why shouldn’t Merrie Old England produce world-class sparkling wines? In some spots the climate and soil seem perfect gusbornefor the job. One of those places is Kent, the county that starts at the outskirts of Greater London and spreads southeast to encompass that area of the scepter’d isle closest to France, just across the Channel. The grounding here is chalk — think white cliffs of Dover — and the climate maritime. I’ll confess that the Gusborne Brut Reserve 2013 is the first sparkling wine from England that I have tried, and to say that I’m impressed would be understatement. I could imbibe these bubbles all day long. The blend is 55 percent pinot noir, 27 percent pinot meunier and 18 percent chardonnay; the base wine fermented in stainless steel tanks with a small percentage in old oak barriques. This sparkling wine aged a minimum of 36 months on the lees. The color is very pale gold, animated by a frothing shimmer of tiny glinting bubbles; beguiling aromas of fresh apples, lemons and back-notes of macerated red berries are strung on a steel thread; hints of lemon drop and spare grapefruit bitterness bolster a palate characterized by chalk, flint and seashell salinity and bright, incisive acidity. Altogether elegant, approachable and delightful. 12 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Charlie Holland. Drink through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $40, a local purchase.

Imported by Broadbent Selections, Richmond, Va.

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When I posted a picture of the Domaine Allimant-Laugner Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé on Facebook recently, someone responded, “I could drink this stuff all day long!” I agree. We’re big fans of Crémant d’Alsace at our house and especially the rosés. This one is 100 percent pinot noir, aged 11 months in the bottle before release. The color is very pale copper-salmon, animated by a lively stream of tiny glinting bubbles; scents and flavors of raspberries and red currants are woven with bracing notes of lime peel and grapefruit rind, heather and toasted hazelnuts, all bolstered by chiming acidity and a scintillating tide of limestone minerality. Above all, this dry crisp rosé sparkler displays tremendous verve and personality, as fresh as Spring on the palate. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $21, representing Great Value.

Vigneron Imports, Oakland, Calif. A sample for review.

It rained like crazy here this morning, but then the downpour retreated, the clouds blew away to the east and the sun emerged, happy and vovetijolly and warm(ish). A perfect afternoon for sitting on the back porch and sipping a glass of Prosecco, along with a handful of almonds, a few slivers of Serrano ham and a small bowl of plump green olives. If you grow weary, a-weary of Prosecco that comes across all kissy-face floral and fruity and then dies away in the glass, here’s the antidote. The Voveti Prosecco is made from 100 percent glera grapes grown in the Prosecco region of the Veneto, primarily in the privileged spot called Valdobbiadene; the grapes are trucked in small boxes to the winery in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and the sparkling wine is produced there in the Charmat fashion of second fermentation in tank. In fact, from grape to glass takes 12 months, so we’re not talking Champagne, n’est-ce pas? What we are talking, instead, is charm and delicacy — and tiny glinting, surging bubbles — married to a steely, limestone-infused structure that supports subtle notes of green apple, smoke and almond blossom, lime peel, jasmine and seashell, this panoply melded with the tensile energy of brilliant acidity. There it is, and why should we ask for anything more, given the price and the intention. 11 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $17, often discounted to $13 or $14.

A sample from the local wholesaler.

Valentine’s, the most fraught day of the year, when everybody in America is going to be as romantic as hell or die trying, and what’s more loveromantic than that? In case you — meaning any person of whatever gender fluidity, age, religion, political stance, food preference or IQ — forgot to lay in a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine, here is a brief roster of examples, all Brut Rosés, that register at various levels of delectability on the palate and dent-free on the pocketbook; in other words, delicious and not too expensive. (I understand that “expensive” is a relative concept.) Though actual Champagne is not included here, that is, bubbly made exclusively in the Champagne region of France, these models are produced in the famed “Champagne method” of second fermentation in the bottle, the same bottle it will be sold in, after some length of time resting on the lees in said bottle before being finished with the cork and wire. The process is a tad more complicated, of course, but I’m into simplification today so I can get a bottle of sparkling wine into your hands before it’s too late. Two of these selections are from France — Loire Valley and Burgundy — and two from California — Russian River and Napa-Carneros. So, drink up, have fun, dance a step or two and give him or her or him/her a smooch for me.

Credit: Leslie Barron, Big Love, acrylic and mixed media on panel, 24 by 48 inches. Courtesy of L Ross Gallery, Memphis, Tennessee.
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De Chanceny Brut Rosé nv, Crémant de Loire, is a product of Alliance Loire, a cooperative founded in 2002 to take advantage of vineyard 17385--de-chanceny-cremant-de-loire-rose-brut-label-1426983098connections that range from Muscadet in the west to the appellations of Touraine in the center. This is 100 percent cabernet franc, aged on the lees at least 12 months. The color is an attractive pale copper-salmon hue, enlivened by a steady stream of tiny bubbles. Aromas of strawberry and raspberry are touched with the slight astringency of mulberry, fleshed out by orange zest and a hint of cloves. This Crémant de Loire is dry, crisp and lively, animated by pert acidity and a deft limestone edge. 12.5 percent alcohol. Truly charming. Very Good+. I paid $15 locally, but prices around the country vary from about $13 to $19; don’t pay that much, My Readers.

Signature Imports, Mansfield, Mass.
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Founded in 1831, Domaine Albert Bichot produces Burgundy wines that encompass the complete geographical and hierarchical aspects of the region. Today, however, we look not at any of the domaine’s Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines but at its quite satisfying non-vintage Albert Bichot Brut Rosé Crémant de Bourgogne, composed of chardonnay, pinot noir and gamay grapes. The color is pale copper-pink, the essential bubbles active and energetic. Notes of blood orange, cloves, tangerine and red cherry are given a serious touch by an element of limestone minerality. It’s quite dry but displays lovely bones and a deceptive quality of tensile strength. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.

European Wine Imports, Cleveland, Ohio. A sample for review.
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The J Vineyard Brut Rosé nv, Russian River Valley, is a blend of 66 percent pinot noir, 33 percent chardonnay and 1 percent pinot meunier; it aged two years en tirage, that is, on the lees in the bottle. This is all flushes, blushes and nuances, from its very pale copper-sunset hue, to its slightly fleshy, subtly ripe notes of orange zest, raspberry and lemon rind touched with almond skin, to its steely, chiseled structure. The bubbles, however, are nothing discrete, being a dynamic upward surge like a fountain. This sparkling wine is elegant and fine-boned, finishing with an intriguing hint of grapefruit bitterness. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.
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The Frank Family Vineyard Brut Rosé 2012, Napa Valley-Carneros, a blend of 76 percent pinot noir and 24 percent chardonnay, offers a pale copper hue flushed with rose-petal pink; the tiny bubbles teem like a glinting tempest in the glass. This is a focused and intense sparkling wine that displays burnished notes of blood orange and tangerine, red raspberries and currants wrapped in a package of lightly toasted brioche and limestone steeliness, managing to be both generous and austere. Lip-smacking acidity and effervescence and scintillating minerality keep it appealing and dynamic, while innate elegance makes it lithe and attractive. 12 percent alcohol. Production was 500 cases. Drink through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $55.

A sample for review.
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The sparkling wine Crémant de Bourgogne may be made from any of the grape varieties allowed in Burgundy, meaning predominantly chardonnay, aligoté and pinot noir, but including gamay and pinot blanc. The product must be fashioned in the “Champagne method” of second fermentation cremant de bourgogne mapin the bottle it’s sold in. The Crémant de Bourgogne appellation is extensive, reaching from Chablis down through Burgundy proper, Chalonnaise, Mâconnais and Beaujolais and encompassing 365 communes in four départménts. Grapes intended for Crémant de Bourgogne are generally cultivated separately from grapes that go into the great village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines of Burgundy and Chablis; that land is too precious and those grapes too expensive to sideline into sparkling wine, though that was often the practice at great estates before 1975, when the appellation regulations were laid down. Until 1975, the product was known as Borgogne Mousseux. A great deal of Crémant de Bourgogne is produced by cooperatives or by estates that specialize in effervescence; on the other hand, some of Burgundy’s best-known domaines, such as Yves Boyer-Martenot, Duc de Magenta and Jean-Noel Gagnard, still engage in the practice. In truth, many domaines are so small that they don’t have room for producing Crémant.

The house we look at today is Domaine Louis Picamelot, founded in 1926 in Rully, a village — population about 600 — in the Côte Chalonnaise. The domaine is still in family hands, in the third generation, but run by sons-in-law. Picamelot draws chardonnay, aligoté and pinot noir grapes from its own 10 hectares of vineyards in Côte Chalonnaise and Côte de Beaune but also from vineyards under long-term contracts reaching from Beaujolais to Chatillonnais, a region (not an appellation) lying between Chablis and the Côte d’Or that contributes heavily to Crémant de Bourgogne. I found the four examples from Picamelot reviewed here to be beautifully made, very sophisticated and mostly worthy of giving lower-priced Champagne — or higher-priced, for that matter — a run for its money. The sparkling wines of Domaine Louis Picamelot are imported by Ansonia Wines, Newton, Massachusetts. These wines were samples for review. Map of Crémant de Bourgogne from bourgogne-wines.com, a very informative website.
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The medium straw-gold Louis Picamelot Le Terroirs Brut, nv, Crémant de Bourgogne, is a blend of 57 percent pinot noir, 32 percent chardonnay and 11 percent aligoté, aged at least 12 months on the lees. Elements of limestone and seashell surround notes of baked lemons and pears that open to stone-fruit compote, cloves, heather and toffee; it’s surprisingly dense and viscous on the palate, gathering an array of mineral-tinged textural elements and glimpses of yellow fruit that neatly balance bright acidity with a slightly creamy nature. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $24.
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Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes, the Louis Picamelot Les Terroirs Brut Rosé, nv, Crémant de Bourgogne, aged at least 12 months in the bottle on the lees; the grapes came from vineyards in the Côte Chalonnaise. The color is pale salmon-copper; energetic bubbles stream upward in a steady surge. Aromas of raspberry, peach and orange peel open to hints of raspberry leaf and cinnamon bread, over a limestone and steel character; on the palate, this is fine-boned and tensile, slightly briery, clean and elegant while offering a dynamic veracity of bright acid and a scintillating mineral element. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $24.
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The Louis Picamelot Terroir de Chazot Blanc de Noir Brut, nv, Crémant de Bourgogne, is also 100 percent pinot noir, this from a designated vineyard situated on the higher hillsides of St. Aubin in the Côte de Beaune. It aged at least 18 months in the bottle on the lees. The color is very pale straw-gold, while the persistent stream of tiny bubbles is satisfying and exhilarating. Notes of roasted lemon and pear nectar open to hints of tangerine and lime peel, almond skin and lightly buttered cinnamon toast and a sort of fragile seashell-limestone element of chiseled minerality. That honed and hewn quality persists on the palate, where its chalk and flint character defines a spare, elegant package of lovely nuance and subtlety. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $30.
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The Louis Picamelot Cuvée Jean Baptiste Chautard Brut 2012, Crémant de Bourgogne, is a blend of 77 percent chardonnay and 23 percent aligoté, qualifying as a blanc de blancs. A pale gold hue is animated by a teeming torrent of frothing bubbles; it’s a clean, spare, elegant sparkling wine that features notes of roasted lemons and spiced pears with undertones of quince and ginger, chalk and lightly toasted brioche. This builds character and substance in the glass, layering pertinent limestone minerality with brisk acidity and hints of baked stone-fruit flavors, all wrapped in a lively effervescent nature that doesn’t emphasize any element unduly; balanced yet exciting. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 or ’22. Excellent. About $38.
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