Bubblies 101: A guide to sparkling wines for New Year’s

As New Year’s Eve approaches, I’m sure there are lots of folks out there still looking for the right bottle of bubbly to pop at the stroke of midnight.  For those in need of some background info and suggestions, here’s my quick-and-dirty guide to world of sparkling wines out there (and it’s not just champagne!), broken down by general price range:

Under $20

If you are looking to party on a budget, I’ve got good news for you: there’s a lot of good choices in this price range.  Here’s a bunch of things to drink instead of cheap champagne (which can be pretty yuck):

Moscato d’asti:  for those who like some dewy sweetness to their sparkling wine, moscato from the Asti region of Italy fills the bill nicely for anywhere from $10 and up.  For those of you who want lighter bubbly action, many moscatos come frizzante, a term for wines that are less carbonated and feel more lightly sparkling.  My favorite moscato producers include La Spinetta, Elio Perrone and Ceretto; Saracco is widely available and isn’t quite as good, but still does the job nicely.

Cava: these sparkling wines from Spain are made with the methode champenoise and the best examples can have very Champagne-like characteristics.  The best one I’ve had is a Paul Cheneaux Blanc de Blancs Reserva; other producers to look for include Segura Viudas and Raventos.  Cristalino can be found everywhere and has been decent when I’ve tried it.

Prosecco: these sparkling wines from Italy are fresh and have a bit more of a slightly green, sometimes savory (think olive) edge.  My personal favorite is a lovely delicate prosecco from Vigne di Alice; I’ve also liked other proseccos from producers called Astoria and Valdo.  Be wary of cheap knock-offs though – some are not even from Italy.  Look for wines with a DOCG label, which means it’s from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene zone, the top area for prosecco.

Cremant:  some French sparkling wines from outside the Champagne region are called cremant, such as  Cremant de Bourgogne (from Burgundy), Cremant de Jura (from Jura) and Cremant d’Alsace (from Alsace).  Good ones to look for include the Parigot & Richard Blanc de Blancs, the Philippe Bornard cremants for something a bit “different”, or the Lucien Albrecht Blanc de Blancs, a steal at about $13.  If you don’t believe me about how good these wines are – the Albrecht is what we’re having at our NYE celebration.

California sparkling wine: sparkling wines from California offer excellent value in comparison to Champagne; some of the bottlings that come in at or near $20 that I really like include the Roederer Estate Anderson Valley and the Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs and Mirabelle Rosé.


Of course, no guide to bubbly would be complete with a mention of-

Champagne:  there are a lot of terrific champagnes to be had in this price range, and you don’t have to keep buying the same bottle of Veuve Clicquot.  Some of my favorites include:  Larmandier Terre de Vertus 1er Cru, excellent grower champagnes from Benoit Lahaye, Henriot Souverain NV (meaning nonvintage), and a terrific little vintage offering, the 2004 Dehours Champagne Extra Brut Les Genevraux, made from 100% pinot meunier.

…and if money is no object

Had a really great year despite the recession? Or not that great a year, but you’re ready to blow big bucks to forget 2010?  Look no further – vintage offerings like 1997 Salon, 1998 Krug, and 1996 Henriot Enchanteleurs will send shivers down your spine.  If you need a little more street cred, rapper favorites like 2002 Cristal and 2002 Dom Perignon are not far behind in quality.  Just be ready to drop $150-300 a bottle for these beauties- and please invite me!    Tasting notes on a dizzying number of wines are below, for those who want the play-by-play.  Have a great New Year’s everyone! -Alan

  • 1996 Henriot Champagne Cuvée des Enchanteleurs Brut – France, Champagne (12/2/2010)
    A dark horse among the premium champagnes in this tasting. Showing some oxidation – butterscotch flavors abound, but if you can live with that style, this wine is really really tasty – has the most showy flavors in the tasting. For my palate, this competes for wine of the night, with the Krug 1998 and the Salon BdB ’97. 94-95 (94 points)
  • 1997 Salon Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger, Champagne (12/2/2010)
    Perhaps the most complete wine of the night; very pretty, smooth, very tasty, everything in balance. Vying with the Krug 1998 for WOTN. 93-95 (94 points)
  • 1998 Krug Champagne Brut – France, Champagne (12/2/2010)
    Delicious – a nice richness with beautiful acidity. Best wine of the tasting. 94-95 (94 points)
  • 2002 Louis Roederer Champagne Cristal Brut – France, Champagne (12/2/2010)
    Did not keep detailed notes, but this was very good, 92-93+ish points. (93 points)
  • 2004 Dehours Champagne Extra Brut Les Genevraux – France, Champagne (12/2/2010)
    A value standout of the tasting – juicy fruit with zing, and a very different kind of nose; slightly oxidative. Very tasty. Not scored at the time, but from memory, 90-92. 100% pinot meunier. (91 points)
  • N.V. Henriot Champagne Blanc Souverain Brut – France, Champagne (12/2/2010)
    A good performer for the price range; has juiciness to the fruit, good acidity, very pleasing; lots of flavor and a nice smoothness. 90-91 (90 points)
  • 1999 Delamotte Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut – France, Champagne, Côte des Blancs, Champagne (12/2/2010)
    Interesting – has a bit of creaminess; very smooth. Has something very different about it that I didn’t get to pinpoint due to the quick pace of the tasting.
  • 2002 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon – France, Champagne (12/2/2010)
    Had a slightly bitter minerality on the palate; good but my least favorite among the premium champagnes poured on this night.
  • 2006 Schramsberg Vineyards Blanc de Blancs – USA, California (12/2/2010)
    Had a nice bit of minerality; good value.
  • N.V. Benoît Lahaye Champagne Brut Nature – France, Champagne, Bouzy, Champagne (12/2/2010)
    Good – consistent with prior tastings of this producer, though this bottling was a shade tart for me.
  • N.V. Camille Savès Champagne Brut Grand Cru Rosé – France, Champagne (12/2/2010)
    Good, with a nutty note.
  • N.V. Dehours Champagne Grande Réserve Extra-Brut – France, Champagne (12/2/2010)
    Decent but not as good as the Genevraux ’04, which is worth the extra money. 60% pinot Continue reading

Righting past wrongs – and introducing “Wine and a Movie”

Today’s post is about righting some wrongs. First of all, I’m sorry for the lack of posts this month – I have been very busy working on a few film releases, one of which is complete and can be seen here, with the other not yet official, but to be mentioned in this space when it is; the good news is, I expect to be posting more regularly in the near future now that those milestones are out of the way.  The second wrong that I’m correcting is that in the nearly two years that I’ve been doing this blog, I’ve never once featured a wine from Burgundy, even though it has been my favorite wine region for several years now.  That changes today.

Third, in choosing the wine for this post I decided to pair wine from a well-regarded Burgundy producer whose wines I’d been meaning to try for a long time but had never gotten around to – Domaine Fourrier – with a truly classic film that I’d also never gotten around to – Jean-Luc Godard’s groundbreaking film Breathless ( A Bout de Souffle in French).  Borrowing a page from Lyle Fass’s excellent blog about wine and sometimes film, Rockss and Fruit, I’m planning to start doing wine and film pairings like this as a recurring feature that I’ll call Wine and a Movie.

I’m not going to try to draw too many parallels between Breathless and the Fourrier wines, since to be honest, I didn’t pick them on the basis of any commonality that they shared other than my checking them out for the first time on the same day. Having said that, one common thread that does seem to run through them is a minimalist, naturalistic approach to technology.  I understand that Jean-Marie Fourrier prefers not to use sulfur as a preservative in his wines (as it is used in most wines), and otherwise uses gentle methods to try and depict as much of the natural qualities of the terroirs in which he works.  Along similar lines, Godard used a relatively low-tech handheld camera for Breathless, employing close-ups and long, loving shots of his stars, following them throughout their day (rather than using the shot/reverse shot style of scene construction that was the orthodoxy at the time) to depict their lives in a natural, mostly unedited state.  You can really feel the “terroir” of the characters and the setting in almost every frame.

Any similarity between Breathless and the Fourrier wines probably ends there.  A Bout de Souffle was regarded as radical for its time – introducing the heavy use of jump cuts and a run-and-gun shooting style that many people found jarring at the time, but has surely been a model for so many independent films that came after it, right up to the present day.  On my first viewing of it, the novelty of its filmmaking style is hard to know (without reading historical commentary) as a modern viewer with a frame of reference that has incorporated so many of the innovations of Breathless.  However, the quality of its content is easy to appreciate – the bold, in-your-face narrative and images still feel fresh and stylish fifty(!) years after the film’s release, and the starkly drawn characters still feel like utterly relatable archetypes.  Jean-Paul Belmondo’s Michel Poicard is that toxic guy we all know or know of – the grifter who is charming but a cheat, cool but a wreck, exciting for a while but ultimately trouble for everyone he meets.  Jean Seberg’s Patricia is the quintessential American in Paris, with a story arc that’s interesting to watch, so I won’t reveal it here.  I will say though, that for French speakers, her intentionally bad American-accented French is such a hoot that it alone is worth the price of admission.

The Fourrier wines are accomplished but don’t feel radical or jarring to me in any way – instead, they feel like well-executed, mostly traditional Burgundies with excellent transparency.  I tried the 2007 Gevrey Chambertin VV while watching the film; the 2007 Clos Solon VV was tasted several nights later when a friend serendipitously brought it to a wine group tasting.  My notes are below.

I hope you take this post as an impetus to try that wine you’ve wanted to try for a long time, and to do whatever else you’ve been putting off for too long.  Happy holidays! -Alan

  • 2007 Domaine Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin Vieille Vigne – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Gevrey-Chambertin (12/12/2010)A mostly traditional-feeling Burgundy, but a bit darker in color than you might expect – verging toward purple rather than ruby/garnet. On the nose, you get traditional Burg characteristics of earth and some charcoal-like inflections that remind me of some D. Laurent Gevreys that I’ve had; but there is also just the slightest hint of a cola-like note that makes this feel a little California as well. On the palate, the first taste opens with a pleasing bit of sappy sweetness in the fruit, but this seems to fade or become less noticeable with time. Otherwise, this is tasty, with ample but structured red-purple fruits, and good acidity. However, there is a definite bitterness on the finish that may resolve well someday but keeps this from being truly exceptional. Nonetheless, well worth the sale price I paid for this. 90-91+ points. (90 points)
  • 2007 Domaine Fourrier Morey St. Denis Clos Solon – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Morey St. Denis (12/15/2010)Tasted a few days after the Gevrey VV village bottling, this Clos Solon shows a rounder, more red-fruited character than the Gevrey. This wine has perhaps less transparency and Burgundian earth but a denser, creamier mouthfeel. The red fruits are more generous and pleasing right now than the darker fruits in the Gevrey VV, with similarly good balancing acidity. Overall, this feels like the more pleasing wine, with a more inviting juiciness. A terrific village wine that will make me seek out more Fourrier wines, and a good reason to not overlook the MSD offerings in favor of Gevrey or Chambolle. (92 points)

Posted from CellarTracker