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Bubbles Galore in Champagne and Sparkling Wine

4 Jun

I’ve always loved bubbles. When I was young, like many other kids, I enjoyed playing with them in the bathtub, in my soda glass or in the backyard. Now that I’m older, I enjoy them in seltzer, Champagne and other sparkling wines. I even have an entertaining bubble screen saver on my computer. (I’d like to be able to say I never met a bubble I didn’t like, but the financial kind aren’t much fun.)

These days my favorite bubbles are the plentiful carbon-dioxide ones in all kinds of sparkling wines. I find their effervescence invigorating, refreshing and uplifting. They always improve my mood. But they’re not there just to cheer. Their presence plays an integral role in the wines: They affect mouth feel (tingly), look (vivacious) and taste (hopefully wonderful). They even affect the aroma, because they guide it toward the nose.

How many bubbles does it take to accomplish all this? Quite a few. Until recently, I thought there were 49 million in every bottle, as the Champagne Wines Information Bureau reported some time ago, citing the research of scientist Bill Lembeck.

Lembeck, simply put, determined how much carbon dioxide is in a standard 750-ml bottle of Champagne and divided it by the volume of an average bubble. With the help of a device called an optical comparator, he figured that out to be 4.2 millionths of a cubic inch.

But according to new research reported in the New York Times (“TAKE A NUMBER: One Million,” May 6), French physics professor Gérard Liger-Belair, author of Uncorked: The Science of Champagne, has determined that a 3.4 oz. glass of Champagne is blessed with some 1 million bubbles before it becomes flat in roughly 4 hours. (There are about 7.5 glasses this size in a 750-ml bottle, which translates to 7.5 million bubbles per bottle.)

There are, however, other estimates. Until recently Liger-Belair himself claimed that there were 15 million bubbles per glass. He later admitted that the formula he used to reach this conclusion was too simple. To arrive at his new estimate, he took additional factors into account (see below). The California Wine Institute’s website states that there are approximately 44 million bubbles in a bottle of sparkling wine/champagne. In The Wine Bible (2001), Karen MacNeil wrote that Champagne producer Bollinger has claimed there are some 56 million bubbles in a bottle of Champagne. According to Champagne expert Tom Stevenson’s Champagne &  Sparkling Wine Guide 2003, Moët & Chandon used a camera-based, computer-linked “artificial vision system” to record the release of bubbles and concluded that there are on average 250 million bubbles in a bottle of sparkling wine.

The calculation is complex, which explains the widely varying results. Many factors affect the number of bubbles–the concentration of the gas, the type of glass, the temperature of the wine and the room, the angle of the pour and the size of the bubbles among them. All must be taken into account.

So it seems this is another one of those mysteries that won’t soon be solved, unless, as my husband jokingly says, someone sits down and counts every bubble. In the meantime, I’ll just have to be content with knowing there are more than enough bubbles in these wines to make me very happy, pour myself another glass and leave it at that.

RECOMMENDED CHAMPAGNES AND SPARKLING WINES

Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Réserve Champagne NV (SRP $36*): Nicolas Feuillatte is currently the fourth best-selling Champagne brand in the U.S. Sales of it rose 12% here last year, considerably more than any of the other Top 5 brands.

This Brut Réserve comprises 20% Chardonnay (contributes elegance and finesse), 40% Pinot Noir (adds roundness and structure) and 40% Pinot Meunier (supplies fruit character). It has aromas and flavors of apple, pear, apricot and peach. It’s delicate, fresh, clean, lively, complex and well balanced–and an excellent value. It’s a good choice as an apertif and complements chicken, salmon, shellfish, sushi, cheese, fruit and dessert.

Barons de Rothschild Brut Rosé Champagne NV (SRP $150): The Barons de Rothschild have been making Bordeaux since the 1850s. Three arms of the family–from Château Lafite, Château Mouton and Château Clarke–recently teamed up to produce Champagne, which first arrived in the U.S. in 2011.

This elegant Champagne, 85% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Noir, is fresh, vivacious, complex and well balanced, with aromas and flavors of raspberry, strawberry and citrus. Exuberant mousse –the bubbles are seemingly endless, even days after the bottle was first opened. Serve as an aperitif or with sushi, sashimi, tuna tartare, berry soup or fresh strawberries.

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé NV (SRP $22): Crémants d’Alsace are the leading sparkling wine, after Champagne, on the French domestic market. The word crémant used to signify the least fizzy Champagnes. Today it indicates some of the best French sparkling wines made by the méthode traditionnelle (formerly called the méthode champenoise) from regions other than Champagne.

Albrecht’s Rosé Crémant is 100% Pinot Noir. It has aromas and flavors of strawberry and cherry, along with crisp acidity, a creamy texture and a long finish. Serve as an aperitif or with charcuterie and mild cheeses.

Veuve Ambal Cuvée Marie Ambal Crémant de Bourgogne Brut NV (SRP $25): Burgundy’s sparkling wines, called Crémants de Bourgogne, are also made using the méthode traditionelle. This Veuve Ambal uses the main Champagne grapes–Pinot Noir and Chardonnay–in equal proportions. It features floral and fruity aromas and flavors, especially of pink grapefruit, and toasty notes. It’s well balanced and full flavored. Serve as an aperitif.

Ferrari Brut Trento NV:  (SRP $25): Giulio Ferrari was the first viticulturist to bring Chardonnay vines to Italy in the early 1900s. In the years since, Ferrari has become one of Italy’s best sparkling wine producers. Its wines are made using the metodo classico, aka méthode traditionelle.

This elegant Brut, 100% Chardonnay, has aromas and flavors of apples, apricot, lemon and wild flowers. It’s fresh, clean and balanced. Serve as an aperitif or with seafood and other light dishes.

Valdo Brut Prosecco NV (SRP $14): 100% Glera. (Glera grapes used to be called Prosecco. Now only the wines themselves are.) According to IRI Infoscan, Valdo is the No. 1 Prosecco in Italy. This Valdo Brut is fruity, fresh, floral and versatile, with aromas and flavors of peach, apricot and pear. It, like other Proseccos, is made using the Charmat method, in which the secondary bubble-producing fermentation takes place in large stainless-steel tanks, not in bottles. This technique is especially appropriate for Prosecco because it preserves the wine’s fresh, fruity character. Serve as an aperitif or with appetizers, seafood and other light dishes.

Anna de Codorníu Brut Cava (SRP $15): The Codorníu winery, founded in 1551, is one of the largest producers of Cava, Spain’s popular sparkling wine. In 1659 the heiress of Codorníu, Anna, married winemaker Miquel Raventós, bringing together two important winegrowing families. In 1872 Cava pioneer Josep Raventós produced the first bottles of Spanish sparkling wine made by the méthode traditionelle. Anna de Codorníu, a tribute to the last descendant to carry the Codorníu surname, was launched in 1984. It was the first Cava to include Chardonnay.

This Cava, 70% Chardonnay and 30% Parellada, has aromas and flavors of tropical fruit, pineapple, citrus, peach, apple and lime. It’s well balanced, crisp and refreshing. Serve as an aperitif or with shellfish, white fish, sushi and sashimi.

Korbel Brut California Champagne NV (SRP $13): Korbel calls its sparkling wines Champagne, but since they’re not made in Champagne, many would not. They are, however, made using the same process as Champagne, the méthode traditionelle. And, in any event, many of Korbel’s bubblies, year after year, offer excellent value for very good sparkling wine.

This Brut is a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, French Colombard and Pinot Noir. It  has aromas and flavors of citrus, baked apple and raspberry and is crisp and refreshing. Pair it with oysters, smoked salmon, fried and salty foods, shellfish, sushi, egg dishes and roast poultry.

Korbel Brut Rosé California  Champagne NV (SRP $13): A blend of Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Gamay, Zinfandel and Chenin Blanc. Its aromas and flavors are mainly strawberry and black cherry. Flavorful, bright and aromatic. A versatile wine, it complements grilled and barbecued foods, tomato sauces, pizza, turkey, ham and creamy vegetable side dishes.

*Wines can usually be found for less–sometimes considerably less–than the SRP (suggested retail price). Check out wine-searcher.com to get an idea of actual prices.

Note: I received samples of these wines.

Beyond Beer: The Best Wines to Accompany Chinese Food

2 Oct

By Sharon Kapnick

Years ago, my friends and I would invariably drink beer with Chinese food. While beer was, and remains, a fine partner with many Chinese dishes, we were learning to love wine. We were captivated by the whole new world of exciting bouquets and flavors. We just had to discover what wines went best with Chinese food.

So we did some research and some experimenting, and learned a thing or two. Because different people have different tastes, you’ll probably have to do some experimenting of your own. But here are some guidelines that will help:

GENERAL PRINCIPLES
When matching food with wine, there are several basic rules to keep in mind:

1) Similar foods and wines pair well. A delicate dish, for example, demands a delicate, light-bodied wine, and a hearty, rib-warming meal calls for a rich, powerful, full-bodied wine.
2) Contrasting foods and wines can also be good partners, although these matches are trickier.
3) Food and wine should complement, rather than overpower, each other. As wine importer Rudi Wiest likes to say, “Whatever’s on the plate is already dead. You don’t have to kill it again.” You don’t want a wine that will overwhelm a dish; you want one that will stand up to it.
4) Fiery dishes are best with wines that are low in tannins and alcohol, which fan the flames, and with off-dry (slightly sweet) and sweet wines, which tone them down.
5) In general, the lower the alcohol, the sweeter the wine.
6) If beer goes well with a dish, sparkling wine usually will too.
7) Here’s a rule of thumb: The milder the dish, the drier the wine; the spicier, the fruitier; the hotter, the sweeter.

There are other factors that should be taken into account, like cooking methods. Fried foods, for example, are great with sparkling wines because the bubbles cut through the richness. And then there’s seasonality: The wine you chose to accompany roast duck served on a cold winter’s day shouldn’t be the wine you pour with roast duck on a patio. Sauces, too, play a crucial role in deciding what wine to select, which is especially important in a cuisine like Chinese. In fact, as wine importer Terry Theise advises, you should “match the wine to the sauce, not to the meat. Orange-flavored beef calls for sweet Riesling, not Châteauneuf-du-Pape.”

TAO OF CHINESE MEALS
It’s also important to keep in mind two other distinctive things about Chinese food: 1) the frequent combinations of sweet, salty, sour and spicy flavors, which play a great part in determining which wines are appropriate, and 2) the wide array of vegetable, tofu, seafood, poultry, pork and beef dishes served at the same meal. Given all these factors, it may be tempting to raise your hands in surrender and say, “I’ll have a Tsing Tao.” But, in a way, all these considerations make the choice of wine easy: The best thing to do is to serve the most food-friendly wines.

SPARKLING WINES
And there are no more versatile wines than sparkling wines. One of their many virtues is that they can be served throughout the meal. While sparkling wine may not necessarily be the best wine for a particular dish, it’s usually at worst a good accompaniment–and often much more. Sparkling wine doesn’t have strong flavors or tannins that overwhelm food; its thousands of tiny bubbles do a stellar job of cleansing and refreshing the palate; and its acidity and fruit temper spicy heat in food. Sparkling wines are wonderful with Chinese food. (The Chinese themselves gravitate toward bubbles with meals, although bubbles of a different sort: They often mix carbonated drinks like 7-Up with wine, whiskey or brandy.) These days there are many excellent, inexpensive sparkling wines on the market.

If expense is not an issue or you are celebrating a special occasion, you might opt for Champagne. As importer Theise says, “Don’t forget Champagne! In fact, never forget Champagne.” (Actually, I personally would be likelier to forget my own name than to ever forget Champagne!) Champagnes and some sparkling wines come in several sweetness levels: Brut nature (aka Extra brut and Ultra brut): bone dry; Brut: no perceptible sweetness; Extra dry: slightly sweet; Sec: noticeable sweetness; Demi sec: very sweet; Doux: sweetest of all. (Brut is most common.)

ALSACE WINES
After sparkling wines, when eating Chinese, I turn to Alsace and its food friendly, aromatic white wines. Their fruity flavors and (generally) high acidity cool the palate and complement flavorful, spicy and sweet dishes. Their lack of oak is also a plus. “[Aromatic] white wines excel particularly with cuisines that are challenging for other wines,” especially those with some sweetness or hot spiciness, write Mary Ewing-Mulligan and Ed McCarthy in Wine Styles. “Alsace wines in general are great choices when the meal has you wondering what wines could possibly work.”

There are several Alsace wines to consider. Riesling is its outstandingly flexible star. (Actually many think it’s the greatest and most versatile of all white wines.) It’s an excellent choice when you want one wine to serve with many different dishes-–from seafood to fowl to meat. It can be fruity, flowery, sometimes minerally, usually crisp, often elegant. Pinot Blanc, sometimes called the poor man’s Chardonnay, is a light, crisp, fresh, lively, delicate, all-purpose wine. Pinot Gris is like Chardonnay in weight and texture. It’s dry, rich, round, opulent, powerful, complex, sometimes smoky, with lots of fruit flavors. While it has the acidity of a white wine, it’s full bodied and can often take the place of a red. Pinot Gris is an excellent choice with very flavorful dishes. Gewürztraminer is extremely expressive and exotic, highly aromatic, with scents of lychees, rose petals and honeysuckle. It’s full bodied and sometimes slightly sweet. For these reasons, it’s often recommended with spicy cuisines.

GERMAN RIESLINGS
Also at the top of the list as accompaniments to Chinese food are German Rieslings. Generally low in alcohol, they have high acidity, which makes them crisp, fresh, zesty and good with food. The sugar in them is balanced by acidity. They can handle the wide range of dishes served at Chinese meals. (Some pair Rieslings with game, like venison, pheasants and wild duck. Others recommend them with braised meat or steak.)

German Rieslings are made in several ripeness levels, which are indicated on the label. The most important styles for our purposes include: Kabinett-–light, delicate, refreshing wines from ripe grapes with a touch of sweetness; Spätlese–-fuller, more flavorful wines, characterized by high acidity and light sweetness, from grapes picked at least a week after normal ripeness; and Auslese–fuller, riper wines with significant sweetness, made from ripe and overripe grape clusters.

The Kabinetts favor subtly flavored, delicate dishes with light sauces. The Spätlese cut the heat of spicy foods and are also good with dishes with some sweetness. The Ausleses demand aggressively flavored dishes, including sweet-and-sour and orange-flavored sauces that benefit from wines with more residual sugar.

OTHER RIESLINGS
New York, Washington, Oregon, parts of California, Austria, Australia and New Zealand also produce very good Rieslings. This varietal has been regaining popularity as people learn how food friendly it is.

MORE GOOD OPTIONS
There are some other fine choices. Albariño is the floral, citrusy, sometimes minerally, usually dry white wine that the Spanish drink with all fish and seafood; you might try it with the same. Sauvignon Blanc has herbal elements that pair well with ginger and distinctive herbs like cilantro, aka Chinese parsley. It also complements fried appetizers and seafood well. Tangy, racy New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs come to mind first. Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s dry, high-acid white wine, can also be herbal, slightly vegetal, spicy or fruity, with mineral undertones. It’s appropriate with vegetable or shellfish dishes. Off-dry (slightly sweet) Chenin Blancs match well with moderately spicy Chinese food. Pinot Bianco is the Italian version of Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Grigio is the lighter Italian version of Pinot Gris. White Burgundies are elegant and complement elegant dishes. And then there’s Viognier, which the Wall Street Journal describes well: “At its best, Viognier can have the cleanliness of Riesling, the juiciness of Sauvignon Blanc and the orange-blossom charm of Muscat. It tends to taste of peaches, apricots and mango, and sometimes has a bit of weight.”

Rosé is another food friendly wine that takes to Chinese food. Jeff Morgan, author of Rosé and co-owner of SoloRosa, a rosé-only winery, writes, “Rosé is blessed with a fruit-driven, bright-edged core that blends well with the fiery, ripe fruit found in chiles. Refreshingly chilled, dry, pintk wine also cools down the palate.” He recommends it with many dishes, but especially with Szechuan cuisine. If you are a red-wine lover, I recommend Pinot Noir with Chinese duck and meat dishes. Some enjoy Beaujolais, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Côtes-du-Rhône, Shiraz or Syrah, inexpensive red Bordeaux and Barbera.

I suggest you experiment and seek the guidance available at a good wine shop. Chances are, you’ll find many pairings that appeal to you. And if not, remember, there’s always Tsing Tao.

WINES PAIRED WITH REGIONS
Cantonese (some sweetness, not very spicy, sweet-and-sour, fermented black beans, soy sauce, salty): sparkling, Pinot Blanc (seafood), Riesling (seafood), Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer (roasted meats and poultry), rosé

Szechuan (spicy, hot-and-sour sauces, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic): sparkling wine, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Moscato d’Asti, rosé, Beaujolais

Hunan (similar to Szechuan): sparkling, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Beaujolais

Shanghai (slightly sweet): Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer
SOME FOOD AND WINE COMBINATIONS TO TRY
spring rolls and egg rolls: sparkling wine, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, rosé
salt-and-pepper shrimp, salt-and-pepper squid: sparkling wine
barbecued spare ribs: sparkling wine, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Albariño, rosé
noodles with sesame sauce: Gewürztraminer
soup dumplings: sparkling wine
dim sum: sparkling wine, Riesling
deep-fried dishes: sparkling wine
Singapore-style noodles: Sauvignon blanc, rosé
shellfish dishes: sparkling wine, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Albariño
hot pepper prawns: sparkling wine, Viognier
lobster Cantonese: white Burgundy
lobster with ginger and scallion sauce: white Burgundy
chicken with cashew nuts: Gewürztraminer
stir-fry chicken and vegetables: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer
kung pao chicken: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Albariño
General Tso’s chicken: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, rosé
vegetable lo mein: Sauvignon Blanc
minced squab with hoisin: Zinfandel
sesame chicken (Pinot Grigio, Riesling),
moo shu chicken: sparkling wine, Pinot Noir
chicken chow mein: sparkling wine
Peking duck: Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir
tea-smoked duck: Pinot Noir
roast duck: Pinot Noir
sweet and sour pork: Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, rosé
moo shu pork: Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, rosé
twice-cooked pork: sparkling wine, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Albariño, Pinot Noir
Chinese beef dish at tasting: Pinot Gris
orange-flavor beef: Riesling

PRODUCERS TO RELY ON
Sparkling wines: Lucien Albrecht, Bouvet-Ladubay, Domaine Chandon, Codorníu, Cristalino, Chateau Frank, Freixenet, Gramona, Gruet, Korbel, Albert Mann, Marquis de la Tour, Larry Mawby, Mionetto, Château Moncontour, Monmousseau, François Montand, Raventós I Blanc, René Muré, Saint-Hilaire, Segura Viudas, Valdo, Veuve Ambal, Veuve du Vernay, Willm, Yarden, Zardetto

Champagne: Aubry, Henri Billiot, Bollinger, Chartogne-Taillet, Gaston Chiquet, Egly-Ouriet, Nicolas Feuillatte, René Geoffroy, Pierre Gimonnet, Gosset, Alfred Gratien, Charles Heidsieck, Henriot, Jacquesson, Krug, Jean Lallement, Larmandier-Bernier, J. Lassalle, Lanson, Laurent-Perrier, Moët & Chandon, Dom Perignon, Pierre Peters, Philipponnat, Louis Roederer,  Pol Roger, Moët & Chandon, Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot, Vilmart & Cie

Alsace wines: Lucien Albrecht, Paul Blanck, Léon Boesch, Albert Boxler, Marcel Deiss, Helfrich, Hugel, Josmeyer, Marc Kreydenweiss, Kuentz-Bas, Albert Mann, René Muré, Ostertag, Stoeffler, Schofitt, Trimbach, Weinbach, Zind-Humbrecht

German Rieslings: Georg Breuer, J.J. Christoffel, Darting, Dönnhoff, J.u.H.A. Strub, Kerpen, Dr. Loosen, Meulenhof, Monchhof (Robert Eymael), Egon Müller, J.J. Prüm, Schaefer, Selbach-Oster, Two Princes, St.-Urbans-Hof, Von Schubert, Robert Weil, Zilliken

Other Rieslings: Chateau Ste. Michelle, Eroica, Chehalem, Covey Run, Dr. Konstantin Frank, Grosset, Heron Hill, Hogue, Lamoreaux Landing, Pacific Rim, Pikes, Poet’s Leap, Sheldrake Point, Swedish Hill, Villa Maria, Hermann J. Weimer

Ideal for Holiday Celebrations: The Loire’s Sparkling Wines and Cabernet Francs

7 Nov

By Sharon Kapnick

At some 630 miles, the Loire is France’s longest river, flowing through France’s most diverse wine region. It’s the region that sets international benchmarks for three important varieties–Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. While the French certainly appreciate Loire wines–they’re the most popular wines in restaurants in France–they don’t get the attention they deserve in the U.S.

Indeed the Loire is perhaps France’s most overlooked region here. That’s a shame because many Loire wines are delicious, especially food friendly and also offer excellent value (as wines from underappreciated regions do).

And, this time of year, its sparkling wines and Cabernet Francs are perfect for celebrations, Thanksgiving and other holiday meals.

The Loire Valley is France’s second-largest producer of sparkling wines, known as fines bulles. They come from six appellations: Anjou Mousseux, Crémant de Loire, Montlouis sur Loire, Saumur Brut, Touraine Mousseux and Vouvray. The méthode traditionelle, the same process used to make Champagne, is used. And there are other connections to Champagne: In 1811, Jean-Baptiste Ackermann, whose family owned a famed Champagne house, began making Saumur’s first sparkling wines. Over time other Loire sparkling wine houses came to be owned by Champagne producers. In fact, until the 1930s, Loire sparkling wines were usually called Champagne, even though they tend to be fruitier, less effervescent and are made from different grapes (although Chardonnay is often allowed).

Today Saumur, in the central Loire, produces almost as much wine as the other five appellations combined. Made mostly from Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, Saumur’s bubblies are generally fruity, fresh and aromatic. They’re among the most prestigious of the Loire. Sparkling Vouvrays, made only from Chenin Blanc, come in two styles: pétillant, or slightly sparkling, and mousseux, fully sparkling. These wines have good acidity due to the cool climate, fruity flavors from the Chenin Blanc grapes, and mineral qualities imparted from the soil. Some of the best sparkling wines are Crémants de Loire. In her excellent book A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire, Jacqueline Friedrich describes their “bead [as] elegant, the structure firm, the flavors subtle, the finish long and toasty.”

The Loire also offers lovely red wines. If you like Cabernet Sauvignon, which is best with red meats and too powerful to accompany most foods well, you will probably also like its lesser known relative, the more approachable Cabernet Franc. (Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc are thought to be Cabernet Sauvignon’s parents.) Many of the best come from Chinon, in the Touraine district.

Cabernet Franc is light- to medium-bodied, crisp, lively, fruitier and more aromatic than the weightier Cabernet Sauvignon. Its refreshing acidity and low tannins make it notably versatile. In addition to being a smart choice with salmon, chicken, duck, game birds, veal, pork, lamb, beef, game and sausage, Chinon reds complement vegetables well. They’re an excellent choice for barbecues as well as  a terrific choice for Thanksgiving because they can handle and enhance all the diverse flavors. Loire Cabernet Francs are made in two styles:  1) light, fruity wines best when served slightly chilled and drunk young and 2) medium-to-full-bodied, richer, more tannic wines that benefit from significant aging.

In her Loire book, Friedrich extols the virtues of the varietal: “Cabernet Franc is favored for its concentrated berry flavors, its supple texture, its finesse, its gentle tannins, and its lively acidity, all of which account for the fact that it charms when young and beguiles when aged.” The Wine Spectator calls Cabernet Franc one of the wine world’s greatest values. Add to that its remarkable food friendliness and its relatively low alcohol content, and you realize that Chinon’s Cabernet Francs are wines to get to know and to serve often.

RECOMMENDED SPARKLING WINES

Due to their fruit-acid balance, the Loire’s sparkling wines complement food very well. They are an excellent, less expensive alternative to Champagne.

Bouvet-Ladubay Signature Saumur Brut  NV (SRP* $13): Bouvet-Ladubay has been one of the best producers of the Loire’s sparkling wines since 1851. Today it buys grapes from some 100 growers. Aromas and flavors of citrus and toast. Light, crisp, well-balanced acidity.

Bouvet-Ladubay Saphir Saumur Brut 2009 (SRP $17): Aromas and flavors of white fruit, peach, flowers and honey. Creamy, smooth texture. Elegant. Crisp, clean finish. Full bodied, some minerality.

Château Moncontour Vouvray Tête de Cuvée Brut (SRP $20): The vineyard dates back to the 4th century and is one of the oldest in the region. Château Moncontour became the King’s property when Charles VII built it in the 15th century for his mistress Agnès Sorel.  Aromas and flavors of apples, citrus, almonds and minerals. Crisp acidity. Delicate mousse, light, elegant, charming.

Château Moncontour Cuvée Prédilection Brut 2009 (SRP $21): Moncontour’s best sparkling cuvée. Aromas and flavors of hazelnuts, fresh white and green fruit and a touch of toast. Lively acidity. Complex.

Other Producers to Look For: Ackerman-Laurance, Domaine des Baumard, Marc Brédif, Champalou, Gaudrelle, Gratien & Meyer, Domaine Huët, Langlois-Château, Monmousseau, Veuve Amiot

 
RECOMMENDED CHINON CABERNET FRANCS

Marie de Beauregard 2010 (SRP $20): From Guy Saget Estates, a family owned and managed Loire Valley winery, now in its 8th generation. Aromas and flavors of blueberry, blackberry, plum and sweet spices. Elegant, easy to drink, well balanced, silky tannins.

Justin Monmousseau 2009 (SRP $14): Better known for its sparkling wines, Monmousseau also offers several premium still wines. This very reasonably priced Chinon has aromas and flavors of red fruits and black cherries. Well-balanced fruit and tannins. Full bodied, earthy and spicy.

Charles Joguet Cuvée Terroir 2009 (SRP $20): The goal of this blend from several cuvées of the domaine is to show the harmony of Chinon’s terroirs. Aromas and flavors of black cherry, blackberry and plum. Some minerality. Fresh. Supple tannins. Vines average 30 years old. Consume when young.

Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses 2005 (SRP $22): Aromas and flavors of dark cherries, berries and cassis. Light bodied, silky tannins, elegant. Excellent mineral content. Good acidity. Vines approximately 50 years old.

Other Producers to Look For: Philippe Alliet, Bernard Baudry, Couly-Dutheil, Château de la Grille, Olga Raffault

*Wines can usually be found for less–sometimes considerably less–than the SRP (suggested retail price). Check out wine-searcher.com to get an idea of actual prices.

Note: I got samples of some of these wines and tried some at a tasting for members of the press.

Sparkling and White Wines for Summer Sipping and Dining

29 Jun

by Sharon Kapnick

When I think of summer’s culinary joys, I think of steamed lobsters and fried clam rolls at the shore, clambakes at the beach, and sautéed softshell crabs wherever I can find them. I think too of mouth-watering barbecued and grilled foods–ribs, steak, chicken, burgers, hot dogs, salmon, pizza, portobello mushrooms and a bevy of other vegetables. Why, I can even smell their seductive barbecue aromas right now. Then my mind wanders to old-fashioned picnics: roast and fried chicken, cold-cut sandwiches, coleslaw, potato chips, potato salad, pasta salads, well, actually, all kinds of salads.

Summer offers up a wide array of food, which calls for a wide array of wines. Fortunately, there are plenty of wines that shout, “It’s summer  Drink me! ” Here’s an appealing assortment that includes many bargains perfect for parties, some white wines that complement barbecued ribs surprisingly well,  some wines to sip between meals and even, as a lagniappe, a liqueur. ( Also see the second part of this story, including rosés and red wines.)

Sparkling Wines

Although they’re generally very reasonably priced, Spain’s Cavas are made using the same expensive and time-consuming method Champagne makers use. The usual grapes, however–Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo, native to Catalonia–are another story. While the taste is different, they’re still festive and celebratory.

When I want to serve Cava, I often turn to Jaume Serra Cristalino, which is made in four styles and four sizes. Cristalino is always singled out for terrific value by the print wine publications. It’s no wonder it’s the fastest-growing Cava brand in the U.S.

Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Cava (SRP $10*): Toasty nose. Citrus, green apple and mineral flavors. Clean, crisp and lively. Complements just about any meal, especially hors d’oeuvres, seafood, sushi, caviar, quiche, fried food, tapas, dim sum and other Asian dishes. And it’s good all by itself.

Jaume Serra Cristalino Extra Dry Cava (SRP $10): Aromas and flavors of toast, pear, apple, citrus, peach and green apple. Refreshing, smooth, easy to drink, very slightly sweet and surprisingly elegant at this low price. Try it with barbecued ribs, fried foods, sushi and other Asian dishes, especially spicy ones.

Both white and pink sparkling Moscatos perfectly embody the breezy, carefree personality of summer. Over the past few years, a Moscato boom has been raging across the U.S.  If you’re curious to see what all the fuss is about, here are a couple of vivacious, lighthearted bargains to try on their own or with dessert.

Opera Prima Sparkling Moscato (SRP $8): Aromas and flavors of lychee, pear, tropical fruits and rose petal. Crisp and refreshing. From Spain’s La Mancha. With some 500,000 acres of vineyards, it’s the largest wine-making region in the world.

Opera Prima Pink Moscato Vino de la Tierra de Castilla (SRP $8; 97% Muscat, 3% Tempranillo): Aromas and flavors of fresh berries, cantaloupe and tropical fruits. Delicate bubbles. Crisp, effervescent personality. Quite sweet.

White Wines

Sauvignon Blanc complements fish and shellfish, grilled and tough-to-pair-with-wine vegetables like asparagus and artichokes, main-course and side salads and simply roasted or grilled meats; it’s a classic with goat cheese. And it’s flexible enough so that Danny Meyer, owner of several beloved, top-rated restaurants in New York City, including the barbecue joint Blue Smoke, recommends it with barbecue. “Go with any white wine that is high in citric acid, like Sauvignon Blanc or Sancerre,” he said, “particularly if you’re a lemonade-with-barbecue fan.”

Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2011 (SRP $12): Vibrant aromas and flavors of citrus and tropical fruit. Has the zesty, zingy, lively acidity New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are loved for.

Le Jaja de Jau Sauvignon Blanc Cotes de Gascogne 2010 (SRP $10): This wine benefits from an explanation of its front label, which is found on its back label: Jaja is old French slang for a glass of wine, an everyday wine. Jau is a wine estate in southern France. Ben is the artist who penned the label. Now, on to the wine: Aromas and flavors of grapefruit, lemon and lime. Ideal as an aperitif and for fish and other seafood. Crisp, with good acidity. Lovely wine, distinctive label, great price.

(also see my November post “White Wine Lovers Flock in Droves to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc” for more recommendations)

Albariño is considered by many to be the most prestigious Spanish white wine. It’s certainly my favorite Spanish white. It hales from Rías Baixas on the Atlantic coast, where the natives drink it morning, noon and night. It’s perfect with the seafood caught in the region and just as perfect with the seafood served here. And it’s another one of those whites that shines with barbecued ribs. Vince Friend, president of importer CIV USA, attended a Food & Wine Magazine Classic tasting in Aspen, Colorado, some years ago and reported that when six wines were paired with barbecued ribs, everyone expected the Merlot and the Sangiovese to stand out. Surprisingly, the favorites were the Champagne and the Albariño.

Condes de Albarei Albariño Rias Baixas 2011 (SRP $12): Aromas and flavors of tropical fruit, citrus and melons. Vibrant, juicy. From a cooperative of 362 grower/owners. Consistently well rated year after year. An excellent value.

Mar de Frades Albariño Val do Salnes Rías Baixas 2010 (SRP $25): Aromas and flavors of pear, melon and citrus. Crisp and fresh. When the wine is chilled to the right serving temperature (50-52 degrees F), a blue ship appears on the back label. It disappears when the wine becomes too warm for optimum pleasure.

The island of Santorini in the Aegean Sea is renowned for its white Assyrtiko wines. And Domaine Sigalas crafts some of the best in some of the driest, hottest, sunniest (i.e., desert-like) and windiest vineyards in the world. (Great wines come from vines that suffer.) In the summer, evening fog provides the only water of the season to the grapes. Influential wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr. has called Sigalas one of Greece’s best white wine producers and “a master with this grape.”

Domaine Sigalas  Santorini Assyrtiko 2011 (SRP $25): Aromas and flavors of citrus fruits and minerals. An elegant, crisp, fruity, well-balanced wine that currently tastes much better on the second day (as quite a few wines do) and should be even better in 2013. High acidity. The average vine age is more than 50 years old. Try it with spreads and dips (hummus, tzatziki, guacamole, baba ghannoush, fava bean puree), olives, vegetables (greens and tomatoes), seafood (octopus, oysters, sushi) and fatty fish.

While Pinot Grigio is wildly popular, I prefer something with a little more oomph. Pinot Gris from California and Alsace are the somewhat heftier versions from the same grape. It’s more like Chardonnay in weight and texture. While Pinot Gris has the acidity of a white wine, it’s fuller bodied than most and can often take the place of a red.

Chateau Ste Michelle Pinot Gris Columbia Valley 2010 (SRP $13): Aromas and flavors of pear, melon, citrus and spice. A small amount of Viognier (3%) adds texture and floral character. Good acidity. Serve with scallops and other shellfish, halibut and other seafood, cheese and fruit. From one of the most reliable producers in the U.S.

Lagniappe: Limoncello

If the trees give you lemons, well, you can make lemonade. Better yet, you can make Limoncello. That’s exactly what Italy, the world’s largest producer of lemons, has done. While Limoncello is a specialty of Southern Italy, it’s quite popular throughout the country–and with U.S. tourists.

Villa Massa Limoncello Liqueur (SRP $15): Villa Massa’s Limoncello has been made in Sorrento since 1890 following an old family recipe that uses only four all natural ingredients: fresh Sorrento Oval Lemon peels (rich in essential oils), sugar, water, and pure alcohol. Traditionally an after-dinner digestivo, it also serves well as an aperitif (ice cold from the freezer), in cocktails, in Champagne, or over ice cream, fruit salad and other desserts.

*Wines can usually be found for less–sometimes considerably less–than the SRP (suggested retail price). Check out wine-searcher.com to get an idea of actual prices.

I requested samples of some of these wines and was sent samples of some others.

Six Festive, Budget-Friendly Wines to Cheer Up a Dreary Year

5 Dec

By Sharon Kapnick

With turmoil in the Middle East, Europe’s leaders paralyzed and politicians in the U.S. unable to agree on anything, it seems that we could all use a little extra cheer this year. Because we may need to celebrate a little bit more, we may also need to celebrate a little more inexpensively. Here are a few reasonably priced wines to brighten your holidays.

Prosecco is the delicate, crisp, refreshing, charming, fruity, sophisticated yet casual sparkling wine that Italians, especially in the Veneto, sip (occasionally) in the morning, (more regularly in) the afternoon and evening. Mionetto, one of Italy’s largest Prosecco producers, offers many choices. Its IL line ($12 SRP*) comes in three versions–Prosecco, Moscato and Rosé. The Prosecco is frizzante (lightly sparkling), light bodied, fresh and crisp with pear, citrus, apple and peach aromas and flavors.

IL Prosecco makes an excellent aperitif and complements light cuisine. It’s perfect in Bellinis, the signature drink of Venice, and other cocktails. It’s lighter in body than Champagne, lower in alcohol (10.5%), easy on the pocketbook, great for parties–and terribly easy to sip all day long. But it’s not a wine to cellar–it’s best within three months of purchase.

For something more elegant, try Korbel’s 2008 Natural Russian River Valley Champagne ($14 SRP, 12.5% alcohol). Like French Champagne, it’s made using the méthode traditionnelle (formerly called the méthode champenoise), in which the wine is fermented inside the bottle from which it’s served. Korbel also uses traditional French Champagne grapes–in this case 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay. The wine is crisp, dry, delicate and delicious–delicious enough to have been served at the last seven presidential Inaugurations. Korbel notes that its Natural is one of the few things both political parties agree on. The wine fares well as an aperitif and also with lighter fish dishes, grilled prawns and fresh fruit, especially citrus and apples.

While it’s been around since Roman times, when it was called Moscatellum, Moscato today is all the rage. It’s recently seen phenomenal growth. Over the 52 weeks ending Nov. 12, according to Nielsen, sales of Muscat wines in the U.S. grew 81.4% while the wine market overall grew  4.4%. Danny Brager, vice president of Nielsen, has dubbed it one of this year’s “speeding bullets.” It’s no longer just the darling of wine connoisseurs. Hip-hop artists–Nelly, Eminem, Lil’ Kim and Kanye West–have embraced the wine in their songs and their beverage preferences, and their audience has followed. Others have too.

The versatile muscat grape, which ranges from dry to sweet, comes in four main varieties. One of the loveliest is Italy’s Moscato d’Asti, a medium-sweet wine from Piedmont. Moscato d’Asti is fizzy (aka frizzante) and light, with heady fruit and floral aromas. It’s delightful, seductive and delicate–never overpowering. One of the loveliest Moscato d’Astis is Vietti’s Cascinetta 2010 ($17 SRP, 5.5% alcohol), with aromas and flavors of peaches, apricots and rose petals. Try it as an aperitif, as well as with cookies, panettone, pastries, fruit and fruit-based desserts and blue cheese.

You may have guessed by now that every region in Italy makes its own sparkling wine. Piedmont is a leading producer of them. In addition to Moscato d’Asti, Brachetto d’Acqui, a fizzy, aromatic, light red, made from Brachetto grapes in the town of Acqui Terme, also dates back to ancient times. Legend has it that Julius Caesar and Marc Antony presented Cleopatra with several gourds of Brachetto d’Acqui as a gift when they were vying for her affections. It’s also said she believed the wine had the power to unleash the passion of her lovers. If you know anyone whose passion you’d like to inspire, you might try it.

One of the most charming Brachettos is Vigne Regali‘s semi-dry (i.e. slightly sweet) Rosa Regale ($20 SRP). It’s low in alcohol (7%), has the aroma and flavors of strawberries, raspberries and rose petals. It’s surprisingly versatile: it shines as an aperitif; it works with savory food including spicy Asian and Latino dishes, quiches, ham and other brunch foods, and some seafood dishes; and its ideal with desserts, especially those that include fresh berries and chocolate. Rosa Regale is conveniently available in many sizes, from single-serve 187-ml bottles to magnums, the equivalent of 2 bottles of wine.

At Washington’s Pacific Rim winery, Riesling rules (see www.rieslingrules.com). Formerly owned by self-described “Riesling fanatic” Randall Grahm, Riesling remains Pacific’s Rim’s focus (talented winemaker Nicolas Quillé serves as vice president of the International Riesling Foundation [drinkriesling.com)–and Pacific Rim’s wines remain excellent values.

Grapes for Pacific Rim’s Vin de Glacière 2010 ($14 SRP, 375 ml, 9% alcohol) are grown in the Wallula Vineyard, the first and only biodynamic and organic-certified vineyard in Washington, where 150 sheep roam around the vineyard eating weeds. Unlike high-priced ice wines, the grapes for this wine are frozen after they’re picked. With aromas and flavors of  apricot, pear and honey, the wine goes especially well with fruit tarts, cheesecake and blue cheese. In addition to being delightful with dessert, it’s delightful as dessert.

Port, a fortified wine with about 20% alcohol, is made in several different styles, with three–vintage, tawny and ruby–being best known. Unlike prestigious vintage Ports, ruby Ports are nonvintage (obviously), simple, fruity, inexpensive and delicious when young. One of the most popular in the U.S. is Fonseca’s Bin No. 27 ($18 SRP), technically a step up, a ruby reserve. It’s a great introduction to Port. Bin No. 27 has aromas and flavors of black fruit, especially blackberry, and cassis and is an excellent match with milk chocolate, dark chocolate, berries and cherries and desserts made with them.

Although 48 grape varieties are permitted in Port, Bin. No. 27 uses six: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão and Tinta Amarela. If you’d like to become a member of The Wine Century Club (winecentury.com), for adventurous wine lovers who’ve tasted at least 100 different wine grapes, this is a wine to try!

*The wines can usually be found for less than the SRP (suggested retail price), sometimes considerably less. To get some idea of prices in the marketplace, check out wine-searcher.com. (These wines range from about $6.50 to $16.)