From the illuminated chrysalis of the holidays, the New Year brings life for some, ambitions for others, and for many, a dedication to spreading their wings. We shed the old, and look forward to what challenges lay ahead. Celebrating life’s diversity, the cycle begins again.
Sparkling wine is called for on just about every occasion. As the New Year unfolds, so do planned events, special occasions, holidays and times to share with a special someone. Anniversaries, engagements, first dates, college graduations, birthdays, there is always a reason to celebrate. I stick to the philosophy that there is a wine for everyone. So also can it be said about sparkling wine. From sweet and fruity, semi-sparkling (frizzante), to fully sparkling and dry, one can rest easy knowing that their own palate can be appeased without necessarily breaking one’s bank. Especially in these times, we are all searching for more for less. While I enjoy a good vintage Champagne just as much as the next oenophile, sometimes the occasion just does not warrant this indulgence.
The world has come a long way in the production of sparkling wine. Every sip is a reflection of terroir, history, culture, personal touch and subjective taste. While the drinking majority refers to all bubbly as “Champagne,” those of us in the know realize that many countries and wine-producing regions make a sparkler of some sort. Most are named for a style or region and there are so very many to choose from.
Universally known as a celebratory wine, Champagne and sparkling wine alike unleash a warm and memory-evoking experience. Too many people get hung up on the word “Champagne.” While Champagne is the original appellation in france still producing some of the finest sparkling wines in the world, the wines are typically associated with a price tag. Many producing countries make wine in the style of Champagne (method champenoise) at a more affordable price. Many producers will go as far as to make sure almost every part of the winemaking process is as classic as possible, using only grapes that would be allowed in the production of a true Champagne (pinot meunier, pinot noir or chardonnay). What is so exciting to me is that sparkling wine can be made with any grape (country and region laws providing), and subsequently brings forth many exotic and unique flavors. Furthermore, there are cost-effective processes that result in cheaper, more economic options.
As your wallet looks for alternatives, I challenge your palate to do the same. There are always going to be old friends who never get old, but there might be another would-be friend waiting for you to pop the top and discover! Here, we explore some options from around the globe exhibiting bouquets and flavors that are diverse and complex.
LUCIEN ALBRECHT CREMANT D’ALSACE BRUT ROSÉ NV
This delicious rosé is one of my all-time favorites. Cremant is a designation that specifies a sparkling wine made “outside” the Champagne appellation of France. This rosé is made from 100-percent pinot noir grapes from the Alsace region of France. The package reflects class. The color of this wine is a very delicate shade of pink. The nose is one that brings forth strawberry, raspberry and hints of spice. While the color of this wine promises finesse, the mouth-feel is robust, balanced and finishes dry and lingering. This wine is an absolute value at about $20.
MUMM NAPA CUVEE M NV
Upon revisiting this wine a few weeks ago, I was impressed. This delightful cuvee is a blend of some late-harvest muscat and pinot noir. Made in a sec style, this wine is a little sweeter than a brut. However, there is so much going on in this bottle. The color has an amber-rose like appearance, and does not fall short. The nose brings forth sweet smells of baking, with a lovely mousse and tiny bubbles. As I tasted this beauty, I was amazed at the complexity of flavors. There is enough acidity to balance the sweetness and give a rich, round weight in the mouth. This one is a general crowdpleaser, and comes in at about $19.
NINO FRANCO RUSTICO PROSECCO DI VALDOBBIADENE NV
While Prosecco typically tops out in the mid-$20 range, this delightful top-end offering from Veneto, Italy, is usually available for about $20. This wine has a golden hue. Very bubbly in a spumante (fully sparkling) style, this Prosecco has a lively acidity and crispness that grips. What I like about this wine is the beautiful bouquet of wildflowers and tropical fruit. The flavors on the palate are not so textbook, which is refreshing. Citrus, peach, melon and a subtle creaminess come alive in this excellent representation of the Prosecco grape. Dry on the finish, Senore Franco delivers.
GRAHAM BECK BRUT NV WESTERN CAPE SOUTH AFRICA
I had the pleasure of meeting the winemaker from this winery back in September. I didn’t taste a wine of his I didn’t like. While giving a nod to Champagne in a traditional style, Graham Beck Winery is paving the way in South Africa’s production of sparkling wines.
This offering is outstanding for the price (about $17) and is made from pinot noir and chardonnay. The bouquet is rich, and has toast and nice fruit components that continue on the palate. Vanilla, almonds, with a red berry and citrus zing compliment a rich mouth-feel. Dry on the finish. Something different and accessible for the adventurous.
THE CHOOK SPARKLING SHIRAZ NV
And now for something different. In recent years, sparkling Shiraz has hit the market. Australians, known for their rich, jammy, fruity wines made from shiraz, have taken the grape in a new direction. One word describes this full- bodied sparkler – fun! It’s traditional in a sparkling sense because the color is deep violet, although the bubbles are definitely present. On the nose, dark raspberry and black fruit showcase themselves, and in the mouth, more of the same, with hints of spice. For those that “only drink red” but want to feel festive as well, this one’s for you. Juicy, bubbly, flavorful and complex. The finish isn’t very sweet, as there is enough tannin to bring out a nice balanced dryness. This festive wine costs about $17.
DOMAINE CARNEROS BY TAITTINGER BRUT 2005
Pinot noir and chardonnay are the grapes used in this classic sparkler. This wine hails from the great state of California. This is a vintage wine, meaning that all the grapes that went into the production of this wine were harvested in that year. What I love about this wine is that the classic flavors of both grapes are represented beautifully. Golden in color, the nose brings forth apple and citrus, but in the mouth, lemon shines through. With a racy acidity to match the yeast, this wine stays with you on the finish, and the dryness leaves you craving more. Roughly $23.