By Seema Tikare
My favorite parties are those when I walk into the room and the host greets me with sparkling wine. It is immediately off to a great start. It eases all the awkward introductions if you don’t know someone, the decision of whether you need to take your shoes off, how to give the host gift in a friendly way, where to put your purse and so forth. A glass of something fizzy and beautiful is the butter that allows you to glide through the formalities and get to the actual party. Coco Chanel once said, “I only drink Champagne on two occasions: when I am in love and when I am not.” While it sounds rather pretentious, I appreciate the sentiment. However, I prefer Dom Perignon saying, “Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!” Dom Perignon gets to the heart of the magic that you can taste in sparkling wine.
It is a huge mistake to think of sparkling wine as something to reserve for celebrations and not serve it with a meal. It is one of those amazing chameleon wines. It can be drunk alone, with cheese and canapes, with a meal in the afternoon or evening, or with dessert. And it is one of those unusual wines that is entirely appropriate when the weather outside is frightful and when it is delightful. In the summer, the temperature cools you down and in the winter, the bubbles warm you up.
In previous articles, I have written about the laborious and time-consuming process of traditional method sparkling wine making — the second fermentation which produces the bubbles is finished in the final bottle, and the yeasts or lees are disgorged. Then the wine is prepared for final cork and cage closing. The result is a wine that has more complex flavors, including pastry notes from the lees aging and finer and more persistent bubbles. Prosecco receives its second fermentation in a pressurized tank by what is known as the Charmat method, so I will not cover it today. While many of the wines are not from Champagne, they use the same methods and sometimes, even the same grapes. I find the diversity to be exciting.
BARTON AND GUESTIER CRÉMANT DE BORDEAUX BRUT, NV
Made with 55% Cabernet Franc and 45% Semillon grapes, this is a delicious combination. The Cabernet Franc portion of the wine is a blanc de noir and the Semillon is a blanc de blanc, meaning this wine is not a rosé despite including red grapes. This pale-yellow colored wine is fresh and flavorful. The base wine is 3O% fermented in new oak barrels then put into the bottle to be aged on the lees for 12 months. Between the oak and lees, this wine has wonderful notes of vanilla and brioche that overlay the lemon and apple and even a hint of stone fruit. And “Brut” means that it has up to 12 g/liter of sugar added at the end to soften it a bit. It is a perfect wine to kick off an evening of fun. Available from United Liquors.
2O2O CALVET CRÉMANT DE BORDEAUX, BRUT ROSÉ
Calvet, an old winery established in 1818, began exporting wines to the U.S. as early as 1882. They own vineyards now not only in Bordeaux, but in the Rhone Valley, where they were first established and in Burgundy. Making wine in all of these regions in France has allowed them to perfect their techniques to make remarkable wines. This rosé wine is made with 1OO% Cabernet Franc. The beauty of the grape shines through, with aromas of fresh strawberries and delicate florals. It spends 9 months in the bottle on the lees, which keeps the wine a bit fresher but with fewer pastry notes. The pink color is just gorgeous. I am not usually a fan of rosé wines in general, but this wine is perfect. Available from United Liquors.
CONTRATTO METODO CLASSICO MILLESIMATO PAS DOSE
This wine is from the Piedmont region of Italy, home to storied Barolo and Barbaresco. The designation of origin or DOCG is called Alta Langa and it is fantastic. Made with 8O% Pinot Nero, and 2O% Chardonnay, this wine is aged on the lees in bottle for 36 months before disgorgement. Pas Dose means that no sugar is added at the end before corking and caging, so you get the fruit notes of the Pinot Nero (Noir), the linear citrus of Chardonnay and the luxurious bready, yeasty notes from the 36 months on the lees. This wine will stand up to any Champagne you may choose with a similar blend. Available from MS Walker.
DOMAINE MAIRE & FILS “HENRI MAIRE” CRÉMANT DE JURA, BRUT JURASSIQUE
Part of the Boisset Collection, this wine is not nearly as flamboyant as the owner, Jean-Charles Boisset, who seems to favor velvet and satin dinner jackets and decadent interiors. In fact, this wine is very classic and elegant. The Jura Mountains, on the eastern edge of France are home to some beautiful terroir and so far, seem to have escaped many of the depredations of the fickle weather these days. Made with the traditional varieties, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, this wine is gently handled. It is aged on the lees for 12 months, giving it just enough time to soften the red fruit and citrus notes, but still remain refreshingly structured. The bubbles are slightly creamy and will go well with any cuisine you may choose to serve. Available from Horizon Beverage.
LOUIS DE GRENELLE CORAIL SAUMUR, CREMANT DE LOIRE ROSÉ BRUT
This is another 1OO% Cabernet Franc rosé, but this time from the familiar territory in the Loire Valley. Saumur is the appellation name and is known for whites and reds, but this sparkling Crémant is a standout. It has all the beautiful perfume one expects from Cabernet Franc, the red fruit and flowers, but also a certain suppleness from the nine months it spends on the lees before disgorgement. The color is a beautiful coral — hence the French name “Corail.” This wine again has enough body and spirit to go with anything you might serve, from steak to fish. Available from MS Walker.
GONET MEDEVILLE PREMIER CRU BLANC DE NOIR BRUT NV
Although they both come from wine-making families, Julie and Xavier Gonet-Medeville set off on their own in 2OOO with 12 hectares of Champagne vineyards that Xavier had inherited from his family. This is a grower Champagne, meaning that it is not from a large house that has a house style. Each bottle will have the stamp of the winemaker, but it is artisanal and will rarely taste the same year after year. Having said that, this is a lovely wine. Made with 1OO% Pinot Noir grape, it is lush and fruity. It spends two years on the lees to give it a soft pastry quality, but it is the power of the Pinot Noir that gives it its fullness, with notes of raspberry and honey. I will come back to this wine again and again. Available from MS Walker.
2O18 POL ROGER ROSÉ BRUT VINTAGE
Every list of Champagnes should have a splurge wine. And this is a true contender. Even people who claim not to like Champagne love this wine. Pol Roger winery was established 17O years ago and has been shepherded for six generations by the family. Over that time, they have built a formidable reputation in Champagne as one of the premier houses. This wine is a mix of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and is aged in cellars 1OO feet underground. It is an exuberant Champagne loaded with red fruit and even some tropical notes like mango. This wine is ready to drink now but will also improve with age. If you do decide to save a wine for a special occasion, this one is a keeper. Available from MS Walker.