Monday, April 14, 2008

Las Vegas: Bubble-Licious

Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, Sparkling Wines. Don't we all enjoy a bit of bubbly sometimes? We may most often drink bubbly at special occasions. But we can enjoy it at any time. It makes for a great apertif to start any meal. Or just to sit and enjoy some with friends. There is no need to wait for a holiday or special time. Just enjoy!

As mentioned previously, the 34th Annual UNLVino wine tasting events were held in Las Vegas from April 3-5, 2008. Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada, in partnership with the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration, hosted the events. One of those events presented plenty of Champagne and Sparkling wines.

The first UNLVino event, held on April 3, was Bubble-Licious , a tasting of over 70 Champagnes and Sparkling wines. It was held at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. Unfortunately, I was only able to stop by briefly at this event due to my dinner reservations. Luckily my reservations were for Nobu, which is at the Hard Rock, so I was close to the festivities.

Bubble-Licious was held from 7pm-10pm, which is somewhat in the middle of dinner time, especially if you are planning a longer meal such as a tasting menu or omakase. I would have preferred if the times for the event were different, either earlier, such as 4pm-7pm, or later, such as 9pm-12pm. I was unable to attend the second UNLVino event, Auss-Some and Then Some!, on Friday because it fell in the middle of my dinner reservation.

Bubble-Licious was an impressive event with plenty of available Champagnes and Sparkling wines from all over the world, including South Africa, Japan, Italy, France, Washington, Australia, California, Germany, Oregon, Israel, Spain, and Slovenia. They even had a large table of food. If you were looking for a light dinner, you probably just could have eaten here. It was a well attended event though it still avoided being overly crowded. I actually had no problems reaching the tables where I wanted to taste.

Because of my limited time, I only stopped at two tables. First, was a table of Sparkling Saké from Japan. Second, were some Sparkling wines from Slovenia. Because of my limited time, I wanted to try something different and felt that Slovenian wines would fit that bill. Plus, I am a major fan of Saké so find it hard to resist trying new Saké.

The Saké table was near the front of the room so it certainly stood out to me. The table was manned by representatives from Banzai Beverage Group, which was established in 2003 and is headquartered in Los Angeles. They import from Japan numerous types of Saké as well as Shochu. Three of their offerings stood out to me.

The Tsuki Usagi ("Moon Rabbit") Sparkling Saké is made by the Ume No Yado brewery in the mountain region of Nara in Japan. This Saké is a Junmai and only has an alcohol content of 7%, making it very low in alcohol. The Saké appears a bit cloudy in the bottle, almost like a Nigori. It is crisp and refreshing on the palate, with a touch of sweetness. It only has a touch of effervescence so the carbonation does not overwhelm. This makes for an interesting apertif or a drink for a warm, summer day.

Hoshiusagi ("Star Rabbit") Blueberry Infused Sparkling Saké is also made by the Ume No Yado brewery. There are numerous infused Sakés that come in a variety of fruit flavors. Sometimes they tend to be overly sweet but the Star Rabbit was not like that. It had a nice blueberry flavor with only a touch of sweetness that did not overwhelm. The effervescence helped make it crisp and refreshing. A nice alternative on a warm summer day or even a Saké you could pair with certain desserts. Maybe even try pouring some over ice cream.

Okunomatsu Junmai Daiginjo Formula Nippon Sparkling Saké is intended to be a very serious Sparkling wine, something intended to compete with top Champagnes. Because it is a Daiginjo, we know that it is made from the highest quality Saké. Formula Nippon is Japan's answer to Formula One racing, similar in many ways but with its own unique differences. Rather than celebrating the winner of Formula Nippon with Champagne, one company wanted to create a Sparkling Saké that would take its place. And thus was born this Saké.

The Saké has an alcohol content of about 13% and would retail for over $100. That is certainly a usual price for a high-level Daiginjo. It had a bit of a milky color and a rice/yeast aroma. It definitely felt more like Champagne in your mouth, with intriguing and sometimes subtle fruit flavors. Yet it still possessed a unique Saké flavor. This was a very intriguing Sparkling Saké which should impress. I think it would compare well to Champagne at that price point.

I then moved on to the Spirits of Serendipity Imports table where they were presenting Sparkling wine from Slovenia. Spirits of Serendipity Imports has a focus on sustainable and organic products. Their first product line is Bubbly, their Sparkling wine from Slovenia.

Bubbly is estate grown, produced and bottled by hand in Slovenia, very close to the Austrian border. The vineyards, called Radgonska gorice, have a long history. The first Sparkling wine made in Slovenia was produced in 1852 by Alojz Klenosek. After spending several years working in the Champagne region of France, Klenosek returned to Slovenia, specifically to Styria, a mountainous region stretching from the south of Vienna. He then began to make Sparkling wine which because quite popular. For thirty years, he toiled away producing this wine until in 1882, when he lost his vineyards in a card game to Clotar Bouvier. Bouvier, a powerful and wealthy banker, increased the size of the vineyards. He continued to produce the famous Sparkling wine as well.

Presently, Radgonska gorice vineyard is owned by three local Slovenian investors and operated by share-holding employees. Spirits of Serendipity Imports visited Slovenia and were impressed with their Sparkling wine. The first batch of their new Bubbly came to the U.S. in
December 2006.

There are three types of Bubbly, including the Bubbly Luck, Bubbly Bliss and Bubbly Lovely. Presently, Bubbly may not be available in Massachusetts. It is primarily available in California and Nevada though I am sure its distribution will continue to spread across the country. They are marketing towards a younger, hipper crowd, especially as they are working on a draft variety of their Bubbly.

Their Bubbly Luck is made from 50% Welschriezling, 30% Furmint, and 20% Chardonnay. Welschriezling is not actually related to the Riesling grape. It is grown in both Austria and Slovenia. It is also known by other names, in different countries, including Laski Rizling, Olasz Rizling, Rizling Vlassky and Riesling Italico. It has long had a negative reputation for making poort quality wines but that is undeserved. Furmint, with its homeland in Hungary, is another grape you may be unfamiliar with but which can make excellent wines. Bubbly Luck is available in either Sec or Demi-Sec varieties.

I sampled some of the Demi-Sec. This was an unusual Sparkling wine with a very exotic nose and taste. There were unique spice notes on both the nose and palate, as well as less common fruit flavors. It seemed to me to have more tropical fruit flavors, not the usual suspects. I could not put my finger on the exact nature of several of the flavors. On the familiar side, there was some grapfruit and and almost peach flavors, as well as a tinge of a yeasty side. I enjoyed this, especially because it was so different. The unique flavors made you concentrate more on the wine, trying to discern what you were tasting. At around $15, this would be a good value choice that would be sure you get your friends talking about it.

The Bubbly Bliss is a more traditional Sparkling wine, made from 100% Chardonnay in the Method Champenoise. It is available in Brut Natural, Brut, Sec and Demi-Sec varieties. I tasted the Brut and it definitely was very similar to many Champagnes. It had those butter and oak flavors with a touch of yeast. You also get fruit flavors of apples and melon. Overall, a decent Sparkling wine but nothing out of the ordinary. It tastes like dozens of similar Champagnes. At about $28, it is probably reasonably priced for what you get though I don't consider it a value.

The Bubbly Lovely is also a more traditional Sparkling wine, made from 100% Pinot Noir in the Method Champenoise. It is available in Sec and Brut varieties. I tasted the Sec and was more impressed with this wine than the Bubbly Bliss. This wine seemed more interesting, with a livelier character than the Bubbly Bliss, despite it being more traditional as well. It had good fruit flavors or red apple, strawberry and raspberry. The touch of sweetness enhanced the flavors without being cloying. It had less of a yeasty taste and was more creamy and smooth. I very much enjoyed this wine and at about $40, this is a reasonable buy.

The Bubbly Luck most impressed me because of its unique tastes. It certainly does not taste like a typical Champagne or Sparkling wine. And at about $15, it is a very good value too. The Bubbly Bliss and Lovely both show that Slovenia can make more traditional Champagne-like wines. Though the Bliss seems too much like everything else on the market. The Lovely though asserts its own character which I prefer.

Overall, Bubble-Licious was a fun event and I do wish I had spent more time there. But, I did get to taste some good wines and I look forward to attending next years's event.

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