***Faithful Readers, As 2015 draws to a close and I not only prepare to ring in the New Year, but also celebrate over a dozen weekly blog posts, I’d like to thank my regular readers and hard-core subscribers, particularly those from the far reaches of globe (B.C. and Pennsylvania, I mean you!), as well as my loyal fan following in Toronto and Sudbury. This is the last post of the year and also of this format; I’m contemplating a few changes for January that include a reduction of the regular number of wine reviews and an enhancement to some of the educational content. I hope you enjoy this final post for 2015, and I’d like to wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous 2016. Cheers!***
Each week I review two wines with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.
Tarlant Brut Reserve Champagne
LCBO #: 325167 | 750 mL bottle | $44.15 (but I didn’t buy it!)
Sweetness: (Extra?) Dry
Wine Type: Sparkling (white)
At a recent champagne reception I attended, Tarlant was the bubbly of choice, flowing liberally alongside a minimalist’s take on appetizers. With excessively dry champagnes like this Tarlant Brut Reserve, my poor, untrained palate struggles to discern the fruit flavours I’ve come to appreciate with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes picked at their peak. Tarlant–a wine-making family with an impressive lineage dating back to the seventeenth century–is regarded as a “cult” producer, and this champagne in particular has met with favourable reviews from critics, describing it as creamy and complex, yet still light and refreshing. I found it borderline austere, with a salinity that struck me as overpowering. While there are supposed to be apple and pear notes, with hints of cinnamon, I only picked up on the brioche-toast, though the bubbles were pleasantly and persistently perky.
Bailly Lapierre Crémant de Bourgogne Brut – Blanc de Noir
Vintages #: 420984 | 750 mL bottle | $23.95
Wine Type: White
Like the Tarlant, this sparkling wine is dry, but it’s got about twice the residual sugar, making it an easier sipper. The village of Bailly in Burgundy is the “birthplace” of AOC Crémant de Bourgogne–you can practically taste the history as you sip it! This sparkler, made from Pinot Noir grapes (but yeah, it’s a white), undergoes a period of extended aging (approximately 16 to 18 months on average), yielding a lively wine, with bright fruity aromas of under-ripe pear, mandarin orange, honey and dried apricot. Where I criticized the dryness of the Tarlant, I’d say that the Lapierre balances its salinity with a playful minerality and a slightly sweet finish. On the palate, I found the toasty notes and creamy mouthfeel a hair too heavy, matched by a somewhat unusual taste of wild flowers, but it wasn’t at all unpleasant. Definitely crisp, I wouldn’t hesitate to serve this on New Year’s Eve.
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.
- According to a new study from the University of Victoria, “British Columbians drank their way to the largest increase in alcohol consumption in more than a decade.” While CBC news reports the increase could be the result of recent liquor reforms, the research shows the new consumption patterns are linked to an additional 655 hospital admissions and 31 deaths.
- Welcome to a new era in cross-border wine shopping, Faithful Pennsylvania Readers. House lawmakers recently voted to decriminalize your New Jersey wine purchases. Congrats!
- CNN played catch-up with recent news stories about “a small but growing number of wineries in Israel and the West Bank…trying to recreate the wines of the Bible.” (WWJD?)
- While Italian cask wine sales may have failed to reach forecasted highs, Italian sparkling wine sales remain healthy, with Prosecco in particular hitting new records in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Switzerland, Sweden and Norway.
- Rooibos is not just tea – now, South African wine-maker Trevor Strydom is making sulphur and preservative-free wine using Rooibos as a replacement for both oak and sulphur dioxide.
- French police are investigating the theft of over 30 cases of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti wine bound for Ontario’s LCBO. (I’m hyperventilating, despite the price tag of around $16,000-$18,000 per bottle being outside of my weekly wine budget.)
Wine world miscellanea – from varieties to regions, and from vine to bottle.
THIS WEEK: SPARKLING WINES (Surprise!!)
Ringing in the New Year with Champagne and Sparkling Wine
Faithful Readers, as you know, my wine knowledge has increased exponentially this year, propelled in large part by my Level 1 WSET success late this fall and countless trips to the LCBO. As I begin to tally my New Year’s resolutions and goals, among them a desired ten-pound weight loss (not to be achieved by cutting the weekly wine drinking) and the pursuit of WSET 2, I find my blogs to be an exciting vehicle for sharing my newly acquired knowledge with neophytes, dilettantes and those generally uninterested in wine, but forced to subscribe to my blog because I’ve appallingly played the friend card to keep subscription numbers climbing. 🙂
As I strive to improve the timeliness of some of my posts in the coming year (guess who completely missed Beaujolais Nouveau reviews the third week in November because they couldn’t get to the LCBO in time?), it seemed germane to offer folks a bit of a primer on sparkling wines from around the world this week as many of you prepare to head to the liquor store on Thursday in search of the perfect toasting tipple.
A Sparking Wine By Any Other Name…
Everyone knows that all Champagnes are sparkling wines but not all sparkling wines are Champagne. That’s right, if it isn’t made from one of the five wine-producing sub-regions in Northeast France, you can’t call it Champagne (and you probably shouldn’t try, since Gallic litigiousness is rumoured to be quite dogged). Global Champagne consumption reached its peak in 2007, but experienced a considerable and arguably precipitous decline after the ’08 financial crisis. The market hasn’t quite recovered, and while I’m no expert I’d wager we might be entering a new era of sparkling wine consumption: an era in which consumers are shifting their taste preferences to sometimes tastier wines at more accessible price points. Just look at the surging popularity of Prosecco, which in the U.K. has replaced Champagne as the country’s “favourite fizz,” and Spain’s sparkling Cava’s increasing popularity in France. I’m not suggesting you skip the splurge on Veuve Clicquot or the magnum of Moët & Chandon this New Year’s Eve if your budget allows, but you might find a trip to Italy, Spain or even staying right here in Canada equally gratifying. So, what are your options before heading to the liquor store?
Catalonia produces some of the country’s signature sparkling wine, Cava, which will be making an appearance at my New Year’s Eve Spanish-themed tapas and Sherry party (read: movie night with a big plate of Machego, Iberian ham and olives). Made as both white and rosé wine from such exotic grape varieties as macabeau, parellada, xarel·lo (yes! there’s a dot in there!), Cavas retail from as low as $11.45 at the LCBO, depending on the label, but be warned, these are generally dry to extra-dry wines.
While Prosecco might be entering a period of increasing popularity, I was initiated into the world of New Year’s Eve sparkling wine consumption with Asti, a sparkling-sweet wine made in the Piedmont region from Moscato Bianco grapes. Like France, Italy boasts a range of sparkling wine options, including Lambrusco from Lombardy and Emilia Romagna; Bracchetto, a ruby-red sparkler from native grape varieties; Franciacorta, hailing from southern Lombardy, and made from Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero grapes; and sparklers from the Trento appellation, which use the méthode champenoise (called metodo classico in Italian) to make predominantly dry sparklers with similar varieties to Franciacorta. The LCBO has a few options, including an affordable $9.95 Lambrusco and a slightly pricier $29.95 Franciacorta.
From coast to coast, Canada is making some excellent sparkling wine, whether it’s from Nova Scotia’s acclaimed Annapolis Valley or British Columbia’s Okanagen Valley. The LCBO carries a meagre selection of non-Ontario sparklers, though, so if you’re looking for something that isn’t local, your options are limited. You could try the Benjamin Bridge Brut 2009 Sparkling–which, in 2012, was beat out a $250 of Louis Roeder 2004 Cristal in a blind tasting–though the almost-$50 price tag is a bit rich for my blood, or B.C.’s Blue Mountain Gold Label Brut, a 91-pointer according to winealign.com, which will do a little less damage to your wallet at $28.95. If you’re looking for an under-$20 find, why not try 2015 Ontario Wine Award bronze winner Konzelmann Estate N/V Methode Cuve Close Rosé, which retails for $12.65?
If you find it hard to break with tradition, or you’d like to stick with something geographically proximate, France’s sparkling wines are rich and varied. The Crémant de Bourgogne reviewed above is a great buy, or, a try a Crémant d’Alsace or a Crémant de Loire for a just-under-$20 option. Pickings start to get slim the further south we go, with a small selection of sparklers from Midi, the Rhône Valley and Jura of varying price points on a limited number of LCBO shelves.
THE ONE-MINUTE WINE TUTOR: HOLIDAY EDITION
This month we trade in our usual wine education-focus with tips for flawless holiday party hosting.
Sabrage: A Napoleonic Legend
I’ll leave the YouTube video searches to those infinitely bolder than I who would like to try their hand at opening a champagne bottle with a butter knife of spoon–both techniques I recommend leaving to the experienced sommelier or a crazy cousin. Instead, I offer a nugget of information this week to impress your party guests as you boast new knowledge of one of the most famous traditions in the wine world.
Champagne has its immortal imbibers. Take Winston Churchill, for instance, loyal drinker of Pol Roger, who indulged almost daily just before lunch. “A single glass of champagne,” he is quoted as saying, “Imparts a feeling of exhilaration. The nerves are headed, the imagination stirred, the word become more nimble” (Jane Peyton, Drink: A Tippler’s Miscellany, 2015). Then there’s Napoleon Bonaparte, our star of today’s champagne story, who once remarked (about champagne): “In victory one deserves it; in defeat one needs it.”
Sabrage is the proper name given to the sabering of a bottle of bubbly. The ceremonial tradition (considerably more elegant than smashing the bottle on the side of a ship) is said to have its origins in the early nineteenth century. Using a heavy knife or the specially created sabre à champagne, the top of the bottle, with cork intact, is severed from the neck of the bottle. The process, when correctly executed, leaves the bottle open and ready to pour.
By no means a documented historical fact, a popular origin story for the tradition of sabrage stars a five-foot-seven-inch thunderball and a young widow (French word: “veuve”) who inherited her husband’s small champagne house. In order to protect her recent acquisition in the heady days after the French Revolution, Madame Clicquot frequently provided Napoleon and his hussars with champagne (I guess this plays the role of currency when it comes to keeping cavalrymen off your property). On horseback and yet thirsty, the cavalrymen allegedly ditched the glasses Madame “Veuve” Clicquot provided and opened the bottles they were offered using their swords instead.
For the rest of us, the usual method of peeling off the foil, unwinding the cage, holding it steady while turning the bottle seems the safest, though perhaps least impressive, way to partake in our New Year’s bevvie. At any rate, I hope you all enjoy whatever fizzy drink you select, and do report back if your guests are impressed with this wee tale of champagne splendor!