Wines of the Week

Bright Wines for the Season

May Your Holidays Be Sparkling and Bright

As you know, wine journalists constantly receive sample bottles from wineries and their public relations firms, hoping for a favorable writeup.  And every year, just as the holiday season starts, we are deluged with extra-heavy boxes containing extra-heavy bottles of sparkling wine.  That’s because, aside from their traditional role in all our celebrations, they’re excellent choices to accompany holiday cuisine.  The wide range of flavors and textures in Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts pose quite a food pairing challenge, and sparklers can usually solve the puzzle in the most delightful way.  I truly believe that sparkling whites and rosés can complement just about any kind of dish.

The range of choices in sparkling wine can be a bit bewildering.  First, of course, is Champagne, which must come from the legally-designated Champagne region of France.  It’s made by blending up to three varietals (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meuniere) from dozens of vineyards and vintages, adding sugar and yeast to induce secondary fermentation in the bottle so the released carbon dioxide goes into the liquid and makes the bubbles, , disgorging the dead yeast cells, cellaring for years sometimes…it just goes on and on.

Other sparkling wines can be made this way, but must be called something else.  And sparklers can also be made with the charmat method, where the grapes are fermented in airtight tanks.  The CO2 can’t escape, so it goes into the liquid and bubbles happen.  There are several other methods, as well.

Then we have to deal with the levels of sweetness that the labels indicate…and also the composition of the blend.  For example, “brut” is a dry wine made from blending the three grapes mentioned above.  “Blanc de blancs” is made from 100% Chardonnay, “Blanc de noirs” from all Pinot Noir, and rosé from a blend of the white and red wines.

If it says “brut” on the label, it is the driest wine, with the least sugar.  Then in order of increasing sugar content, comes “extra sec,” “sec,” “demi-sec,” and “doux,” which is the sweetest.  I’d recommend the brut to accompany most holiday meals.

Next, consider where the wines are made.  “Cava” is a sparkling wine from Spain.  Prosecco, mainly made in northern Italy, is enjoying tremendous popularity these days.  And if the label says “crémant,” you’re looking at a French wine that’s made only in certain regions of that country.  A bit less effervescent than Champagne, they are an excellent (more budget-priced) alternative. 

But don’t overlook American sparklers.  Fine examples are made in California, some by wineries under French ownership.  Wineries in Oregon and even Vermont and New Mexico are producing first-rate versions that will enhance your holiday repasts. 

So get ready to pop your cork with some of our favorite selections.  Here’s to you!

Moet & Chandon Champagne Grand Vintage 2012 ($75) – My go-to wine for Thanksgiving has always been Champagne.  It goes with every type of food, including the amazing mix of flavors on your holiday dinner plate.  White flowers on the nose, with walnut, peach and pear.  The palate treats you to tangy acidity, bright citrus and grapefruit.  WW 95

Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace NV ($16) –This attractive sparkling rosé, made in the traditional Champagne method, is 100% Pinot Noir and delivers rich strawberry and cherry flavors with a vein of snappy acidity and a moderately creamy texture.  WW 88

Adami “Garbel” Prosecco Brut Treviso NV  ($16) – A good entry-level introduction to this increasingly popular type of wine made in Northern Italy from the Glera grape.  Very crisp in texture, brimming with flavors of yellow apple, melon, and a bit of pear.  Nicely balanced.  WW 87

Bruno Paillard Champagne Premiere CuveéFrance ($50) – Made from the three traditional Champagne grapes, this cuveéis blended from 25 past vintages and aged on the lees for three years.  This results in a nose of heady citrus from the Chardonnay, and a palate of red fruits like currant and raspberry from the 45% Pinot Noir, plus characteristic notes of toast and almonds.  Very lively.  WW 92

Ask the Wine Whisperer
About those sparklers.  I’ve heard a lot about “’pet-nat” wines lately.  What does that mean? – Rory R., Charlottesville VA

“Pétillant naturel” wines finish in the bottle, just like traditional Champagnes, but without the addition of sugar and yeast for the secondary fermentation.  It’s much more cost-efficient, and produces some excellent wines at more sensible prices.