Celebrate 2018 with Sparkler!

Please have no Vino-Stress!
So many stressors enter into our lives during the Holidays – but wine need not be one of them!   Below are a few hopefully helpful thoughts and some recommendations for Holiday meals and merriment.

(Skip to the bottom if you just want to go shopping for bubbly.)

Should I put white wine in ice to chill it?  NO.  Presumably you purchased the wine because you enjoy white wine aromas and flavors – unfortunately, ice-cold temperatures tend to mask fruit flavors (sometimes restaurants hyper-chill white wines intentionally because they WANT to mask flavors of cheap wines – ugh).   One rule of thumb is to think about how rich and full-bodied the wine is, and adjust the temperature target up or down accordingly.   If the wine is big and rich, I might aim for cellar-temperature or slightly below – while a light bodied white is fine to come straight from the fridge – but I never soak a white wine in ice.

Best way to chill Champagne or Sparkling wine?  ICE BATH!  Place a bottle into a Champagne Bucket/soup pot/hotel sink/bathtub (any vessel, you get my drift), then fill with ice, then add water until the bottle is ‘swimming’ – come back in 25-35 minutes, serve and enjoy!

Broad disagreement exists on how cold to serve bubbly – I fall solidly into the camp of pouring it very cold, so the effervescence and mousse feature most prominently, and then enjoy flavor expansion as the sparkler warms slightly in the glass.  This works well with a dry (Extra Brut or Brut) style bubbly – sweeter (with titles like: Extra Dry, Demi Sec) sparklers may become cloying and ‘sticky’ if temperature rises too much.

Decant Red Wine?  DEPENDS…  Young and rich = YES / Cellared and delicate = NO.  Most wines are consumed within a day or two of purchase, which means red wine will be a recent vintage (less than 5 years old).  For young red wines, especially full bodied, rich, or tannic reds like those from California, decanting is beneficial to the wine as the breathing allows tannins to calm and overall flavors to become more harmonious.   Older, more delicate reds may not benefit from decanting as the flavors may fall off prematurely, leaving the wine hollow and disappointing.

Food Pairing? NO WORRIES!  Many wine enthusiasts (this one included!) take food and wine pairing efforts very seriously – but when it comes to holiday celebrations, the happiness of the whole gathering far outweighs the need for perfect pairings.  So, if your cousin’s eldest uncle-in-law loves him some giant California Cabernet with his poached white fish, let him enjoy it!

Wine-leftovers?  YES!  Leftover wine can be capped with their original cork pushed partway back in, or with a rubber wine bottle-stopper.   If refrigerated, partly full whites may keep as long as a week, and reds 3-4 days without flavors going off.

How to choose a good bubbly?  Champagne is the standard, and often the most expensive.   If your gathering is important, why not go big?  A couple are mentioned below, but it sure is hard to go wrong with the big names like Veuve Cliquot, Mumm, Moet (and if you feel fancy Krug, Dom, and Salon!).  On the other hand, a more casual gathering is quite well-served by non-Champagne sparkling wines.   Many are made with same grapes and techniques as true Champagne, but not in the region of Champagne which means often there are good values to be had.  As a lover of Champagne but lacking an Oligarch’s budget, I seek out French sparklers labeled “Cremant” which indicates a sparkling wine made with highly regulated techniques nearly as stringent as Champagne itself, the results are typically quite satisfying and present great value.   Italy proudly produces tons of fruity, affordable Prosecco and smaller amounts of (some say) more refined and more expensive Franciacorta.   Spain creates massive amounts of affordable dry, light-weight, slightly herbal Cava sparklers – some of them reaching toward Champagne levels of quality.  Other regions like Tasmania, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and even New Mexico in US are enjoying great sparkling wine success in recent years, don’t hesitate to try them!

Non-Vintage or Vintage? NON-VINTAGE!  While vintage sparkler has the potential to deliver fantastically complex flavors, Non-Vintage (or NV) sparklers are more consistent, produced in larger quantities, and sold more quickly than Vintage, so less chance for inconsistency.  For reveling and celebration, the sparkler’s quality should never preoccupy the host – I’d go NV.

Here are some nice party wines to share with festive friends:

Anna de Codorniu Blanc de Blanc Cava

Penedes, Spain 
PLCB Code# 9447

Anna de Codorniu Cava honors the Codorníu heiress who married viticulturist Miquel Raventós in 1659.  Anna is credited for being the first to use the Champagne grape Chardonnay in Cava.   This cuvee combines standard Cava blend of Xerello, Macabau and Parellada with a significant helping (70%) of Chardonnay.  The resulting sparkler is delicate and flavorful, with light effervescence carrying apple and pear flavors backed by a hint of herbal notes. 70% Chardonnay 15% Parellada 15%Macabeo/Xarel-lo.  Lovely sparkler, great value!

Maison Aguila Cremant de Limoux Brut NV
Limoux, France 
PLCB Code# 78624 

Situated in the southeastern corner of France very close to the Spanish border, the Limoux region is known for quality sparkling wines.  In fact, some in Limoux claim their sparkling production method was pioneered more than 100 years prior to the Monk Dom Perignon who is credited for creating Champagne.  Historical claims notwithstanding, this sparkler (containing 65% Chardonnay, 25% Chenin Blanc, and 10% Mauzac) provides more floral nose than expected and a bursting mouthful of sharp green apple and undercurrent pear/citrus flavors supported by laser-cut acidity and persistent finish.  Might pass for much more expensive sparkler in blind tasting!  In a recent newsletter I rated this sparkler 91 Points.

Gruet Brut NV
$16.99 Sale Price: $14.99 
New Mexico, USA
PLCB Code# 1476

Produced in New Mexico from traditional Champagne grapes, in traditional Champagne methods, founded in 1980s by historic Champagne family Gruet.  This is a perennial favorite and widely available and comprised of 75% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir.  If you show up with the consistently solid Gruet Brut or Gruet Blanc de Noir NV (100% Pinot Noir PLCB Code# 49664 $17.99) the party will thank you!  I have used both of these sparklers in countless events and consistently rate them a good value.  Recently the Brut was awarded 90 points and included in the Wine Spectator Top 100 values of 2016.
Domaine La Grande Cote Cremant de Bourgogne NV
Burgundy, France 
PLCB Code# 99251 

Domaine La Grande Cote Cremant de Bourgogne NV – Produced in the far northern Burgundy region of Chatillonnais (closest to Champagne itself).  Vinified from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (similar to Champagne) that are grown in chalky, soils (similar to Champagne), so no surprise that this Cremant exhibits traits commonly associated with Champagne – moussy apple, stone fruits, a touch of red fruits and minerality, followed by some toasty notes at the finish.  Light to medium bodied and sophisticated.

Champagne Moutard Grande Cuvee Brut NV 
Champagne, France 
PLCB Code# 48025 

Moutard’s Champagne house is located in the Cote de Bar region, which is the most southeast wine producing region of Champagne.  This is a Blanc de Noir (Pinot Noir only) champagne and solid value in the category.  Fortunate for us the PLCB saw fit to bring this to Pennsylvanians at an affordable (for real Champagne) price.  I am a dedicated fan of this Champagne, with its red apple and ginger-ish flavors wrapped in bright, fresh effervescence.  Wine and Spirits Magazine has rated this 92 points and I awarded 91 points in previous tasting.
Other American makers produce quite superior sparkling wines but many are more expensive than the choices in this newsletter, so while I don’t point them out specifically, names like SchramsbergArgyleMumm Napa (G.H. Mumm) Domaine Carneros (Taittinger), Chandon (Moet & Chandon), Gloria Ferrer, and Iron Horse all produce consistently good product.  Domaine Ste. Michelle has created good value sparkler at more affordable price points, outshining the likes of historically popular Korbell and upstart brand Barefoot Bubbly.
Big name Champagne: ALL GOOD – seriously!   The “Big House” Champagnes as I call them are hugely successful because they uniformly work (and have for years!) very hard at producing a consistent flavor profile and hitting that target year after year.  These big makers (Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Nicolas Feuillatte, G.H. Mumm. Laurent-Perrier, Taittinger, Pommery and Piper-Heidsieck) may be more expensive than lesser-known makers, and possibly less interesting (due to consistent uniformity – which is often a good thing) than some small producer Champagnes, but they won’t disappoint!   I tend to favor Taittinger because it is owned by the Taittingerfamily (not a large luxury goods corporation like many others).

Iconic Champagnes: Dom Perignon, Krug, Ace of Spades, Chrystal, Salon and the like can cost hundreds of dollars and impress people because the bottle was in a movie or a music video – and clearly the product is impressive, but for seasonal celebrating, and purchase from a state run liquor store, I would hesitate to spend so much money not knowing how the sparkler has been transported and stored (and how long).   That said, if the occasion is special, any of the iconic Champagnes will make the occasion special-er!


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