Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Boisterous About Bubbles: Grower's Champagne Rules!

Pop the cork and share some bubbly with family and friends. "Tis the holiday season, a time when many break out some Champagne or sparkling wine. It is also the time for wine stores to host tastings of bubbly, to showcase the diversity of sparkling wine that exists. These are always fun tastings, as how can you have a bad time tasting glass after glass of sparkling wine?

Ball Square Fine Wines & Liquors recently held their 2nd Annual Boisterous About Bubbles tasting event, with over a dozen sparkling wines available for tasting. It was a varied mix, including Champagne, Prosecco, and Cava, priced from $10.99 to $74.99 with a 10% discount that day.

I tasted through the full line-up and found some delicious sparkling wines, but those I most enjoyed were not the usual Champagnes. That is why I suggest you look outside the usual box, and taste some of the less common sparkling wines, those you might not as familiar. You just might find a new favorite.

I have a fondness for Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine. I think it often is a great value, and you can find plenty of delicious bottle for under $20. The 2005 Juve Y Camps Brut Cava Reserva ($15.99) was an excellent example of a value Cava. Delicious citrus and green apple flavors, a pleasant finish and a touch of sweetness.

For bubbly from a more unique area, try the NV Renardat-Fache Vin Du Bugey Cerdun Rosé Sparkling Wine ($21.99). The Bugey is a tiny, obscure region in France with only 170 hectares of vineyards. They most common grapes are Gamay, Poulsard, Roussette, Mondeuse and Chardonnay and their most renowned wine is the Cerdon Méthode Ancestrale, a semi-dry, pink sparkling wine made by spontaneous, but incomplete, fermentation. I found this wine, made from Gamay and Poulsard, to be similar to the best French Rosés I have tasted, but with some bubbles. Dry, bright red fruits and refreshing. Highly recommended.

For a different Rosé, try the Punkt Genau Sparkling Zweigelt Rosé ($16.99). This is made in Austria from the Zweigelt grape. It is a bolder wine than the Renardfat-Fache, with more vibrant red fruit flavors, reminding me of a California Rosé than a French one. So it is a matter of personal preference as to which sparkling wine you will prefer.

The true prizes of the tasting though were three Grower's Champagnes. For most normal Champagnes, the producers purchase their grapes from numerous growers. But for Grower's Champagne, the producer, often a small family, grows their own grapes. These producers are officially known as Récoltant Manipulant, and may only purchase 5% of the grapes used for their Champagne. These wines are usually considered more artisan wines, rather than the mass produced Champagnes made by the major houses. They are starting to make their mark now, getting highlighted in the wine media, and deservedly so.

How does the taste of Grower's Champagne differ from regular Champagne? Think of a good champagne as a fine dish of roasted chicken. That chicken is moist, meaty and has a crisp skin. It is well-made and delicious, something many people enjoy. Grower's Champagne is that same roasted chicken, except think of it as made with different spices and herbs, giving it a more individual taste, giving it character. And it is that character that separates it from regular Champagne. It does not seem mass-produced or from an assembly line. It is a true individual.

The Gaston Chiquet Brut Tradition ($53.99) is a blend of 45% Meunier, 35% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir. This is more unusual as you don't often see that much Meunier. Lots of fruit, especially green apple, and high acidity. A little bitterness on the finish. The Chartogne-Taillet "Cuvee Sainte-Anne" Brut ($49.99) is a blend of about 50/50 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It has more of a toasty, nutty and creamy taste. The 2004 Marc Hebrart "Special Club" Brut ($74.99) is a blend of about 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. It is similar to the Chartogne-Taillet but smoother and a bit more complex.

Which one to choose? It all depends on your personal preference. Do you prefer something fruitier, or with more toast and cream? All three were excellent Champagnes, each with its own compelling and complex tastes. They also all have character, differentiating them from ordinary champagnes. If these were compared to Champagnes of the same cost, I think the Grower's Champagnes would easily best them.

When you buy your sparkling wines this season, seek out something different.

Ball Square Fine Wines & Liquors
716 Broadway
Somerville, MA
Phone: 617-623-9500


The Wine Whore said...

That looks like a lot of fun! I need to experiment/taste more sparklers. Those and Rieslings are among my weakest wine areas right now.

Which one was your favorite? Where do you recommend that someone starts when trying to learn more about sparkling wine?

...also, I really like your chicken analogy! Great way to think about it!

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks Randy for your comments.

Favorite value bubbly was the 2005 Juve Y Camps Brut Cava Reserva. Fav pricier bubbly: Gaston Chiquet Brut Tradition

I would suggest starting with some Cava and Prosecco, where you can get more value than Champagne.

The Wine Whore said...

My pleasure! I need to learn more about sparklers (without breaking the band) so this was a great post for me!

I'm gonna see what my local shop has in the way of Prosecco! I've had a few flashy bottles of Dom... how does this compare?