Forget scores: The Jean Vesselle Brut Reserve is amazingly wonderful Champagne
The Jean Vesselle Brut Reserve, as delicious and as well made a Champagne as I’ve had in years, shows once again why scores are useless. Its average on CellarTracker (the blog’s unofficial wine inventory software) is 88 points, or about what a quality bottle of $10 wine would get.
This is an exquisite bottle of Champagne, sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France. It has layers and layers of flavor, including some of the yeasty creaminess that most high-end bubbly drinkers require of Champagne. But it’s so much more than than: A completely unexpected burst of crisp, wonderfully ripe red apple fruit followed by an almost spicy finish and tiny, tight bubbles popping to the top of the glass. In this, it’s bone dry and certainly not your grandfather’s Champagne, and I’m almost certain that accounts for the crummy scores.
Highly recommended, and as enjoyable with food (eggs at brunch, certainly, but also roast chicken) as it is for celebrations. Which is how I drank it – honoring my long-time pal and colleague James MacFayden, who is returning to his native Britain after more than two decades in the U..S. James will be much missed – not only for his fine palate, but for his bounty of Monty Python references.
Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month. This month: Maybe New Year’s wine, maybe not
• Mumm Napa Brut Reserve NV ($18, purchased, 12.5%): How the mighty have fallen, and how sad it is to taste. This used to be one of the best affordable California sparklers, with fresh fruit and lots of interest. These days, it’s soft and almost flabby, with gassy bubbles — just one more focus group wine.
• Boordy Vineyards Landmark Reserve 2014 ($44, purchased, 12%): Maryland red blend speaks to terroir and how distinctive regional wine can be when it’s not trying to imitate French or California wine. Soft tannins and a long finish, plus a little spice and ripe, but not sweet black fruit.
• Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau 2018 ($10, purchased, 14%): This French red is better than what has passed for Beaujolais Nouveau over the past decade, with a little more acidity and not nearly as much banana fruit. But it’s still softish and too bubble gummy. Imported by Boisset America
• Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc Viognier 2017 ($12, purchased, 13.5%): This California white used to be one of the world’s great cheap wines, combining chenin blanc’s crispness with viognier’s stone fruit. Now, it’s just overpriced plonk, with acidity added to counterbalance all of that residual sugar. It’s awkward, unbalanced, and oh so disappointing.
New Year’s sparkling wine 2018 recommendations for those of us who want value and quality
The one thing I was reminded of during the blog’s Champagne boycott? That Champagne, the sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France, is not the be all and end all when it comes to bubbly. Yes, it’s some of the finest wine in the world. But it’s also some of the most expensive. And we demand value on the blog, even when it comes to New Year’s sparkling wine 2018.
• Carpenè Malvolti Rosé Cuvée Brut NV ($17, sample, 12%): Nicely done Italian rose sparkling that’s not actually Prosecco — it’s a little sturdier in style and has firmer bubbles, though still made using the charmat method, Plus, pinot noir fruit (cherry? strawberry?), though $17 may be a bit much for some. Imported by Angelini Wine
• Jacquesson & Fils Champagne Cuvée No. 739 NV ($69, sample, 12%): Beautiful and fairly-priced Champagne that sits halfway between a more commercial yeasty, brioche cuvee and something that focuses more on fruit and acidity. Tight bubbles, a bracing finish, and tart green apple fruit. Highly recommended. Imported by Vintage 59
• Barcino Cava Brut NV ($15, sample, 11.5%): This Spanish bubbly is all one can ask for in a wine at this price, and then some. It’s taut, almost zesty, tart, and interesting. Look for lemon and apple fruit in wonderful balance. Highly recommended. Imported by Ole Imports
The Jean Claude Mas Blanquette de Limoux isn’t Champagne, but it’s not supposed to be — so enjoy the difference
The world does not revolve around Champagne, as I make mention of each year around this time. Sparkling wine is made almost everywhere that wine is made, and there are a variety of interesting, fairly priced, and quality labels. So know that the Jean Claude Mas Blanquette de Limoux NV does not taste like Veuve Clicquot or Nicolas Feuillatte, but also know that it’s not supposed to.
The Jean Claude Mas Blanquette de Limoux ($15, purchased, 12%) is a cremant, which is what sparkling wine from France not made in the Champagne region is called. A cremant from Limoux is made the much the same way as Champagne (the second fermentation is in the bottle and not a steel tank, as with Italy’s Prosecco), but there are a couple of differences. Hence, the production is called methode ancestrale to differentiate it from Champagne’s methode champenoise.
First, cremant de Limoux is made with different grapes, primarly mauzac, which is local to the region. Next, the second fermentation is unaided, so that the bubble creation doesn’t get a boost from the addition of more yeast, as in Champagne. These differences make for subtle, yet interesting changes from the sparkling wine most of us drink.
The Jean Claude Mas Blanquette de Limoux, thanks to the mauzac, is a very traditional blanquette, with a yeasty, brioche kind of finish. But unlike so many Champagnes that finish in that style, it’s also quite fresh and light, with barely ripe apple fruit. In this, it’s almost a food wine – New Year’s brunches, for example. What you don’t want to do is use it for something like mimosas, which would cover up what makes the wine interesting.
• Sacha Lichine Single Blend Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, %): Quality $10 pink from the Languedoc, so it’s not quite as subtle as something from Provence. But the wine uses first-class grenache, so it’s not too jellyish. Hence a crisp, fresh, and enjoyable wine. Look for strawberry fruit and a stony kind of finish. Imported by Shaw-Ross International
• Château La Gravière Blanc 2017 ($10, purchased, 12.5%): This white French Bordeaux is almost certainly the best cheap wine I tasted in 2018. It did everything cheap wine should do — offer value, be varietally correct, and taste delicious. Some lemon fruit with an almost grassiness, and old-fashioned white Bordeaux minerality. The difference may be more semillion in the blend than sauvignon blanc, so the wine isn’t a New Zealand knockoff. Highly recommended. Imported by Luneau USA
• Rotari Trento Brut 2013 ($18, sample, 12.5%): Impeccably made Prosecco. the Italian sparkling wine. Look for berry fruit, plus more body and depth than in cheaper Proseccos, as well as deliciously tight bubbles. If there’s a catch, it’s the price. Imported by Prestige Wine Imports
How to avoid giving tacky wine gift bags — “for the wine lover on your lists” — or overpriced, celebrity-endorsed wine accessories (because if an A lister likes it, we should buy it)? The Wine Curmudgeon’s holiday wine gift guide 2018, of course. Because why waste money on bad gifts when you can use it for quality wine?
• Kevin Zraly’s new edition of the “Windows on the World” wine course (Sterling Epicure, $18) is probably the best one-volume wine book available. That means it’s worth buying, whether for beginning wine drinker or cranky wine critic. Plus, Zraly’s memoir is scheduled to be published in the next year or so, chronicling his 40 years in the wine business.
• Chateau La Tour Carnet ($38) is a red Bordeaux that offers quality but doesn’t cost a fortune, given the prices of red Bordeaux. This French blend, more cabernet sauvignon than merlot, combines modern winemaking with traditional Bordeaux style and terroir. Older vintages like the 2010, which may be more expensive, will especially show that combination. This is the red wine for someone who thinks cabernet begins and ends in the Napa Valley.
• The L’Conti Blanquette ($15) is sparkling wine from the Limoux region of France, and tastes nothing like any other French sparkling wine. It’s probably closer to Spanish cava, with lemon and green apple fruit. Plus, you can tell people you tasted a wine made with the mauzac grape. Highly recommended.
• Those who know Italian wine find refosco, a red from northern Italy, to be an acquired taste. I’ve acquired it, and you’ll find quality refosco from $10 to $20. The Tenuta Luisa ($20) is dark but also bright; a little savory but also a little spicy. It’s more interesting than the less expensive versions, and surprisingly available.
• My new weakness is white wine from Spain’s Basque region made with the hondarrabi zuri grape, most costing around $20. The labels include the phrase “Getariako Txakolina,” which is the name of the region. I haven’t had one yet that wasn’t well-made — almost herbal, with citrus and stone fruit, a little fizz, and some minerality — but not sweet. This is about as far from chardonnay as you can get.
The Wine Curmudgeon looks forward to Thanksgiving like no other holiday. When else do families and friends get to share lots of wine and good food without worrying about money, showing off, or big-screen plasma TVs? Instead, it’s about being thankful that we can be together to enjoy the holiday. The blog’s guidelines for holiday wine buying are here.
This year’s Thanksgiving wine 2018 suggestions should get you started:
• Fantini Farnese Rosato 2017 ($10, purchased, 13%): This Italian pink wine, part of the always reliable Fantini brand, is a little darker than other roses (black cherry fruit?), but still fresh and delicious. Highly recommended — all $10 rose should be this well made. Imported by Empson USA
• Domaine de L’Ameillaud Côtes du Rhône 2015 ($17, purchased, 13%): This French red blend (a little more than half grenache) is competent, professional, and well-made, showing how round and interesting this kind of wine can be. Look for black fruit and soft tannins – another excellent turkey wine. Imported by Dionysus Imports
• Carpenè Malvolti Rosé Cuvée Brut ($17, sample, 12%): Nicely done Italian rose sparkling that’s not Prosecco, so it’s a little sturdier in style and bubbles, without Prosecco’s softness. Plus, there is nice pinot noir fruit (cherry and strawberry?). Imported by Angelini Wine