New Year’s wine advice and news from around the Internet, though not everyone is boycotting Champagne:
? Red wine, too: Dave McIntyre at the Washington Post offers bubbly to drink, as well as still wine. And Dave made one of the best wine videos I’ve ever seen — professional, informative, and to the point, with sparkling wine pointers. It’s amazing what you can do if the people making the video know what they’re doing. I’m jealous, too, given how much effort I’ve put into videos. It’s at the bottom of this post.
? Bring on the experts: The IntoWine website offers seven suggestions, including two cavas (neither of which I know), a cremant, and a Prosecco. Most are reasonably priced, and one expert calls out Champagne in a way that not even I’ve done, labeling the most popular brands “mass-produced grocery store Champagne.”
? Watching the budget: Laurie Daniel at the San Jose Mercury News has 12 wines for the New Year costing $30 or less, all from the United States. This is as good a rundown of California sparkling wine as you’re going to find, and Laurie (who I’ve judged with) knows her stuff. How else to feel confident enough to recommend the $14 Michelle Brut Rose from Washington’s Chateau Ste. Michelle?
The Wine Curmudgeon won’t be drinking Champagne on Wednesday night or Thursday; the Champagne trade association has taken wine lawsuit foolishness past the point where it’s silly, turning it into a free speech issue. This is the Champagne Jayne case, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago and which has made an Internet splash in the week or so leading up to New Year’s.
The trade group is suing Champagne Jayne, an Australian wine writer named Jayne Powell, because she also writes about other sparkling wine. Her name, says the group, violates the EU’s trade agreement with Australia and if she is going to write about cava or Prosecco, she can’t call herself Champagne Jayne. And the French wonder why they have so many public relations problems.
Fortunately, there’s little need to drink Champagne for New Year’s anymore, given the revolution in sparkling wine. Yes, it may be the best bubbly in the world, but it’s priced out of reach for most of us and the alternatives are better than ever. Hence this year’s recommendations, after the jump, focus on those affordable sparklers that don’t offend the First Amendment.
• Lamberti Rose Spumante Extra Dry NV ($12, sample, 11.5%): Fresh and floral, with red fruit and surprisingly bubbly, this pink Italian is not too sweet or too fizzy. It was a revelation, given how crummy so many cheap spumantes can be.
• J Brut Rose NV ($38, sample, 12.5%): This is always one of my favorite California sparklers, and this edition is one of the best in years. There are layers of flavor, with yeastiness, strawberry fruit, and minerality. Given how overpriced so many $40 Champagnes are, this is a steal.
• Mas Fi Brut Natura Reserva NV ($10, sample, 11.5%): This Spanish wine is more dry and more elegant than many cavas, thanks to a slightly different winemaking process. Look for more white fruits than apple flavors (a welcome change), and a very long finish. Yet another example of how far cava has come.
• Trump Winery Sparkling Blanc de Blanc 2009 ($24, sample, 12%): The former Kluge winery in Virginia makes some of the best sparkling wine in the U.S., and it’s even available in states other than Virginia. This is a chardonnay-based wine, with crisp green apple fruit and more richness than I expected.
How serious am I about my Champagne boycott? I have a $150 sample of Champagne in the wine closet that I’m not going to drink.
The problem with Prosecco for those of us who don’t understand it is that it doesn’t taste the way we expect it to. It’s made differently, so it’s sweeter and not as bubbly. That makes it difficult to judge Prosecco as Prosecco, and not in comparison to Champagne, cava, or any sparkling wine made in a more dry and bubbly style.
Which is even more difficult if you’re one of the world’s greatest living advocates of cava and someone whose only criticism of Champagne is that it’s too expensive.
But the Wine Curmudgeon is nothing if not persistent, and my exploration of Prosecco over the past month or so has helped me get a better idea of what it is and why so many people like it. Because they do: Two-thirds of the increase in imported sparkling wine sales in 2012 in the U.S. came from Italy, and most of that was Prosecco. The key to understanding Prosecco? To accept it for what it is, and not to make the mistake that Champagne snobs make when dismissing cava for no other reason than it isn’t Champagne. Prosecco is supposed to taste like Prosecco, and nothing else.
The Adami ($15, sample, 11%) is a big step in that direction. It tastes like quality Prosecco, with more character and interest than many others at this price. That means more structure — a beginning, middle, and end, instead of just a sweetish, fruity middle — and apple fruit instead of softer tropical flavors. The bubbles are also a little sturdier. All in all, very nicely done, and you could do much worse tonight when toasting the New Year.
Suggestions for New Year’s bubbly from around the cyber-ether:
? Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post has almost every possibility covered, from Greek sparkling wine (who knew there was any) to more conventional — if pricey — suggestions. The Deutz Rose Brut is terrific wine, and that Dave got to an interview with the legendary Maximilian Riedel of wine glass fame when he tasted it makes the experience all that much more fun. And that Dave wants to argue with Riedel about wines glasses — I can only hope to be invited to watch.
? Jon Bonne at the San Francisco Chronicle discusses the state of American sparkling wine, and his assessment is intelligent and evenhanded — including his comments that “sweet wines are getting sweeter and more market-driven.” Among his suggestions: an Iron Horse, one of my choices for a celebration if the cheap wine book ever makes a lot of money, and Gloria Ferrer, perhaps the best value bubbly in California.
? George Yatchisin recommends California sparklers on the KCET television website, and I include his choices for three reasons. First, one of them is Schramsberg, which may be the best bubbly house in the United States and always delivers something worth drinking. Second, because KCET is the public television station in Los Angeles, and how many public TV stations do wine writing? And third, because there are no prices listed for the wines. Damn, that’s impressive, to be able to write about wine and not care how much it costs.
Call it champagne with small c (but not in front of a European), Champagne with a capital C, bubbles, or any of its other synonyms — sparkling wine deserves to be served more than at dinner on Dec. 31, for a toast at midnight, or at brunch on Jan. 1.
• I’m still trying to make sense of Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine that has become hugely popular over the past year. It’s usually sweeter than cava, California sparkling, or Champagne, and since it’s made differently, the bubbles aren’t as tight. Price can also be a problem, since there are some $15 Proseccos that taste like fizzy 7-Up. Having said that, the widely available Mionetto ($13, sample, 11%) is a safe bet — not so much sweetness that it overwhelms, with a little green apple fruit and decent bubbles.
• Regular visitors here know that Spain’s cava is one of the great cheap wines of all time, and that it’s almost impossible to go wrong no matter what you buy. The Dibon Rose ($10, purchased, 11.5%) may be even more enjoyable than the Dibon Brut, which is headed to the $10 Hall of Fame. Look for strawberry and orange peel, plus a little yeastiness. All in all, an amazing value.
• Sparkling is made throughout the world, including Oregon, where Argyle does a terrific job. The 2010 Brut Rose ($50, sample, 12.5%) is no exception, with lots of tart cranberry fruit, wonderfully crisp bubbles, and a long, clean finish. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s exceptionally well made. Weltevrede’s The Ring Blanc de Blanc Brut 2009 ($23, sample, 11.5%) is a high-quality South African sparkler that offers value along with subdued lemon fruit and refreshing acidity, perfect for a New Year’s Day brunch. And don’t overlook New York’s Chateau Frank Brut 2006 ($24, sample, 12%) — a lovely, fresh, and fruity wine from one of the state’s premier winemakers. There is even caramel and vanilla, just like Champagne, as well as almost tropical fruit.
? Same old wines: The AskMen.com website has a thorough look at Champagne history, the differences between the various kinds of bubblies, and even serving suggestions. What it doesn ?t have? Many interesting wines. It recommends Veuve Clicquot and Perrier-Jouet, which are usually two of the top five brands in the U.S. You don ?t need to know much about Champagne to pick those.
? If you don ?t want Champagne: NorthJersey.com does an excellent job with cava, cremant and the like, including a New York state bubbly, Brotherhood Winery Blanc de Blancs Brut for $10. These are all (save the Brotherhood) widely available.
? And if you don ?t like bubbly? Which the Wine Curmudgeon can ?t imagine, given how much sparkling wine I drink even when it isn ?t New Year ?s. But the Today.com website has more beer suggestions than I would have thought possible, complete with beer-speak ( ?[I]t packs a hearty 10 percent ABV that ?s very well hidden within an ambrosia of earthy fruits and dark caramel flavor notes. ?) I ?m sure they ?re all fine beers; I just wish the author hadn ?t intimated those of us who like sparkling are less than manly. Should I challenge him to a spitting contest?
Which means sparkling wine, plus a couple of other ideas — whether for dinner on Dec. 31 or brunch on Jan. 1.
Our Champagne and sparkling wine glossary is here. This is also the place for my annual plea to drink more sparkling wine during the year. Bubbly deserves deserves more than just one post in the Wine Curmudgeon top 100 (90th place in 2012).