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Sparkling

Spring is coming fast, and with it, a quickening of the pulse, those first outdoor dinners in Brooklyn back gardens… everything that reminds us life for the past few months was worth living after all. I felt like writing a quick post with that in mind, on something celebratory, light, refreshing. Today’s little update highlights a very celebratory wine: Lambrusco. A good wine for drinking while you anticipate the warm weather. Good for sipping while writing bad haikus. Also delicious with a platter of hard cheeses and salami.

A quick review: Lambrusco is produced in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, in Modena (same region famous for its Parmesan cheese and prosciutto, and the appellation for balsamic vinegar), and is another wine that’s seen a resurgence in trendiness, as well as great strides in quality. Produced from the Lambrusco grape, this wine comes in red, white, or, occasionally, pink (as is the case with this rosato). It’s always frizzante, or slightly frothy, and generally has a very fruit-driven, juicy style that makes it approachable to a wide range of palates, although artisanal versions are also made, which are drier and have more depth and mineral notes. Great party wine.

So if you’re looking for a fun and no-frills bubbly, the non-vintage (NV) “Primarosa” rosato Lambrusco by Cantina Puianello is just the ticket. The grapes are harvested by hand, and the juice is run off the grapes quickly after they are crushed to produce a delightfully bright rosé pink, which stands out in the glass. Bouncy aromas of chilled red strawberries and cherries, with some slight violet floral notes. Nothing too serious here, just a great bottle to pop and enjoy with anyone and everyone, for $12.

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I crossed off a lot of To-Do’s this week, but it was truly exhausting. Friday nights after such weeks are really best spent doing nothing. When as tired as I was this Friday, I prefer dwelling on some singular, perfect sensation. I find that sparkling wine usually fits this bill. However, how many Cavas and how many Proseccos can one man handle? How many Fridays can be spent with the same bubbly? How… ok wait, how the hell is this even a realistic scenario I’m trying to use as a segue? Let’s face it, I don’t drink sparkling wine all that often. But if I was constantly bombarded with Cava, I’m sure it would grow dull. Somehow.

So, when I go looking for something new in bubbly, something completely different and fringe, but delicious, I turn to a country far from the top of my list for that sort of thing. I look to… Austria. Yes, the Republic of Austria. Formerly the Roman province known as Noricum. Home to towering Alps, boasting a population just over 8 million, adorned with the jewel city of Vienna, and the birth place of a shit ton of composers:  Joseph Haydn, Michael Haydn, Schubert, Bruckner, Johann Strauss Sr. and Jr., Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg. Oh, and Mozart.

Austria has two other things I care a great deal about: ridiculously rich cuisine and world-class white wines. To the inquisitive wine aficionado, Austria can provide a unique take on sparkling wine made from the country’s premiere white grape: Grüner Veltliner. Quick aside: Grüner Veltliner has the coolest texture of any white wine except possibly Roussanne: almost creamy, but also occasionally waxy in a good way. The wines have spice, great acidity, and wonderful pear and citrus fruit commanding close attention from the lucky taster. What happens when you produce bubbly from such a sassy green grape?

In this case, you get this bottling by Punkt Genau, a non-vintage (NV) sparkling Grüner Veltliner made in the Weinviertel region of Austria. It is not especially elegant, and it is definitely not complex or mind-blowing. What this wine does is make you grin like a fool. It has phenomenal fruit, rich and opulent. It just tastes like frothy hibiscus foam drizzled down the sides of a fresh-cut Granny Smith apple. Of course, there’s a bead and decent mousse when the wine is poured into a glass. Refreshing and bright, Punkt Genau finishes clean and pure, washing a whole week’s stress away with a sip. $16. Pair this with Saint Andre or another rich creamy cheese if you need to pair it with anything at all.

For the past two days, the most frequently used word I heard on the street was “melting.” Sweaty, lethargic days, filled with the kind of overwhelming temperatures that make the thought of waiting in line outdoors dreadful to consider. For the first time living in New York, I felt truly unable to handle the weather. Seemed like I could cook outdoors without a grill – just plop that meat on a plate and let the sun go to town: literally, roasting hot. How to cope with heat so brutal? Air conditioning, yes, but when walking home from the subway makes me insanely thirsty, and all I want is oysters – here comes the segue – what wine will do? Sparkling wine, dear readers. Fight back with bubbles. Works every time.

With that declared, I offer the following. With this weekend uniquely hot, a unique bubbly seems suitable. Champagne is always fantastic when it’s good, but there is an older option, made using the same méthode traditionnelle. Also non-vintage, also predominantly Chardonnay. And it’s from a place I had never heard of before: Blanquette de Limoux, an appellation in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. Another gem from the sea, for sure.

Produced by Gilles Louvet, the NV “Esprit du Sud” is a textbook example of high-value dry sparkling white wine. Pale straw in the glass, with a fine bead trailing lazily upwards. Deliciously floral on the nose, with a tough of white seed fruit from the Chardonnay, and notes of baked bread and a smoky flint note from the other, rarer grape variety in the blend: Mauzac, grown extensively in the Languedoc, but seen almost nowhere else. Finishes dry and quenching. Destined for a platter of shucked Atlantic oysters. Buy it now, wind up, and sucker-punch summer for only $15.

For the new few months, we’re living in precious balance between warmth and chill weather. We’re starting to wake up. And we want to celebrate this new energy with the best bubbly we can find. Those of us like me, anyway.

Mia provides an extremely affordable means to this end. Their NV Prosecco, produced in the Valdobbiadene appellation within the Veneto region, is a delightful foray into springtime spritz. For those of you who need to know (and that’s everyone), Prosecco is the name for the wine and the grape from which it is made. Pretty much the standard in Italian bubbly. This showing is good for parties as an aperitif; nothing too complicated going on here. The nose shows lively citrus and peach notes, and it follows with a light body, fine mousse and a good bead.

Don’t bother pairing this with anything. Just buy a case and invite your friends. Celebrate the changing weather. Crisp, fun. $7.

Valentine’s Day caught me unprepared last year, resulting in a rush to Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar. Not this time! This year I’ll be ready with my own damn oysters. Serving oysters at home, however, necessitates serving Champagne. Oysters and Champagne are inseparable in my mind; I would prefer no other wine pairing for these briny, beautiful bivalves.

Which raises a question I ask myself on a regular basis anyhow: what Champagne should be served? Most of the time I’ll spring for Pol Roger or Perrier-Jouët. I leave the ubiquitous yellow soda pop Veuve Cliquot well alone. But sometimes I want a Champagne that has the reliable toasty approachability of Veuve (without that mass-produced feel), while keeping some of the vibrancy that draws me to Perrier-Jouët. The answer usually comes up Mumm.

While G.H. Mumm is one of the largest producers of Champagne in Reims, with over 600 acres under vine, they do keep the wines interesting across their line of production. The “Cordon Rouge” NV (Non-Vintage – the still wines used in the blend come from multiple harvests) is their basic offering. It is blended from 60% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, and 10% Pinot Meunier. Nothing supremely fancy about this wine, just a solid bottle that goes great with fish and chips, fried chicken… and oysters on Valentine’s Day. Class, we haz it.

A deep gold in the glass, with a perfectly reasonable bead and mousse. Aromas of toast and buttery apple and pear bounce around when you bring your nose into play, and the mouthfeel is full but silky soft in texture. I love the balance on this wine; there’s just enough acidity to keep it interesting. More sweet fruit flavors and toast (no citrus core here) carry you through to a lingering buttery finish. If your significant other looks like they’ll cast you into the abyss unless you get your romantic act together, start here. Great value at $30. Pair with Blue Point oysters, any sushi featuring eel, or – seriously, I mean this – fried chicken.

Delacroix Brut NVLet’s say you get invited to a party, but it’s no big occasion – a friend’s housewarming party, or maybe someone you don’t know well got signed to a record label. Maybe your favorite Japanese game show wasn’t canceled after all. You need a bottle of bubbly, but Champagne would be a clear case of waste at best – at worst, a clear waste of a case. What do you do?

Grab one of the many more affordable equivalents, of course! And this is a solid one. The NV (Non-Vintage) Delacroix Brut is a fine Blanc de Blancs (white wine from white grapes) for your everyday celebration. Well, it isn’t precisely a Blanc de Blancs in the Champagne sense: the grape varieties include Ugni Blanc, Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc. It’s also Brut, meaning it is considered a dry wine, though in Champagne there may be up to 15 g/l of sugar added with the dosage before final bottling. I do not know how much sugar is left in this wine, nor do I really care. This is for parties, after all. The wine is made in the Méthode Traditionnelle; that is, it adheres to many of the same principals of production as Champagne, including completion of a second fermentation in the bottle, with the wine aged for an extended period on lees (yeasts) to acquire its carbonation and fuller texture.

The end result? This NV Brut by Delacroix has a decent mousse, with toasty bread and citrus aromas, showing a bright straw color in the glass. Good mineral profile and full texture from the Chenin Blanc, with some snappy acidity contributed by the Ugni Blanc (known as Trebbiano in Italy) – a little less Chardonnay fruit than I’d like, but nice balance and a quenching finish. $8. Pair with lobster rolls, fried fish or fried chicken, or serve as an apéritif. A case would never go to waste at any party. Cheers.

Once in awhile, a wine reaches me as if by fate. Chosen almost at random, it leaves my palate stunned, regardless of its price or country of origin. Wine of this sort is often biodynamic: made by passionate, independent producers working in communion with their land, with the cycles of the local ecosystem. When I drink it, I know that I am tasting the toil of dedicated farmers, as well as the purest expression of a grape and its terroir. Again, this only happens once in a great while, and the wine could be from anywhere – France, Argentina, even the United States: New York and Oregon have both delivered in this regard.

Recently, another such momentous wine crossed the lens of my attention. Yesterday I had the great pleasure of disgorging and drinking a bottle of 2000 Movia “Puro,” a sparkling rosé of Pinot Noir produced by renowned winemaker Aleš Kristancic in Slovenia. I strongly encourage readers to learn more about his winemaking philosophy here. This was the first sparkling wine I have disgorged, and may well be the only opportunity for me to do this – it is not a common procedure outside of a winery.

Disgorging is the process of removing a plug of yeast from the neck of the bottle; although this wine is made in the méthode Champenoise, the lees are not expelled before bottling, but rather must be removed by the lucky buyer. This is accomplished by (if you are lacking in liquid nitrogen, as I was) keeping the bottle’s neck upended in a bowl of ice water and salt for 30-45 minutes, removing the wire and cork underwater, and then quickly righting the bottle to keep the wine from spilling into the bowl with the yeast – keeping in mind that the contents are under pressure. I was fortunate: on my first try I managed to keep almost all the wine, perfectly removing the yeast at the cost of under half a glass of bubbly.

And once the wine is poured? It shows cloudy in the glass due to lack of filtration and the suspension of remaining lees; however, it has a nice salmon tone, with an elegant bead. The nose is bursting with aromas of red apples, strawberries, and animal musk marked by undertones of stony earth. As the wine develops in the glass, the aromas lose some of their muskiness and become more reminiscent of ripe apples and cherry notes and a touch of toast. In the mouth, this wine has zippy acidity backing the berry fruit, with a nice roundness from extended lees contact. Although it normally retails for $45, I managed to obtain this wine for $30, making it (thankfully) eligible for this forum. It went beautifully with homemade salmon avocado sushi rolls, but I would drink this wine carefully, on its own.