Sparkling Wine


The past Yuletide season, that cornucopia of Champagne and sparkling wine, is but a dim memory now; might as well not have happened. Valentine’s? So last week. Yet is there ever a day in the history of the cosmos that would not be made better by the imbibing of some sort of sparkling wine? Think how much improved our poor benighted, beset and conflicted world would be if everyone just chilled and had a glass of (chilled) Champagne or sparkling wine at 11 a.m. Of course we can’t all drink Champagne all the time; it’s too expensive. So today, in order to launch you on your path toward daily sparkling wine enlightenment, serenity and world peace, I introduce the Albert Mann Brut 2010, Crémant d’Alsace, originating, naturally, in Alsace, the region of France that seems to hold more ancient estates per square meter than any other hallowed piece of vineyardry. Operated (on biodynamic terms) by brothers Jacky and Maurice Barthelmé and their wives Marie-Claire and Marie-Thérèse, the Albert Mann estate resulted from the combining of two family estates that were established in the early and mid 17th Century; that’s the 1600s, for the chronologically-challenged. The 21-hectare property — about 54 acres — includes five Grand Cru vineyards.

The Albert Mann Brut 2010, Crémant d’Alsace, made in the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, offers a shimmering pale gold color and a swirling tempest of tiny bubbles. The wine is a blend of pinot blanc, auxerrois, pinot gris and riesling grapes. Aromas of green apples and limes, steel and limestone, ginger and cloves and a hint of jasmine and roasted lemon segue seamlessly into flavors that while tasty take a back seat to a remarkably savory and saline sensation that builds upon clean, bright acidity and a burgeoning limestone element. This is a sparkling wine that travels in the course of a sniff, a sip and a swallow from spicy, fruity appeal to spare elegance. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $22.

Imported by Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, Pa. A trade group sample for review.


Sometimes you feel like a theme, sometimes you don’t! (And who remembers the television commercial to which I allude?) The point being no theme today, just eight miscellaneous wines, some better than others, some quite exemplary, and touching many bases. Not a great deal of technical, geographical, climatic, historical or philosophical info here; these Weekend Wine Sips are intended as quick reviews, often transcribed directly from my notes, designed to pique your interest, whet your palate and claim your attention one way or the other. These were all samples for review. Enjoy!
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Apaltagua Carménère Rosé 2012, Central Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. 100% carmenere grapes. Very pale pink-watermelon color; a pretty rose, quite delicate and fine-boned; notes of rose petal, watermelon, raspberry with a light strawberry backnote; pert acidity for liveliness, lies winsomely on the palate with spareness and trifling allure. I happily drank this with lunch over two days. Now through the end of Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $12, Great Value.
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Apaltagua Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale straw color; clean, fresh, spicy, typical pineapple-grapefruit with lots of steel and limestone and a hint of pear; good balance; sea-salt-bracing, tantalizing hints of jasmine, roasted fennel and thyme; lovely supple texture but crisp with acidity. One doesn’t often refer to chardonnay as delightful, but here it is. Very Good+. About $12, Great Value.
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Artesa Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2009, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color; black cherry and cola, briers and brambles, traces of rhubarb and violets; lovely balance among clean acidity, a lithe structure, black and red fruit flavors that come close to opulence and an essential earthy, loamy quality, all adding up to elegance that admits a slightly subversive wild berry nature. Exquisite. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $40.
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Artesa Artisan Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 4% merlot and 3% petit verdot. Dark ruby color; black currants, black cherries and a hint of plums; touches of black olives, cedar and thyme; velvety tannins with a graphite-lavender-licorice core; quite dry yet juicy and succulent and lively with vibrant acidity; solid, well-made, very drinkable. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $46.
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Berlucchi “Cuvée 61″ Brut Rosé, Lombardy, Italy. 11.4% alc. 50% pinot noir, 50% chardonnay. Pale onion skin color; dense array of tiny bubbles; fruit compote with pure strawberry, red currants, softly macerated peach; noticeably sweet but bright acidity dries it out from mid-palate back, clearing the way for some crisp limestone minerality. Very Good. About $24.
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Carpenè Malvolti Brut Rosé (nv), Veneto. 12% alc. 85% pinot nero (pinot noir) 15% rabaso. Pale onion skin with a light copper cast; constant stream of fine bubbles; strawberry and raspberry, hints of orange zest and pomegranate; moderate level of slate-like minerality; pleasant, tasty, not a lot there. Good. About $20.
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Piccini Memor? (nv) Vino Rosso d’Italia. 14% alc. 40% primitivo, 30% montepulciano, 20% nero d’avola, 10% merlot del Veneto. Just as in this country a wine that drew grapes from several states would carry an “American wine” designation, this dark and sassy little number is denominated “Vino d’Italia” because the grapes hale from four region: Sicily, Puglia, Veneto and Abruzzo. Deep ruby-purple color; blackberries, blueberries and plums, with high notes of cherries, fruitcake and bitter chocolate and a laving of spicy, vanilla-laced oak; very pleasing heft, supple texture papered with slightly shaggy tannins; another hint of warm oak on the finish; you could call it rustic, and why not? A terrific pizza or braised short ribs wine. Very Good. About $10, a Raving Bargain.
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Rodney Strong Reserve Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. Current release is the 2010, but this was in my white wine fridge, and it’s absolutely Worth a Search. Moderate straw-gold color; clean, fresh, sleek, deeply spicy and savory, rich without being cloying; pineapple and grapefruit, yellow plums, quince and ginger, touch of candied lime peel; bristling crystalline acidity and a tremendously resonant limestone presence, with supple oak in the background. Drink through 2014 or ’15, well-stored. An exciting chardonnay. Excellent. About $35.
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All right, O.K., O.K., all right, I perceive a backlash against writing about Brut Rosé sparkling wines and Champagnes for Valentine’s, and I know who you curmudgeons are. Come on, tomorrow is all about romance, rosé Champagnes and sparkling wines are romantic, or, granted have the reputation for being romantic — marketers are working overtime — and they tend to be beautiful and impressive. I, for one, love Brut Rosé Champagne, and I damn well would not pass up a rosé sparkling wine from Alsace or the Loire Valley or one of the many fine examples produced in California. My preference in these wines is for elegance and spareness, great bones and stones, sleekness and subtlety, though I don’t disdain fruit and floridness either. And of course, there must be bubbles, billions on tiny glinting bubbles. numberless as the numberless stars in the numberless galaxies! Ahem. For your consideration today, with an eye toward intimate tete-a-tetes with your sweetheart of whatever genre, nationality or political persuasion, I offer one Italian sparkling wine and six French: three Champagnes of various characters and prices and more inexpensive sparkling wines from Alsace and the Loire. With one exception, these products were samples for review; the David Léclapart L’Alchimiste was tasted at a trade event.

Here are links to other Brut Rosé Champagnes and sparkling wines reviewed on BTYH in the past year; all rate Excellent: Domaine Chandon Brut Rosé Etoile and Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Brut Rosé here; J Brut Rosé here; Borgo Maragliano Giovanni Galliano Brut Rosé here.

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Santa Margherita Brut Rosé. This sparkling wine, made from 50 percent chardonnay, 45 percent glera, as the prosecco grapes is termed nowadays, and 5 percent malbec, is produced in Trentino-Alto Adige, though the label doesn’t say so. The color is pale onion skin with a persimmon glint; tiny bubbles rise in stately flow up the glass. Perhaps the dollop of malbec makes the difference, because this intriguing brut rose has something dusky, dusty and brambly about it; scents of red berries and stone fruit segue seamlessly to similar flavors that are cossetted by a moderately lush texture cut with efficient acidity. The wine is quite dry and crisp and slightly earthy, delivering a joyously sensual profile that flashes a serious earthy, limestone edge. 11.4 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.

Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Il.
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Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé, Crémant d’Alsace. The color is radiant copper-salmon; the bubbles persist in a fine upward spiral. Scents of red currants and wild strawberries waft from the glass, with notes of spiced tea, orange zest and limestone. The texture of this 100 percent pinot noir sparkling wine is lovely, a winsome yet steely combination of crisp lively acidity and cloud-like softness of macerated red berries, though the finish gets all grown-up with flinty austerity and a hint of sea-salt. 12 percent alcohol. Founded in 1425, Lucien Albrecht is one of the oldest continuously family-owned estates in Europe. Excellent. About $20.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y.
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Dirler-Cadé Brut Rosé 2009, Crémant d’Alsace. The Dirler firm was founded in 1871, but it was the marriage of Jean Dirler and Ludivine Hell-Cadé — and what a moniker that is to live up to! –in 2000 that formed the present Dirler-Cadé estate, which is operated on bio-dynamic principles. The Brut Rosé 2009, composed completely from pinot noir grapes, offers a shimmering pale onion skin hue shading to light copper and a torrent of tiny glinting bubbles. An arresting bouquet of red currants, dried strawberries and blood oranges with a high note of pomegranate opens to hints of peach, limestone and clove-infused tea. The word “shimmering” seems to apply to every aspect of this super-attractive sparking wine, from its brisk acidity to its slightly macerated red fruit flavors to its lacy limestone sense of transparency. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $22.

Imported by T. Edward Wines, New York.
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Langlois-Chateau Brut Rosé Crémant de Loire. The delicacy of this sparkling wine’s blush of peach-copper color and the elegance of its constant fountain of silver bubbles are a bit deceptive, because its composition — 100 percent cabernet franc grapes — lends a touch of complexity that many examples don’t convey. Yet it remains completely refreshing, even seductive, with its panoply of ripe and slightly smoky red fruit scents and flavors; in fact, in its winsome floral-lime peel-orange zest qualities and its ineffably flint-and-limestone infused texture it comes close to being ethereal. What can I say; it feels romantic. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $29.

Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Il.
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Moët et Chandon Rosé Impérial. Here, friends, is a Brut Rosé for grown-ups. The blend, depending on the vintages involved, tends to be 40 to 50 percent pinot noir, 30 to 40 percent pinot meunier and 10 to 20 percent chardonnay. The color is a ruddy peach-copper hue; tiny bubbles form a seething torrential up-surge. The beguiling bouquet and the round flavors are characterized by blood oranges, red currants and strawberries both ripe and dried, all sifted with elements of chalk and limestone; the result is a Champagne that’s very dry and austere but svelte and supple, almost dense through the mid-palate. A few minutes in the glass bring in traces of softly ripened peaches and mint and hints of rose petals and white pepper. Whatever delicate overtones it manifests, this is a substantial, savory sparkling wine. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $50, though one sees prices as high as $65.

Imported by Moët Hennessy USA, New York.
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Champagne Barons de Rothschild Brut Rosé. This first foray into Champagne by the three branches of the Rothschild wine families is a blend of 85 percent chardonnay and 15 percent pinot noir. The color is a classic limpid onion skin with a tinge of copper; the bubbles too are classic: infinitely tiny silver flecks spiraling upward in a froth. The effect is pure strawberry, blood orange and peach, with hints of hazelnuts and cloves, exquisite effervescence and a burgeoning presence of chiming acidity and limestone minerality. The finish is deep and smoky and lithe, though at mid-palate the texture is dense and almost viscous. A great marriage of power and elegance; I’m not crazy about the down-market labeling, though. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $100 to $125.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Alchimiste Premier Cru Estate Extra-Brut Rosé. “Premier Cru” means that grapes for this Brut Rose, which takes the notion of elegance to a higher, more precise and faceted — call it glacial — level, derived from vineyards in villages classified as such. Premier Cru vineyards rate 90 to 99 percent in Champagne’s Echelle des Crus system; only Grand Cru vineyards achieve 100 percentile. Leclapart’s production is small — fewer than 1,000 cases for five types of Champagne — but they are definitely Worth a Search for devotees of elemental purity and intensity of purpose and result, as who is not, n’est-ce pas? The estate has operated on bio-dynamic principles since 1998. Other techniques are quite traditional. For this wine, the grapes are trod by foot three or four times a day in large wooden casks, with fermentation occurring in old barriques. Still, L’Alchimiste feels as if it had been conjured by some sort of alchemy. Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes, it offers a radiant pale copper color, suffused with energetic flecks of tiny bubbles, and an utterly entrancing bouquet of watermelon, strawberries, dried red currants and roasted lemons; hints of some astringent mountain flower with notes of lime peel and lemongrass emerge from the background. This is an exceptionally dry, aristocratic Extra-Brut Rosé, with the finest of bone structures, underpinnings of crystalline limestone and clean acidity the flashes like a bright blade. Not for the timorous, perhaps, but delivers multiple rewards for the initiate. 13 percent alcohol. Exceptional. About $175. Sorry; perfection does not come cheap.

Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York.
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Let’s launch Valentine’s Week with a recommendation for a sweetheart of a dry brut rosé sparkling wine, the non-vintage Paul Cheneau Cava Brut Rosé, composed of 85 percent trepat grapes, one of the more interesting grapes you’ve never heard of, and 15 percent pinot noir. This sparking wine, indeed the roster that comes from Paul Cheneau, is made in the “traditional method,” that is the méthode champenoise, of second fermentation in the bottle. The winery is owned by the Giró Ribot family and is located in the heartland of cava production. the Penedès region west of Barcelona in Cataluña, where the Spanish coast dips southwest from the French border.

The Paul Cheneau Cava Brut Rosé offers a pretty dying ember hue of lightly tarnished copper-salmon; bubbles are small, elegant, persistent. Pure strawberry erupts from the glass, followed by raspberry, with a touch of raspberry’s raspiness, and a scent of rose hips; after a few minutes in the glass, the bouquet develops high notes of pomegranate and spiced tea. The ripe red fruit segues seamlessly into the mouth, with hints of orange zest and cloves; the texture is crisp with acidity yet soft and appealing, while the finish brings in a note of limestone. 11.5 percent alcohol. No, My Readers, this is not a top-quality brut rosé from Champagne that could set you back $150 to $200 a bottle; it’s a simple but well-made, tasty and pleasing little Spanish cava that should impinge nicely on you and your sweetheart’s Valentine celebration. Very Good+. About $16.

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

Did you think we were finished with sparkling wine? Mais non, mes amis! Few are the wine regions around the world that don’t produce some type of sparkling wine, and we touch upon some of those areas today in a “Weekend Wine Sips” post that refers to France (a little mysteriously); Argentina; Spain; South Africa; and diverse appellations in California. With one exception, these 10 sparkling wines were samples for review. Unless a year is indicated, these are nonvintage sparklers. And with one exception, they were all produced in the traditional Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle.

I was at a doctor’s office last week, and the younger nurses and assistants were all saying “Have a Super Sparkly Day” to each other, with the appropriate amount of cynicism. This term, from the credit card commercial that drove the United States of America half bonkers during the Yuletide season, has gone viral, and there are, of course, t-shirts now available. I certainly hope that as far as sparkling wine or Champagne is concerned that you indeed “Have a Super Sparkly Day.”

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Cachette Blanc de Blancs Brut, nv, “France.” 11.5% alc. Just a tad of enological and geographical info here. This pleasant little sparkling wine is made from the airen grape, the white-grape workhorse of Spain but one not allowed an official label designation in France; nobody’s saying you can’t grow the grape, you just can’t put any information on the label or use a legal appellation. “Bottled by V.A. at 21200″ is what we’re told, and thanks to my research assistant, Miss Google, I can tell you that 21200 is the postal code of the hamlet of Meursanges (population 485 in 2010), in the Cote-d’Or department, Beaune district, Beaune-Sud township; in other words — Burgundy. Pale straw color; moderate stream of fairly fine bubbles; clean, fresh dry; brisk and refreshing; lots of limestone and flint; no great character but serves a purpose with decency and grace. Very Good. About $15.
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Mont-Ferrant Brut Rosé Cava, Spain. 12.46% alc. Monastrell 55%, garnacha 40%, pinot noir 5%. Cherry-maroon color; pleasing effervescence; pure raspberry and strawberry; ripe and spicy, a touch sweet initially but goes dry with taut acidity and limestone minerality; vibrant and robust, almost tannic; a wild quality, brambles, roses. Intriguing style. Very Good+. About $19.
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Gloria Ferrer Va de Vi Ultra Cuvée, Sonoma County. 12.5% alc. 89% pinot noir, 8% chardonnay, 3% muscat. Icy blond color, a froth of tiny platinum bubbles. Almond and almond blossom; lemon and quince, ginger and cloves; touch of slightly honeyed star-fruit; round and creamy but shivery with crisp acid and limestone minerality; altogether warm and seductive with a touch of sweetness at the beginning. Really charming. Very Good+. About $22.
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Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rosé 2011, Stellenbosch, South Africa. 12% alc. 53% pinotage, 35% pinot noir, 12% pinot meunier. Pale copper-salmon color; exuberant bubbles, pretty in pink; strawberry and raspberry, very steely with a limestone background, bright acidity; cery clean, slick as a whistle, a little earthy though, raspberry with all the rasp. Charming and interesting. Very Good+. About $25.
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JCB No. 21 Brut, Crémant de Bourgogne. 12% alc. Pinot noir and chardonnay. Pale gold color; lively effervescence; lemon and lime peel, touch of candied grapefruit; very crisp and dry, steely and stony, heaps of limestone and flint; spiced pear and a hint of orange blossom; taut and vibrant. Very Good+. The Boisset website lists this at $25, but on the Internet I have not seen it over $20, and in fact that’s what I paid.
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Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008, Robertson, South Africa. 12.21% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale straw-gold color; clean-cut, sleek and elegant, lots of cut; also a ton of limestone and steel-like minerality, cool and bracing; yet it’s round, spicy, with hints of roasted lemon and smoked and slightly honeyed almonds. Very Good+. About $25.
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V. Sattui Prestige Cuvée Brut 2009, Napa Valley. 12.5% alc. 81% chardonnay, 19% pinot noir. Pale mild gold color; nice constant stream of bubbles; crisp, clean and fresh; apples and lime peel, hints of limestone and chalk; plenty of verve from acid and scintillating minerality but lacks a little substance; still quite enjoyable. Very Good+. About $29. Available at the winery or through the V. Sattui website.
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Bianchi Extra Brut, Mendoza, Argentina. 12.3% alc. 60% chardonnay, 40% pinot noir. Pale gold with faint green highlights; ethereal stream of tiny bubbles; a distinctly ripe, earthy and fleshy style of sparkling wine; roasted pear, apricots and yellow plums, subsumed to pert acidity and a bracing mineral element of limestone and shale; taut yet luscious. Very Good+. About $30.
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Mumm Napa Blanc de Blancs 2007, Napa Valley. 12.5% alc. 90% chardonnay, 10% pinot gris. Light straw-gold color; an exuberant host of tiny bubbles; delicate, elegant, steely; definitely citrusy with notes of lime, ginger and quince, definitely minerality with dominating limestone and flint; very high-toned, crisp, sleek; you can imagine it glittering as it walked. Excellent. About $36.
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Domaine Chandon Etoile Brut, North Coast. 13% alc. 55% chardonnay, 25% pinot noir, 20% pinot meunier. A substantial sparkling wine that announces its character in a resonant balance of austerity and robustness; slightly brassy gold color; upward spiraling stream of tiny bubbles; lightly buttered cinnamon toast, crystallized ginger, quince jam, roasted lemon; delicate up-notes of lime peel, wheatmeal and toffee; vibrant structure animated by vivid acidity yet slightly creamy, touch of roasted hazelnuts. A fine example of California sparkling wine. Excellent. About $40.
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I don’t think anybody or at least very few people celebrate the festive event of Twelfth Night now, but in Shakespeare’s day, when he wrote the charming and thoughtful romantic comedy “Twelfth Night; or, What You Will,” this day marked the end of the fun-filled, if not riotous Yuletide season and its culmination in the solemnity of the Epiphany. It’s all a fitting way to segue into a new year, during the month of, as far as the Romans were concerned, looking forward and gazing back. Be that as it may, I always enjoy the “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparking Wine,” especially when I can inform My Readers about products that may be interesting or unusual or new to them. I hope that I achieved success in that criteria for this, the sixth segment of the series. Looking forward, as Janus was wont to do with one of his faces, we have coming up on BTYH the “50 Great Wines of 2012″ and “25 Great Bargains of 2012,” though in a way, that’s looking back too. If I didn’t already do so, here on Twelfth Night I’ll wish all of you a Happy New Year and a 2013 that works to the best of your advantages and dreams.

Image from agoldoffish.wordpress.com.
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I have enjoyed tasting and writing about wines from Domaine Mittnacht Fréres several times this year, and certainly up to the standard is the Domaine Mittnacht Fréres Crémant d’Alsace, a Champagne method sparkling wine that’s a blend of 50 percent pinot auxerrois (a white clone of pinot noir) and approximately equal portions of riesling, pinot blanc, pinot gris and pinot noir. This is a crisp, lively and slightly chiseled sparkling wine that offers a pale straw color, loads of tiny bubbles and a fairly exquisite sense of delicacy married to purpose. Hints of pear, apricot and crystallized ginger are tempered by steel and flint for an overall impression that’s lean, spare and elegant but expressing lots of appeal and personality. I could drink this every day. 12 percent alcohol. Very good+. Prices range from about $19 to $24.

A Daniel Johnnes Selection for Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y. A sample for review.
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The Domaine Chandon Etoile Brut Rosé, North Coast (Napa and Sonoma counties), is one of the prettiest sparkling wines you’ll find, though it has a serious, even a dramatic side too. A blend of 48 percent chardonnay, 44 percent pinot noir and 8 percent pinot meunier, it displays an entrancing fiery copper-peach color and a steady pulse of infinitesimal glinting bubbles. The bouquet is characterized by strawberries and red currants enlivened by orange zest and cloves and hints of fresh-baked bread, flint and steel. There’s very agreeable tension among slashing acidity, taut and crisp-edged limestone-like minerality and an almost luxurious sense of round citrus and stone-fruit nuances and irresistible seductive power. This would be a great special occasion — i.e., romantic — sparkling wine. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $50.

A sample for review.
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It’s a little daunting to encounter an estate whose motto is “Ethics. Ecology. Ethos.” and that gives its products names like “Sagesse,” “Tolérance,” “Harmonie” and “Reliance.” You wonder if you’re up to it. Taste the Champagnes from the little estate — I mean, 10 acres — of Franck and Isabelle Pascal, though, and you’ll realize that you don’t have to be Ralph Waldo Emerson to enjoy them. Franck Pascal took over his family’s property in 1994, when he was only 23, and he quickly worked to convert the vineyards to biodynamic practices. Whatever the reasons and effects of ethics, ecology and ethos, these are Champagnes of intense purity, power and elegance. Let’s bring this 2012/2013 edition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” to a close with the Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Brut Rosé, a blend (according to the importer’s website) of 58 percent pinot meunier, 39 percent pinot noir and 3 percent chardonnay; 94 percent of the wine came from the 2004 vintage, 6 percent from 2005. The color is very pale but radiant onion skin with a faint coppery hue; the bubbles are almost explosive in their initial upward surge. Tolérance is an incredibly dry, high-toned and refined brut rose, with depth upon depth of limestone and shale-like minerality and yet so lacy and transparent that it feels not just delicate but crystalline and frangible., though cemented ultimately by the elemental and adamantine litheness of its tremendous acidity. It allows nuances of red-tinged berry-like scents and flavors, with faint, beguiling touches of dried fruit, biscuits and toasted hazelnuts, but this is mainly about exquisiteness, fine-breeding and Alpine austerity. I love it. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $55 to $65, and Worth a Search.

Imported by LDM Wines, New York.

The well-known Champagne house of Moët & Chandon started looking for vineyard land in the Napa Valley in 1968. In 1973, in a partnership with Hennessy, the cognac producer (both owned by LVMH), the company bought acreage in Mount Veeder and Yountville, producing the first Domaine Chandon sparkling wine in 1976. Winemaker Tom Tiburzi has been at Chandon since 1989, working his way up through the winemaking staff; he is assisted by Pauline Lhote, whose family are farmers in Champagne. Chandon, long an iconic presence to the west of Hwy 29 across from the town of Yountville, makes a complete range of nonvintage sparkling wines, but today I want to feature two of its vintage series. These were samples for review.
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Neither the print material I received nor the winery’s website reveal the percentages of the blend of grapes in the Domaine Chandon Yountville Vintage Brut 2007, Yountville, Napa Valley, so all I can tell you is that it’s made from pinot noir and chardonnay from the Yountville district, north of the city of Napa. The southern area of Yountville particularly, where it’s coolest, is a prime location for chardonnay and pinot noir. The color is radiant medium gold; there’s a constant lively stream of tiny bubbles. Notes of roasted lemons and spiced pears are bolstered by toast and biscuits with hints of toffee and candied ginger and an undercurrent of smoke. The emphasis segues to crystalline acidity and scintillating limestone and flint elements that balance deftly a texture that’s substantial enough to be almost lush, though the fineness and elegance of the finish make it spare and lithe and slightly austere. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $45.
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The Domaine Chandon Mount Veeder Vintage Brut 2006, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, focuses on chardonnay; it could, I suppose, be called blanc de blancs, but the powers at Chandon opted for a straightforward “brut” indication. The point would be: what are the differences between a sparkling wine made from Yountville grapes and one made from Mount Veeder grapes, especially if the latter is one year older? The color of the Mount Veeder sparkler is much paler, much blonder and Harlow-like than the hue of the Yountville version mentioned above. While there’s a similar component of fresh bread and biscuits, the Mount Veeder adds hints of roasted hazelnuts, cinnamon toast and caramel popcorn with a touch of baked apple and slightly honeyed peach. These qualities, let me emphasize, are expressed in a tone of utmost nuance and pure suggestion, because, above all, this is a sparkling wine that combines notable presence and persistence with finesse and refinement. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $45.
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… and I offer, as usual, a variety of Champagnes and sparkling wines to suit, I hope, every taste and pocketbook and every occasion, whether you’re entertaining the entire cast of Survivor: Dude, Is Mars Even Inhabitable? to the most private, secret rendezvous a deux. And be careful tonight and in the wee hours. I don’t want to lose any of My Readers to the vagaries of drunkenness, whether in themselves or others. Happy New Year!
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Yes, the Kenwood Yulupa Cuvée Brut, California, is manufactured in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, and for the price, it’s completely appropriate for large crowds. It’s a racy blend of chenin blanc, French colombard, chardonnay and pinot noir that’s fresh, effervescent, clean, crisp and very dry; packed with limestone-like minerality verging on the saline quality of oyster shells, it offers hints of roasted lemons and pears and a touch of spice. According to Kenwood’s website, the Yulupa Cuvée Brut is available only in December. Very Good. About $12, but discounted as low as $9 throughout the country.
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The story of Gloria Ferrer’s sparkling wines in Sonoma County makes a chronicle of constant improvement and success. In fact, one of the products I reviewed in my first wine column, published in July, 1984, in The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis, was a very early rendition of the Gloria Ferrer Brut, and I didn’t think much of it. I’m happy to say that’s not the case all these years later. The Gloria Ferrer Brut, Sonoma County, is a blend of 91.2 percent pinot noir and 8.8 percent chardonnay, and I sort of dote on that accuracy of detail. The color is medium gold with a pale copper flush, energized by a streaming froth of tiny golden bubbles. Notes of dried strawberries and raspberries reveal hints of roasted lemons and lime peel over a layer of limestone and flint; lip-smacking acidity keeps this sparking wine crisp and lively, while its lovely, dense texture, given a dose of elegance by scintillating minerality, lends personality and appeal. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $22.
A sample for review.
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The Argyle Brut 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon, a blend of 63 percent pinot noir and 37 percent chardonnay, presents an exuberant welter of fresh biscuits and steel, cinnamon bread and limestone, quince and crystallized ginger. The color is pale gold; tiny winking bubbles spiral ever upward. I cannot overemphasize the terrifically irresistible nature of this sparkling wine, its elegance and elevating nature, its blitheness rooted in the stones and bones of crisp, nervy acidity and the essential, lacy element of limestone-like minerality. In the background are hints of lemons, baked apple and toasted hazelnuts, these elements subsumed into a finish that delivers a final fillip of flint and caramelized grapefruit. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $27.
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All right, so you want real Champagne for New Year’s Eve, like from France, the Champagne region, but you don’t want to hijack your credit card or fall into 2013 already entailed by debt. (Haha, good luck with that!) Choose, then, the Champagne Philippe Fontaine Brut Tradition, a 70/30 pinot noir/pinot meunier blend that will satisfy your festive taste-buds and spirit as well as your wallet. The color is shimmering pale gold, and tiny bubbles indeed shimmer up through the glass. This is an very attractive, clean yet savory and nicely faceted Champagne that features a modulated toasty character, vibrant blade-like acidity, heaps of limestone and flint elements for minerality and a texture engagingly balanced between fleetness and moderate density. What’s not to like? 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. Prices vary widely, but the national average is about $28.

Imported by Bourgeois Family Selections, Asheville, N.C.
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David Léclapart cultivates three hectares — about 7.7 acres — of mainly chardonnay vines in the Premier Cru village of Trépail. I have unfortunately never possessed a whole bottle of any of Léclapart’s four cuvees — L’Amateur, L’Artiste, L’Alchimiste, L’Apôtre — having tasted them on three occasions in New York at trade events, but those encounters made me wish devoutly for more intimate and prolonged contact. The estate has been operated since 1998 on biodynamic principles, certified by EcoCert and Demeter; the wines are made sans dosage, that is, without sugar for the second fermentation, so they are bone-dry, sometimes achingly so. And yet they are, at least to my palate, eminently appealing, though equally demanding, even rigorous. Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut (sometimes called the estate’s “entry-level” wine) is a 100 percent chardonnay Champagne that was fermented in stainless steel. Notes of limestone, flint and steel practically explode from the glass; paradoxically, while it takes elegance to the farthest extreme in the realms of chilliest allure, L’Amateur reveals a savory, earthy background, as well as an unexpected wisp of camellia and fresh apples and pears. Acidity, it’s almost needless to mention, is of the most resonance and chiseled quality, while the limestone element feels deeply and irrevocably etched. If I were summoned to my fate tomorrow morning on the dueling ground, I would sip a glass of this Champagne before turning to face my foe. 12.5 percent alcohol. Exceptional. Again, price range across the map, but the national average appears to be about $83.

Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York.
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… and when I say “a superior cava,” I’m not damning with faint praise. As many of My Readers know, “cava” is the term for Spanish sparkling wine produced in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, the step that produces the all-important bubbles. Just because cava in made in the method of Champagne does not mean, of course, that cava resembles Champagne, even with the bubbles, one reason being that traditionally cava was made pretty exclusively from indigenous grapes, that is, macabeu, xarel.lo and parellada, which sound like names in a science-fiction novel. Cava, in other words, could often be refreshing, charming and delightful, as well as uniquely Spanish, but seldom displayed complexity or depth. That situation changed when forward-thinking producers started adding chardonnay and pinot noir to their cava, along with the traditional grape varieties. A terrific example of such a model is the CR20 Cava d’Aniversari per a Carme Ruscalleda 2006, Gran Reserva Extra Brut, made by Mont-Ferrant to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Carme Ruscalleda’s restaurant in Sant Pau. (Mont-Ferrant was founded in Catalonia in 1865 by August Vilaret.)

So, the blend in CR20 Cava 2006 is 60 percent chardonnay, 20 percent xarel.lo and 10 percent each macabeu and parellada. The color is medium gold; a stream of fine bubbles seethes up through the glass. The first impression is of bread and biscuits, backed up by limestone and steel and notes of hay and acacia, roasted lemon and a hint of pear; a few moments bring in touches of ginger and green tea. This is a saline and savory sparkling wine, energized by brisk acidity and the buoyancy of a spanking sea-breeze yet given a layering of nutty yeast and toast with elements of cloves and limestone-like minerality. All aspects add up to a cava of rare presence and character. 12.6 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $30.

Imported by Maritime Wine Trading Collective, San Francisco. A sample for review. Image from adictosalalujuria.com.

So here we are at the penultimate day of 2012, a year that will not, I venture, be remembered with great affection, either publicly or privately. December 30th is the Holy Day of two rather obscure figures, Pope Felix I, who reigned approximately from 269 to 274 and about whom very little is known, not even if he was actually a martyr, and Ecgwine (died 717), bishop of Worcester whose remains after the Norman Conquest were said to have inspired miracles. Selected birthdays include Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), Bert Parks (1914-1992), Jack “Book ‘em, Danno!” Lord (1920-1998), Bo Diddley (1928-2008) and Davy “Daydream Believer” Jones (1945-2012).

I don’t mind admitting that I’m a fan of Crémant d’Alsace, not as a substitute for Champagne or the finest sparkling wine from California but just as itself. Something about the combination of grapes, usually riesling, pinot blanc and chardonnay, speaks to the expression of the region and makes the product unique. We’ve tried quite a few in the past few weeks, and certainly among the best is the Domaine Barmès Buecher 2009. It’s unusual to see Crémant d’Alsace with a vintage date; like many Champagnes and sparkling wines, most are a blend of several vintages. The domaine was founded by wife and husband Genevieve Buecher Barmès and François Barmès — surnames that point to the region’s Franco-German heritage — with vineyards that had belonged to their respective families since the 17th century. Tragically, François Barmès was killed in October 2011, when he was struck by an automobile while riding his bike. Their children Sophie and Maxime are now part of the organization. The estate is operated on biodynamic methods.

The Domaine Barmés Buecher 2009, Crémant d’Alsace, offers a radiant but mild straw color and a tempest of bubbles that look like fervent tarnished glints in the golden hue. The immediate and fresh impression is of apples, limes and limestone, with hints of roasted lemons, lime peel and cloves in the background. This model, very dry, very crisp, is more substantial than most examples of the genre, and you cannot help sensing the confidence and the character that it implies. It’s slightly macerated and toasty in the mouth, with touches of coffee and caramel, yet never less than elevating and effervescent. The finish brings in more limestone, inflected with flint, and a reiteration of spicy citrus flavors. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drinking beautifully at three years, this should be fine through 2014. Excellent. About $22.

Imported by Petit Pois Corp. t/a Sussex Wine Merchants, Moorestown, N.J. This bottle was a sample for review.

Birthdays on December 27 include scientists Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) and Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) — who discovered the principle of fermentation; actors Sydney Greenstreet (1879-1954) and Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992); and poet Charles Olson (1910-1970).

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