How confused are Americans about sparkling wine? Very. The Wine Curmudgeon was in line at one of Dallas' upscale grocers last week, and the woman ahead of me in line had all sorts of expensive produce and meat — and six bottles of $9 Freixenet black bottle cava. That almost certainly never would have happened if she had been buying regular, or still, wine; then her cart would have had the required 92-point bottles.
Or, to take it to the other extreme, a very well-known TV chef advised her viewers a couple of weeks ago to make mimosas — the 20-somethings' favorite hangover remedy — with $40 sparkling wine. Which would be the equivalent of making sangria with one of the $40 reds I review in the monthly expensive wine post. Which would seem certainly seem like overkill.
What's the reason for all this confusion? Because sparkling wine is seen as even more confusing than still wine, and still wine confuses us enough. Sparkling wine is more difficult to open. We're only supposed to drink it on special occasions, and never for dinner in the middle of the week. And it has bubbles!
But sparkling wine doesn't have to be this way. In fact, other than opening it, bubbly is not much different from still wine. It's made with the same grapes, it's made in much the same way, and it pairs with food just like regular red and white wine. Best yet, quality labels are available at all prices, even for less than $10.
After the jump, what you need to know about bubbly and my suggestions for the New Year's holiday.
Vintage Champagne — that is, Champage with a year instead of NV for non-vintage — isn't especially common; when a Champagne house announces one, it's to mark an exceptional year. Which makes perfect sense with the Moet ($70, sample).
This is as well made a bubbly as the Wine Curmudgeon has had in a long, long time, and reminds me why I enjoy Champagne so much. Frankly, as much as I like sparkling wine, too many Champagne makers long ago stopped caring about price as it relates to value. They have a brand that they can charge too much money for, and so they do. It doesn't seem to matter whether the wine is worth that price.
That's not the case here. If you want to spend $70 for Champagne, the Moet is money well spent. It's subtle and charming, like a woman you meet at a party who stays in your head and you think about at the oddest moments. There is a bit of yeast and lots and lots of clean, fresh green apple fruit, as well as bubbles that never, ever end. Drink this on its own, to celebrate a special occasion, or with a fancy holiday dinner, for it's a terrific food wine.
Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month:
? Stag's Leap Merlot 2004 ($35, sample): Cleaning out the wine cellar, and found this gorgeous, beautiful wine. Tastes like Napa, with deep, luscious black fruit, but with other qualities that make for a wonderful wine, including a long chalky finish and a full, rich middle.
? Flat Creek Estate Pinot Grigio 2010 ($18, purchased): Texas white wine that sits between tonic Italian pinot grigio (has more lemon) and fruit forward Oregon pinot gris. There was something odd in the back that bothered me, but may not bother anyone else. And it would be a better value at $14 or $15.
? De Bortoli Sauvignon Blanc Emeri NV ($11, sample): Very odd, but intriguing, Australian bubbly made with sauvignon blanc. Sweet tropical fruit but not as much citrus as one would expect. Less tight and bubbly than cava, but not as soft as some Italian sparklers. Keep in mind for the holidays.
The Wine Curmudgeon has been drinking cava, the Spanish sparkling wine, for more than 20 years. In all that time, there has been just one label that has been crappy. This consistency of quality is mind-boggling, since wine is difficult enough to do well and cava is among the most difficult of wines to make.
The tendency, given this string of success, is to take cava for granted. And, in fact, I didn’t expect too much from the Naveran ($15, purchased), which I bought for dinner last weekend. I figured it would be just another well-made cava, and probably not worth the premium I paid compared to the seemingly endless number of world-class $10 cavas that exist.
So imagine my pleasant surprise when this wine delivered more than $15 worth of value. It was another knockout cava, with lots of crispness, plenty of tight bubbles, and some sweetish apple fruit. In this, it was a fuller, richer wine than the $10 bottles that I like, and well worth the extra money. I drank it with oven fried chicken, and it paired beautifully. But drink this on its own, for toasting the upcoming holidays, or anytime you want a nice glass of bubbly.
Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. This month, a couple of roses to close out rose week.
? Mo t & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Ros 2002 ($80, sample): Classic in style, with lots of acid and fantastic bubbles. Could probably age for a couple of years more to give the fruit a chance to show. A fine gift for someone who appreciates Champagne.
? El Coto Rioja Rosado 2010 ($10, sample): Much more New World than Spanish in style, with lots more fruit (strawberry) than a Spanish rose would have. Having said that, it's still dry and a fine, simple, fresh rose for summer.
? Mart n C dax Albari o 2009 ($15, sample): Spanish white had lemon fruit and was a little fresher than usual, which was welcome. But it's still $2 or $3 more than similar wines.
? Cantina Tollo Pecorino 2009 ($16, purchased): This white was bright and Italian, which means not that much fruit (pears?), balanced acid, and long mineral finish. Highly recommended.
Don’t fear, regular visitors. That’s not one bottle of wine, but the result of a recent Wine Curmudgeon shopping expedition — 13 bottles, only two of which cost more than $16. And there wasn’t a stinker in the bunch.
The occasion for this spree? A chance to shop at Spec’s, probably the best liquor retailer in Texas. Spec’s doesn’t have any stores in Dallas, but I was in Austin for a wedding and Spec’s has several stores there. So that gave me a chance to check out Spec’s vast inventory (at 80,000 square feet, it’s bigger than most grocery stores) and its very competitive pricing. I was not disappointed.