A look at what some of the rest of the wine world is recommending that we drink as bubbly season nears its zenith:
? French bubbly that's not from Champagne: Eric Asimov of the New York Times lists 10 French sparklers made elsewhere in the country, and his choices include some of the Wine Curmudgeon's favorites — several from Alsace and the Bonnard from Burgundy. What's really interesting about these is that many of them are less than $20, and represent real value.
? Wine Spectator recommends Cristalino: Yes, the world's greatest value bubbly is listed in the magazine's sparkling wine story, albeit it at the very end and with an 85. Even Korbel is in there, and with an 86 (yet another example of why scores are silly, since there is no way Korbel is more interesting than Cristalino). In fact, I'm beginning to worry about the Spectator, since the list had several wines that I regularly recommend. if the Spectator and the Wine Curmudgeon find common ground, the world must be upside down.
? 10 great Champagnes: From Jon Bonne at the San Francisco Chronicle, and don't be surprised if you haven't heard of most of them. This is a truly a Champagne-ophile's wish list, and some of them will be almost impossible to find (assuming you can afford them).
Second, enjoy sparkling wine more than once a year. Please? The Wine Curmudgeon has never understood why Americans drink such nice wine once a year. It's food friendly, which should not be surprising since most of it is made with chardonnay and pinot noir, perhaps the two most food-friendly grapes. It's fun to drink, what with all those wonderful bubbles, and it tastes good. And how often do I say something tastes good? More, after the jump:
Regular visitors here will notice that there is no picture of Cristalino. Welcome to the wonderful world of American jurisprudence and the foolishness of the wine business.
In August, a federal district court in Minneapolis ruled that Cristalino, which is a much beloved $7 Spanish sparkling wine, infringed on the trademark of Cristal, a Champagne that costs about $200 a bottle and is favored by people who drive Escalades. Or, as the attorneys for Champagne Louis Roederer, the French luxury brand that owns Cristal, wrote: “The Defendants ? use of CRISTALINO on their sparkling wine product is an illegitimate brand extension that trades on the reputation and image of the famous mark, CRISTAL. Consumers likely believe that CRISTALINO sparkling wine is associated with, sponsored by, or is in some way connected with the maker of the prestige champagne CRISTAL.”
Sigh. And people wonder why the Wine Curmudgeon is so cranky. The Champagne business has been in tatters since the recession started, and Roederer decided to spend money on this lawsuit? The judge, in deciding the case, wrote that there was evidence that consumers could be confused, and if my reading of the law is correct, that was enough to decide in Roederer’s favor. It didn’t matter whether Cristal lost sales to Cristalino (which was unclear). Cristalino had to redesign and re-label its bottle, which is now white and includes a disclaimer that says it isn’t affiliated with Roederer or Cristal.
So this is what I’m going to do: Never drink a bottle of Cristal (which isn’t a problem, since I can’t afford it). Never, after this moment, write about or review a Roederer product, which include Roederer and Scharffenberger sparkling wines in California, a half a dozen or so French still wine brands, and the Portuguese Ramos Pinto label. And, of course, welcome Cristalino (purchased) into the 2011 $10 Hall of Fame, because it offers everything Cristal doesn’t — quality and value. And, yes, it would quite nice at Thanksgiving.
Keep four things in mind when you shop for sparkling wine.
? Please, please try something other than the same old French labels like Veuve Clicquot and Nicolas Feuillatte. Quality bubbly is made in most of the world’s great wine regions. Yes, it doesn’t taste like Champagne, but it’s not supposed to.
? Only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France can be called champagne, thanks to a 2005 trade agreement (though some California brands like Korbel are grandfathered in). But if the label says methode champenoise or m thode traditionelle, it was made in the Champagne style. The other production technique, called charmat, generally produces less bubbly, sweeter wines. Most Italian sparkling wine is made in the charmat style
? Vintage isn’t especially important. NV on the label stands for non-vintage ?- that is, the grapes used to make the wine come from different harvests instead of just one. It ?s a common practice, even for the most expensive brands, to ensure quality.
? Most bubbly sold in the U.S. says either brut or extra-dry. Brut means the wine is dry, while extra-dry means it ?s sweeter than brut. Rarer are wines labeled sec, which is more sweet than extra-dry, and doux, which is dessert-style champagne.