Story and photography by Manos Angelakis
Bubbles and More Bubbles
Excellent effervescent wines are currently produced in practically every wine producing area of the world and even though Champagne is the best known sparkler, there are other outstanding ones made in Spain (Cava), Italy (Franciacorta, Prosecco), and French areas other than Champagne, not to mention nice sparklers from Australia, South Africa, Chile and Brazil.
Champagne and the other sparkling wines are mostly white wine with CO2 either from natural in bottle secondary fermentation or secondary fermentation in stainless steel tanks (Prosecco). There are a few red sparkling wines, such as the Italian Brachetto and Australian sparkling Shiraz and they are traditionally drunk during warm weather. The sweetness of sparkling wines can range from very dry "brut no dosage" styles to sweet "doux" varieties. Actually, the sweeter sparklers are a much older style, with the dry sparklers becoming more fashionable than the sweets at the beginning of the 20th century. The wine that ostensibly Dom Perignon declared as “drinking stars” was a doux Champagne.
The French term Mousseux or Crémant indicates that the sparkling wine is made in the traditional method outside the Champagne boundaries and/or from grapes other than the classic Chardonnay/Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier blend. The designations for Italian sparkling wines are: Spumante, for the highly carbonated sparklers or Frizzante, for lightly carbonated versions. German, Austrian, and Czech sparkling wines are designated as Sekt.
In most cases, the individual wine elements are fermented and aged in separate barrels or tanks, then blended and bottled to allow for the secondary fermentation that creates in the bottle the CO2
During the holidays we consumed many beautiful sparklers from France, Spain and Italy and here are the ones that I thought excelled.
Piemontese Brachetto Fizz 56. Highly aromatic; rose petals and strawberries on the nose and sweet black cherries, strawberries and blackberries on the palate. Though a Brachetto is considered by most as an aperitif or dessert wine, we had it with a main course of magret de canard with a cherry glazing, and it was delightful. The romantic red color, fresh berry flavors, and complex, sweet finish, invite toasts to love and happiness. With only 7% alcohol, you can't go wrong selecting it.
Vigna la Rivetta, Prosecco di Cartizze, Villa Sandi. A lovely Prosecco, very pale straw colored – an almost colorless sparkler -- with an intense, fine and persistent perlage. The palate is fresh, dry and considerably smooth. Very enjoyable. We had it as an aperitif with appetizers.
Guido Berlucchi Franciacorta, Cellarius 2007, pas dosé, from Lombardy. What a way to start a party! We opened a magnum at the beginning of the evening and finished it half-way through. Intense pale straw color with faintly golden highlights. White floral notes and green apple dominate the nose, though some yeasty undertones were present when we first opened the bottle. The medium body reveals a bone dry, floral, fruity and herbaceous palate with a persistent finish. An excellent holiday libation!
From Campania, DonnaChiara’s Santé Sparkling Falanghina was also delightful. A gold colored wine with golden highlights, it was a sparkling brut, dry with good acidity on the palate, excellent when paired with roasted foie gras lobes and other fatty canapés. Served very cold, it loses a bit of the aromatic nose but cuts that fatty mouthfeel.
Nicolas Feuillatte is a rather new Champagne house established in 1978; but by all accounts, their champagne is rated as #1 in France, which might surprise a few people. In the past I had written about a number of the Feuillatte brands and I have tasted everything that they have produced from 1986 to now. So, when I received their newest release called D’Luscious, a Demi-Sec Rosé retailing for $59, I could not wait to try it. I was planning to talk about D’Luscious in the February issue but my curiosity was such that I decided to open the bottle one evening after Christmas. D’Luscious is a Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay blend; aged for almost three years, and I believe that this dark rosé will appeal to people that love spicy cuisine. It is full bodied, rich and spicy with a long and elegantly sweet finish. Very nice indeed!
From the Loire Valley, a Crémant de Loire from Chateau Langlois. It is a pale yellow colored sparkler with slightly greenish highlights. It has aromas of white fruits, with quince, peach and grapefruit dominating. It is made from 4 grape varieties, mostly Chenin Blanc with some Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Grolleau Noir. It was an interesting dry sparkler, but I would not consider it as festive as the other sparklers we had.
The best Cava is made in Catalonia, mostly in the historic D.O. of Penedès from all indigenous white Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel.lo grapes (though some producers nowadays mix the indigenous white varietals with some Pinot Noir or use only two of the traditional varieties). The production method is the traditional méthode champenoise.
The largest cava producer is Freixenet, a house that recently celebrated its 100 anniversary with the release of a Gran Reserve bottling of the 2006 vintage of a Brut Nature (i.e. no dosage) from Casa Sala. It is a very dry, lovely sparkler that, at a price of $36 to $60 per 750 ml bottle, is extremely well priced for a top cuvée. It is a blend of Xarel.lo and Parellada, with blend percentages changing every year depending on the harvest. The grapes are picked by hand from old-growth vines on the family's original estate; then manually pressed on the winery's original press, built in 1900 in Champagne, France. The wine was aged on the lees under natural cork for more than five years, then riddled and disgorged by hand.
A different Freixenet estate produces Segura Viudas Reseva Heredad, another hand crafted artisan méthode champenoise sparkling wine from the Alt Penedés, west of Barcelona. The estate dates back to the 11th century and the sparkler is made from 67% Macabeo and 33% Parellada old growth traditional cava grapes, aged on the lees for 30 months in controlled low temperature. Actually, quite a good sparkler balanced and soft, at a very logical price; it makes this cava affordable even in the magnum (1.5 liter) size.
Finally, the “King of the Cava” Kripta Brut Nature Gran Reserva 2006 from the Agustí Torelló Mata winery. It is a traditional blend of 45% Macabeo, 32% Parellada, and 23% Xarel.lo. Clean aromas of delicate floral and white flower notes and a delightfully fruity palate is in perfect harmony and equilibrium.
Try them all, you will like most of them.
To your health!
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