Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Classy Sparkling Wines
Just in time for the end of one year and the beginning of another, here are some thoughts on a few of the sparkling wines that have greatly impressed me over the past months. While there are beautiful examples from many locales, I’m going to discuss only two types in this post: Franciacorta and Champagne.
While everyone knows Champagne, not that many people are familiar with Franciacorta. Produced from vineyards in Italy’s Lombardia region, this sparkler (bollicine in Italian) is produced in the same method as Champagne (known as the classic method), where the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle and the wine spends several years on its own yeasts. This is a time-consuming and costly procedure, but it clearly is the finest approach to producing the most flavorful and complex sparkling wines.
Franciacorta wines are also quite special as only three grapes are used: Chardonnay and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) that are also used in the production of Champagne, along with Pinot Bianco (Pinot Meunier, a red grape, is used in Champagne). These varieties are used as they are cool climate varieties that have excellent natural acidity, a necessary component of a balanced and vibrant sparkling wine.
While I don’t have access to as many of the top Franciacorta estates here in America as I would like, I do get to taste the offerings of two of the finest producers: Bellavista and Ca’ del Bosco. The wines of Bellavista are quite subdued and graceful; the 2004 Gran Cuvée Rosé Brut ($76), a blend of roughly equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Nero, is a beautiful statement of this style. Medium-full with aromatics of strawberry, pear and dried cherry, this is quite delicious with excellent complexity and a long, satisfying finish. I know that some wine drinkers don’t like too sharp or acidic a finish; if you are in that school, you will love the elegance of this wine, which pairs with a wide variety of foods, from seafood to lighter meats (I tried this with monkfish is mushroom sauce and it was a great match!).
The 2001 Annamaria Clementi bottling from Ca’ del Bosco ($100) is a very different style of sparkling wine and is certainly one of the finest I’ve ever tasted from Italy. Full-bodied with outstanding concentration, this has intense aromas of golden apples, biscuit and dried pear that are backed by a long finish with excellent acidity. This is a powerful Franciacorta with amazing complexity and richness; qualitywise, I could stack this up against a lot of Champagnes that are priced $20-30 higher. This is gorgeous now, but given the concentration and balance of this wine, I expect this to drink well for another 3-5 years. Pair this with shrimp, crab or lobster or even veal or roast chicken or pork.
I’ve tasted so many impressive Champagnes lately, so I’ll need to be brief with my descriptions. Pol Roger has a no-dosage cuvée called “Pure” ($60, non-vintage) that is as nicely balanced as any of this style that I’ve tasted. I normally am not a fan of no dosage (or natural) Champagnes, as they seem to lack richness in the finish, but not this one; this is very flavorful and has classic Champagne structure. I loved this with simple take-out Chinese food (hey, we’re all watching our pocketbook, aren’t we?), but this also works beautifully with white meats and lighter game.
The Bollinger Special Cuvée ($70, non-vintage) is a Champagne I hadn’t tasted in years, so I was delighted to become accustomed to its charms again. Quite rich on the palate, this is a powerful, very dry Champagne that I can best describe as being old-fashioned (in the best sense of that term). This is Champagne as I love it; interestingly this is vinified in used oak barrels inseatd of stainless steel as with most Champagnes. Pair this with a variety of foods ranging from flavorful fresh water fish (trout) or Asian cuisine.
I’m also a big fan of Rosé Champagnes, especially as I find myself pairing this style of sparkling wine more often with food. The house of Nicolas Feuillatte is a Rosé specialist and while the luxury offering known as Palmes d’Or (in a stunning bottle) is one of the most amazing bottlings from anywhere in Champagne, this is an extremely limited find. Go with the more widely available non-vintage Rosé ($50), which is a superb value. This has a beautiful bright strawberry color with lovely strawberry and currant aromas, deep concentration and a long finish. This is one of my textbook examples of what a Rosé Champange is all about.
Finally, the non-vintage Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut ($100) is, in a word, classy! This is an elegantly styled Rosé that is delicious with so many types of food, from oysters to suckling pig (see previous post). Copper-pink in color, this is all about fresh raspberries and cherries and while this is rich enough to stand up to just about any food, the key descriptor here is finesse. This combination of power and elegance makes this wine – as well as the finest sparkling wines – a great choice for a meal at this festive time of the year – or any time!