Summer Bubbles for a Warm Weather Respite
by Rich Mauro
Americans are bubbling over with demand for sparkling wine. According to industry data, Americans are sipping more of the frothy drink than ever before, and not just during the holidays or special occasions. Consumers are realizing that there is a sparkling wine appropriate for any occasion any time of year.
And the surge is led by Prosecco, the fresh frizzante from the hills north of Venice. Prosecco – the name of the production zone, while the native glera is the dominant grape – unlike the other sparklers in this report is produced using the Charmat Method. With Charmat, bubbles are produced by inducing the second fermentation in pressurized stainless steel tanks, instead of the bottle (as in the Champagne Method). This preserves glera’s fresh aromas and clean meaning the bubbles are created using the Champagne method where the second fermentation occurs in the bottle, delicate pear and peach fruit.
One of the best producers is Bisol. I recently had an opportunity recently to sit down with Gianluca Bisol who now manages the company (his brother, Desiderio, heads up the winemaking). A family-owned winery with a grape growing history that dates back to 1542 near the town of Valdobbiadene, Bisol produces a range of organically farmed Proseccos. Gianluca was in the U.S. to promote Bisol’s new line of Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore.
With a typically light body, and frothy, fresh flavors, Bisol wines such as “Crede” ($24) are affordable and eminently drinkable. Bisol also produces a portfolio of second selection wines labeled “Jeio”, sourced from specific plots in the appellation and dedicated to the patriarch of the family. At under $20, these are fine values.
California sparkling wine consumption has also grown significantly, in fact the fastest of all categories in the past year.
Roederer Estate, which was founded in Mendocino County in 1981 by the Champagne Louis Roeder family, has long been a favorite of mine. These Champagne Method wines are sourced from organically farmed estate vineyards in the Anderson Valley. Importantly, they add oak-aged reserve wines to each year’s cuvée (blend), a practice common in Champagne, to achieve a characteristic richness and complexity. The Brut ($24) is 60 percent chardonnay and 40 percent pinot noir.
Another option comes from Napa Valley’s Sterling Vineyards. Sterling, which was established in 1964 and has become one of the valley’s most popular destinations, uses 100 percent Napa Valley chardonnay for its fresh, citrusy 2016 Blanc de Blancs ($24) and 70 percent Napa chardonnay plus 30 percent Monterey pinot noir for its berry-flecked Sparkling Rosé ($24).
And I was surprised by a Central Coast sparkler by Riverbench. Established in 1973 in the Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County, it’s flagship wine, the 2014 Cork Jumper Rosé ($48), is 80 percent pinot noir and 20 percent chardonnay. I was intrigued by its distinctive sea breeze character.
Champagne, though, still is the world’s most prestigious sparkling wine. Typically blends of pinot noir and chardonnay with dollops of pinot meunier, the best Champagnes balance richness and delicacy.
A Champagne house’s Nonvintage Brut is always a good choice as it represents the signature style of a house and tends to be the most affordable. But sometimes you want something special and Vintage Champagne fits the bill. Such it is with the 2007 Laurent-Perrier Brut Millésimé ($75). Laurent-Perrier has chosen to make vintages very rarely, only selecting the very best years. This one’s luxurious fruit is a perfect example why.
If you like your Champagne very dry, you’ll want to try the Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut “Brut Nature” ($80), which is made with no added sugar (small sugar additions during the winemaking process is common in Champagne) Laurent-Perrier pioneered this category 35 years ago. The wine lives up to its billing with brisk, bracing impact.
Also, keep your eyes peeled for Champagne Collet, a fairly new Champagne to the US. Collet has an interesting history. It was created in 1921 after years of struggle when Champagne growers fought to have their grapes and viticultural integrity recognized and protected. A cooperative of growers that was formed at the time helped establish Appellation system in Champagne and the rst of France in 1936. This cooperative, the oldest in Champagne, still owns Collet.
I attended a product launch event recently and came away impressed with the overall quality and style of the wines. A smaller house, based in the village of Ay, Collet is known for its long aged cuvées, resulting in delicate, complex wines. Its Brut “Art Deco” Premier Cru ($45), Brut Rosé ($50), and Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru ($50) are fine introductions to the brand, which boast eleven cuvées.
Still in France, Crémant is the term used to denote sparkling wines not made in Champagne. Crémant d’Alsace is one of the best and an affordable alternative to Champagne. It is made using the “Methode Champenoise” (sometimes labeled, “methode traditionnelle”). The 100% pinot noir Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé ($22) offers crisp strawberry fruit with finesse and a nice measure of earthy complexity.
And there is something about effervescent wine that makes it is popular just about everywhere on the planet. Here are three from the Southern Hemisphere.
Ever heard of “Methode Cap Classique”? It’s a designation of South African sparkling wine made by the Champagne Method. And Simonsig is one of its fist producers, having pioneered the style in 1971. Enjoy the 2015 Kaapse Vonkel Brut ($25) 48 percent chardonnay, 49 percent pinot noir, and 3 percent pinot meunier and the 2015 Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rosé ($25). This one is 63 percent pinot noir, 35 percent pinotage, and 2 percent pinot meunier; it is refreshingly crisp with light berry tones.
When you think of wine from Argentina, do you only think of Malbec? I bet you didn’t know there are some pretty good bubbles, too. Try the Pascal “Toso” Brut ($13). With 100 percent estate grown chardonnay, it is freshly citric and goes down easy.
And now for something completely different: How about Sparkling Shiraz from Australia? With characteristic lively red berries, the 2016 Paringa is one of the best I have had in awhile. It is produced by the Hickinbotham family, which has been involved in the Australian wine industry for nearly 80 years and makes of some of Australia’s finest Shiraz. The Hickinbotham family has been growing grapes since 1971 and in 1999 they established the Paringa wine brand. The wine is exuberantly fruity, dry and intense.
(NOTE: All wines in this article are non-vintage unless otherwise noted.)