Our Champagne and Imported Sparkling Wine offering is shaping up nicely for the Holiday Season. We’ve added many new bottlings from small, grower-producers to the more recognizable Champagne houses including other sparkling wines from all over France, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Australia, and Germany.
Below is a snapshot of some of my favorite new releases:
I’m sure most of you have had Modena’s balsamic vinegar, Parma’s Prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, but have you tasted the local “fizz” from that region?
Lambrusco is an Emilia-Romagna specialty made in a frizzante (semi-sparkling) style. Try the Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Centenario Amibile Grasparossa di Castelvetro ($10.99) for a real and affordable treat. Gorgeous pink mousse erupts atop bubbling purple liquid. Delicious, delicately bittersweet. Try with salumi, dim sum, or with your holiday roast turkey.
Of all the sparkling wines we carry from Italy, Prosecco is by far the most popular category and Sorelle Bronca Prosecco di Valdobbiadene ($14.99) is easily the best seller. The vinification is unusual for Prosecco. Instead of two separate fermentations, (grape juice to still wine, then still wine to sparkling wine), the Bronca Sister’s Prosecco grapes are pressed, and the juice is held at very low temperatures until it is ready to be made into sparkling wine. They do this periodically throughout the year to maintain the freshest possible stock, and once it is ready, the must is put into a special fermenter and fermented directly to sparkling wine. This more costly single fermentation process retains more of the classic pear aroma that makes Prosecco distinctive. No sugar is added, all of the sweetness comes from the must. A number of batches are produced during the year to ensure freshness. If you feel like splurging, try the Particella 68 ($19.99). This wine is made from the Bronca Sister’s best vineyard perhaps 500 yards from the edge of the Cartizze boundary, the most prized growing area in the Prosecco zone.
Franciacorta is Italy’s most noted area for méthode champenoise sparkling wines. This is the traditional Champagne method, in which the secondary fermentation of the wine is carried out in the bottle. I’d highly recommend the Monte Rossa Saten Brut ($34.99). Saten indicates the wine is made only from white grapes in a crémant style, meaning that the wine has slightly lower atmospheric pressure than a traditional méthode champenoise sparkler. This wine has had the honor of receiving the most prestigious award offered to Italian wines, the “Tre Biccchieri” (Three Glass) Award from Gambero Rosso. Delicate, floral aromas, soft, complex and elegant.
Spain’s contribution to sparkling wine is Cava. Cava, meaning cellar, must go through secondary fermentation in the bottle (méthode champenoise ) and must be aged a minimum of six months on the lees before being disgorged and sold. The main grapes used in Cava are Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada. Foreign grapes have been approved including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir.
Rimarts ($18.99) is a small, family run operation by two brothers, Ricard and Ernest Martinez. Production is roughly 5,000 cases of Cava per year. Compare to Freixenet whose production is over 200 million bottles annually. Riddling and disgorging are done entirely by hand. The grapes come from old-time contracts their father worked with before them. Importer Beaune Imports writes “It is clear from the start that these guys know what they’re doing, no frills, just hand-made Cava that would put many top-name Champagnes to shame.” I agree: high quality and highly recommended.
Venturing outside of the Champagne region, you can find méthode champenoise sparkling wines from many other regions in France. Burgundy, Alsace, Loire Valley and Limoux, to name a few, are areas more than capable of producing terrific “bang for the buck” sparkling wines.
Vitteaut-Alberti “Cuvee Agnes” Cremant de Bourgogne ($21.99) is the finest Cremant de Bourgogne I’ve tasted this year. Cuvee Agnes (named after their daughter) is the winery’s top wine made from 100% Chardonnay from The Côte d’Or and Côte Chalonnaise. This would be my top pick as an alternative to more expensive Champagne.
The Domaine Albert Mann estate is located in Wettolsheim, a small village in the heart of Alsace. The philosophy of the Domaine is to make a wine nourished by the elements of the soil and not by fertilizers. The estate wants to produce a wine in harmony with nature while realizing an agriculture whose finality is not to treat, but to strengthen the vitality of the soil. The whole estate realizes biologic and bio-dynamic viticulture. The Cremant d’Alsace Brut 2008 ($21.99) is a blend of Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois, Pinot Gris and Riesling. Green apple, citrus and chalky mineral aromas. Pure flavors with orange notes; finishing tangy and mouthwatering.
Two wines I’d highly recommend from Piper-Heidsieck are the Brut non-vintage ($29.99) with its new, stately label upgrade and the newly released Rare Brut 2002 ($149.99). The Brut non-vintage continues to represent one of the best values in Champagne. A high quality and sophisticated bottle at this price level. The Rare Brut 2002 is one of the finest Champagnes I’ve tasted this year. A blend of Chardonnay-mostly-and Pinot Noir. The 2002 is the most recent bottling in a trilogy (1988-1998-2002), born out of the oenologist’s inspiration. Wine Spectator writes “A classy Champagne, all about the silky texture. The Pinot Noir component shows now, with red berry and graphite flavors and a firm structure influencing the balance. Honey, toast and seashore notes complete the picture. Fine length. 95 points.”
The new releases from Pierre Gimonnet & Fils are worth your attention. Gimonnet’s vineyards come from the northern Côte des Blancs. The majority of the vineyards are more than 40 years old, the oldest parcel in Cramant is 100 years. We chose three bottling from this estate in 2011. If you’re not familiar with the style of Gimonnet Champagnes, the Cuis 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut ($44.99), would be a good starting spot. Peter Liem from his Champagne Guide Website writes “Gimonnet’s wines are pure, sleek and lithe, demonstrating a classical character of the northern Côte des Blancs. They are polished in the best sense of the word, demonstrating a fine elegance and sophistication while remaining highly individual in personality and true to their terroir origins.” The 2004 “Cuvee Oenophile’ Extra Brut ($64.99) is the most naked expression of Champagne from this producer. Non-dosage, pure, delicate yet intense. The 2004 Special Club ($74.99) kicks into another gear. Gorgeous aromas and flavors, sophisticated with gentle toast notes, and tremendous length: highly recommended.
Another candidate for the top Champagne released in 2011 is Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne 2000 ($119.99). Kobrand Imports writes: “This superb Champagne, produced only in years exceptional enough to declare a vintage, is appropriately presented in an antique-style bottle of XVIIIth century design. Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs is the ultimate expression of the Taittinger style, a Champagne of great refinement, elegance and delicacy. The clean, aristocratic Chardonnay fragrance is offset by warm, toasty nuances, which carry onto a palate of finely- balanced, generous white fruit flavors underscored by a fine, crisp acidity and subtle mineral notes. The refined, toasty finish is lasting and complex.”
I encourage you to try any of these selections. You won’t be disappointed. Happy holidays!
Howard Padgett, Imported Wine Buyer