Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Yes, There ARE great Sparklers that are not French!

After talking about the wonderful sparkling wines from France, it’s important to talk about the great wines from other regions of the world as there are some excellent ones and they are often great value plays.

Spain perhaps offers the best bargains in the wine world and sparkling wines are no exception. These wines are made by the Methode Champenois like their French counterparts (secondary fermentation in the bottle). The grapes are different – Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo being the major varietals. Spanish Cavas are minerally, dry with crisp flavors. The bubbles tend to be a little bigger and more exuberant than the French bubblies, and for this reason, Cavas are one of my two choices when making Mimosas and Bellinis as they stand up to the juice. They are wonderful on their own, though, and the prices are amazing. My favorite is Mercat, which comes as a Brut or a Brut Nature (see last week’s article). There are mineral driven aromas of orchard fruits, with a perfectly balanced acidity. Both are awesome for a mere $13.99. So you can buy it by the case for your New Year’s party and still impress.

Freixenet, in its familiar black bottle, is also a Cava, and is a bargain for making those mimosas at under $10 a bottle. For a mere $22.99 you can get an outstanding Cava, Raventos i Blanc, a beautifully balanced wine with delicate minerally stone fruit aromas and flavors. This will give $40 Champagnes a real run for their money.

There are many fine sparkling wines made in America, especially in California, Washington and..…New Mexico. The Gruet family, owners of a champagne house in France, were vacationing in the American Southwest when they ran into a group of vintners in Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico. They gave it a whirl and now make a wide array of wonderful sparkling wines priced at about $16.99. They are all good, but for those liking sweeter wines, the Demi Sec is one of this country’s best and their Brut Rose is outstanding.

California has many estates that make good sparkling wines in partnership with French houses. Mumm Napa, Domain Carneros (with Tattinger), Chandon, and Piper Sonoma all make good sparkling wines in the $15-20 range. Schramsburg makes beautiful sparklers, and they are vintage wines. The Blanc de Blancs was served at Nixon’s “Toast to Peace” with China’s Premier Zhou Enlai in 1972 and has been served at state functions by just about every administration since. Priced at $29.99, these wines are an excellent alternative to $40 and $50 Champagnes. Roederer Estate makes a great Brut for $20 and a more costly ($50) L’Ermitage Vintage version that is really, REALLY good.

Treveri is a family owned estate in the Columbia Valley in Washington State, and their sparklers are fantastic for the price. They make a Brut and an Extra Brut with zero dosage (meaning very, VERY dry) that drink like they cost $30 or $40 instead of the $13.49 price tag.

All of the above wines are made in the traditional method, but another group of sparkling wines from Italy are made in a different way. The secondary fermentation is done in tanks and then the wine is bottled, the so called Charmat method. This is less expensive, and these wines, called Prosecco, are great values. The grape used is called Glera, and although most are called Brut, there is enough residual sugar to make them somewhere between a Brut and an Extra Dry. The bubbles are big and exuberant, which, along with the low price, make Prosecco ideal for Mimosas and “Champagne cocktails.” La Marca, at $12.49, is a top seller as is Cavit’s Lunetta for the same price. My favorites are Le Coulture Sylvoz, a true Brut at $12.49, and probably the best one made, Alice (pronounced a-LEECH-ae). This estate is owned by a woman, the winemaker is a woman, and the wine is named after the owner’s grandmother. The bubbles are surprisingly fine and there are wonderful flavors of stone fruit and minerals. The label is even elegant in this $22.99 wine.

New Year’s is a time for celebrating what was and what is to be. Hopefully this and my previous installment will help you in your endeavors to do so. I, as well as the staff at Liquor Mart, want to wish you all the happiest holiday season and the happiest of New Years. I am looking forward to another year of writing what I hope are enjoyable and informative articles to help expand your wine knowledge and appreciation.

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