Salud! Cin-Cin! 干杯 Skål! Santé! ΥΓΕΙΑ! Živjeli! Prost! What better way to say “Cheers” than with Champagne and sparkling wines from around the world!
What makes a wine “sparkling?” Sparkling wine is different from “still” wine in that it contains significant levels of carbon dioxide which makes it fizzy. The CO2 may result from natural fermentation in a bottle or tank, or as a result of carbon dioxide injection. While the classic example of a sparkling wine is Champagne, other countries and regions also produce sparkling wine. Cava is the sparkling wine of Spain, and you will find Prosecco, Trento and Franciacorta among the sparking wines of Italy. In France, there is the sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region, called Champagne, and “Crémant” which refers to sparkling wine not made in the Champagne region. For sparkling wine from Germany and Austrian, look for Sekt.
Champagne comes only from Champagne, France. This New Year’s Eve, we shall celebrate with a bottle of Pol Roger Brut Reserve “White Foil.” A favorite of Queen Elizabeth, the non-vintage “White Foil” is sourced from top quality vineyards in Montagne de Reims (Pinot Noir), Vallee de al Marne and Petite Valle d’Epernay (Pinot Meunier) and the Cote des Blancs (Chardonnay). It was also served at the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Cate Middleton in 2011.
Traditionally a blend of equal parts Pinot Noir (body and depth), Pinot Meunier (freshness and vigorous fruit) and Chardonnay (elegance and finesse), the Pol Roger Brut Reserve is sourced exclusively from juice from the “cuvee” (first pressing). Priced at around $50, it’s a great affordable Champagne to help ring in the New Year!
A Greek term that was used to refer to “high end” table wine or a wine cellar, “Cava” comes from the same word in Latin which in English means “cave.” Caves were used in the early days of Cava production for the preservation or aging of wine. Today Cavas have become integrated with Spanish family traditions and are often consumed at baptism celebrations with even the newborn getting a taste of her pacifier dipped in the wine.
The Paul Cheneau Lady of Spain Brut offers an elegant Spanish sparkling Cava with a French influence of styling. Pop open the brightly wrapped bottle to reveal tiny bubbles of lightly-toasted pastry and fresh fruit. ~ $10 per 750 ml bottle. An excellent value!
Sparkling wines designated Crémant (“creamy”) were originally so named because their lower CO2 pressures were thought to give them a creamy versus rather fizzy mouth-feel. Produced in the méthode traditionnelle” like Champagne, Crémant must fulfill strict production criteria. Eight French appellations for sparkling wine include the designation Crémant in their name. They are
– Crémant d’Alsace
– Crémant de Bordeaux
– Crémant de Bourgogne
– Crémant de Die
– Crémant du Jura
– Crémant de Limoux
– Crémant de Loire
– Crémant de Savoie
There is also a Crémant designation outside of France: Crémant de Luxembourg. French appellation laws dictate that a Crémant must be harvested by hand with yields not exceeding a set amount for their AOC, and the wines must be aged for a minimum of one year. We’ve had the pleasure of meeting and tasting wines with producers from Crémant d’Alsace and Crémant de Limoux, and am happy to recommend their wines:
Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut and Brut Rosé
We met the charming Marie Albrecht a few years back during a wine dinner at Brasserie Max & Julie on Montrose in Houston. Marie is a 19th generation brand ambassador for Lucien Albrecht, a family owned winery founded in 1425. Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut is a beautiful straw color with delicate bubbles and a light, delicate palate. A blend of 50% Pinot Blanc, 25% Pinot Gris & 25% Riesling, it is an excellent pairing for most any food. Oysters or Blue cheese are favorites, and I enjoy it with steak tartar topped with a traditional quail egg.
The Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé is 100% Pinot Noir, with strawberry and wild cherry fruit flavors. Pair with smoked salmon and goat cheese, or caviar atop creme fraiche. Both are priced at around $21, and widely available.
Charles Baur Crémant d’Alsace Brut and Brut Rosé
Domaine Charles Baur has been made by many generations of the Baur family. I met Arnaud last year at a French Country Wines pairing dinner at Houston Midtown’s Charivari, a Continental Restaurant with Transylvanian born Chef/Owner Johann Schuster The grandson of Charles Baur, Arnaud joined the estate after obtaining a master degree in agricultural engineering. Today Domaine Baur produces wine from 30 acres of vines of which 7 acres are in the Grand Cru Eichberg and Pfersigberg. The property is located just west of the city of Colmar in the village of Eguisheim. The terroir is composed mainly of clay, old limestone and marl giving Domaine Baur’s wines a rich creaminess and depth of flavor as well as an interesting complexity in both the aromas and flavors. In addition to their Crémant d’Alsace, Baur produces Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Gewürztraminer.
The Charles Baur Cremant d’Alsace is a blend of 40 % Auxerrois, 40% Pinot Blanc and 20% Chardonnay, and expresses a bouquet of white peaches, white flowers, melon and grapefruit notes with flavors of pears and white peaches. Our Charivari dinner pairing was a salted caramel apple tart…heavenly! Priced at around $20, available in Houston at French Country Wines.
Domaine Charles Baur Crémant d’Alsace Rosé is made entirely from Pinot Noir and in the same method as Champagne. The Pinot Noir is first vinified as a dry rosé; then subjected to a secondary fermentation in the bottle. It is aged on its lees for at least 18 months. Although labeled Non-vintage, Armand Baur makes only one batch each yearn so this is effectively a vintage sparkling wine. Priced around $20, it is imported by Grape News Importing of Chicago, Illinois.
Blanquette de Limoux
Thought to be the very first sparkling wine produced in France, created long before the Champagne region became world-renowned for the sparkling wine that bears its name, Blanquette de Limoux is one of four AOC wines produced in Limoux, in addition to Blanquette méthode ancestrale, Crémant de Limoux and Limoux.
Blanquette is one of the first appellations in France, and the oldest in Languedoc-Roussillon. It has the lowest permitted maximum yield of any sparkling wine in France. Mauzac is an indigenous grape with an acidity ideal for sparkling wines. (“Blanquette” is the Occitan word for the fine white down which forms on the underside of the mauzac leaves, and is the traditional name for the mauzac grape.) The first written reference of “blanquette,” appeared in 1531 in papers written by Benedictine monks at an abbey in Saint-Hilaire.
Once of our favorite producers of Blanquette de Limoux is Chateau Rives-Blanques, an award-winning family-run estate high in the foothills of the Pyrenees in the South of France. We first tasted their wines at French Country Wines, and then had the pleasure joining owners Jan & Caryl Panman for dinner when we visited Carcassonne in the Languedoc region last April.
The Chateau Rives-Blanques Blanquette de Limoux is priced around $20. In Houston, you can find it at French Country Wines.
America’s love affair with Prosecco heated up through a very astute placement in Olive Garden restaurants by Italy’s Casa Vinicola Zonin, Italy’s largest privately held wine company, a family involved in wine for since 1821 and our hosts for a whirlwind tour of several of their estates in October 2012. Well-balanced and appealing with delicate notes of almond, Zonin Prosecco is the beginning of many an Italian celebration and is becoming the beginning of many in America as well. It is widely available in retail shops in four sizes: 187 ml, 375 ml, 750 ml and 1.5 liters at price points attractive enough to make you buy a case or two for your New Year’s Eve celebration, or for celebrating the everyday joys of life.
One of our favorite Friday tastings was hosted in Clear Lake at Tuscany Bistro pairing homemade Italian food with Italy’s premium sparkling wines of Franciacorta DOCG. These wines are age-worthy sparkling wines that you will want to open now, because the quality is phenomenal.
Franciacorta comes from the Province of Brescia (Lombardy) with DOCG status produced from grapes grown within the boundaries of the territory of Franciacorta, on the hills located between the southern shore of Lake Iseo and the city of Brescia. When it was awarded DOC status in 1967, the designation also included red and white still wines. However, since 1995 the DOCG classification has applied exclusively to the sparkling wines of the area from the permitted grape varieties of 85% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Nero and 5% Pinot bianco.
Franciacorta DOCG sparkling wines are priced beginning at about $25, and available in major metropolitan wine shops.
While still Riesling is still Germany’s most well-known wine varietal, the country has also emerged as a force in the world of sparkling wine. In fact, Germany has the world’s largest market, with about one-fourth of the nearly two billion bottles of sparkling wine produced annually worldwide consumed in Germany. Responding to the rise of sparkling wine’s popularity, German winemakers have shifted gears in production and sparkling wine now accounts for 31 percent of Germany’s total wine produced. Here are a couple of bottles of German Sekt that we are looking forward to tasting for New Year’s Eve.
Henkell Trocken Dry-Sec Sparkling
After he founded the Henkell & Cie winery in 1832, Adam Henkell commissioned the building of a “Champagne factory” in Mainz,in 1856, making him among the first producers of sparkling wine in Germany. Noted as one of the most popular sparklings in the world, it has earned a loyal following for its crisp and easy taste and affordable price.11.5% alcohol, around $13 a bottle for the 750 ml. It also is sold in a 187 ml single serving bottle.
2010 Reichsrat Von Buhl Riesling Sekt B.A.
The 2010 Reichsrat Von Buhl Riesling Sekt B.A. Brut comes from grapes planted in predominantly sandstone soil, picked at the beginning phase of harvest, pressed and then poured into bottles 6 months later for its second fermentation. The wine spends at least 12 months on the lees, to insure the fruit aromas are balanced with a toasty bouquet. 12.7% Alcohol, this Sekt is priced between $20 and $25 per bottle.
Impress Your Friends – Open Your Bubbly with a Saber
Now that you have some ideas of what to buy for your New Year’s Eve celebration, you’re ready to learn a few tricks to get the party started. Learn to open the bottle with flair and finesse, using a champagne saber or knife! Check out our post and video here for tips and a demonstration!