The honeymoon ain’t over… Champers, anyone?

champers

My parents-in-law, Reverend and Mrs. B, came to Austin this week to help us with our move and last night, we took them to one of our favorite dining spots to celebrate their 39th wedding anniversary — yes, 39 years!

It was really only our second night out since we returned from our honeymoon and our good friend and top Austin sommelier Mark Sayre at Trio surprised us with the very same wine that we drank on the second day of our viaggio di nozze, a bottle of Charles Heidsieck, which he just added to his list. The wine has a wonderful balance of toasty and white fruit flavors and its bright acidity makes it super food-friendly.

Thanks, Mark! Who knew you read my blog??!! ;-) It felt like our honeymoon all over again.

And thanks Rev. and Mrs. B for giving us such a beautiful wedding, helping us move, and most of all for having such a lovely daughter!

Happy anniversary, ya’ll! We love you a lot…

And, chef Todd, the chicken wasn’t half bad either (my father-in-law can’t stop talking about the fried, breaded avocado topped with poached quail egg. Delicious!).

BrooklynGuy’s best value Champagne

Above: This and the images below were all captured in September 2008, when Franco and I visited the truly marvelous and amazing Ca’ del Bosco in Franciacorta. That’s Anna Caprini, director of media relations, who gave us an excellent tour of the winery.

In the case you don’t know or read BrooklynGuy’s blog, you don’t know what you’re missing! His blog is everything a great wine blog should be: open, honest, with no hidden agenda other than sharing his impressions and knowledge and entertaining us with his wry and dry (pun intended) humor.

BrooklynGuy has one of the purest palates in the blogosphere and even though he doesn’t work in the wine industry, he is often asked to take part in tasting panels — by both major magazines and high-profile trade personalities who want to get his impressions.

Above: Ca’ del Bosco produces a wide range of superb champagne-method wines. And while technology prevails there (after all, Champagne and champagne-method wines are, perhaps more than any other, the fruit of technology), works of art also punctuate the winery tour experience, like this rhino suspended, seemingly precariously, from the facility’s ceiling.

But the greatest thing about his blog, for those of us who have been following it for a while now, is BrooklynGuy’s (and I mean this in the most complimentary way) “Rain Man” approach to tasting and wine writing. He’s never lost that sense of innocence that sets his blog apart from the pack (otherwise dominated by folks who think they’re doing the world a favor by sharing their informed and informative palates).

BrooklynGuy loves him some bubbles (as evidenced by his nearly weekly series Friday Night Bubbles).

Above: The remuage or riddling process was the leap in technology that made Champagne and champagne-method wines like those produced in Franciacorta possible. The bottles are stored in these racks and then “riddled”: every day they are turned, gently, by hand, so that the lees of the wine will settle in the neck.

I asked him to cull his blog for some great-value Champagnes and otherwise bubbly wines and he graciously obliged.

As the Latins used to say, ubi maior, minor cessat

*****

I am not someone who sees Champagne as a seasonal beverage. I drink it the way I drink any other wine — as often as I can. That said, there are many people who will buy champagne in the coming week who do not ordinarily do so, and the variety and prices can get a bit overwhelming. Here are some of my favorite sparkling wines at a few different price points (NYC prices, anyway). These are wines that I are available now, that I would confidently purchase for myself or to share with others at a celebration. There are loads of other great choices too, and these are all rather small production wines, so if you don’t find these, ask your friendly knowledgeable wine clerk, or leave Dr. J [editor’s note: that would be me] a comment and he’ll try to get back to you.

—BrooklynGuy

Under $20

Domaine de Montbourgeau Cremant du Jura NV
$20, Neal Rosenthal Imports.

A delicious Blanc de Blancs made from Jura Chardonnay. Refreshing and balanced, very earthy.

Under $30

Huet Vouvray Petillant Brut 2002
$28, Robert Chadderdon Selections.

The finest of the sparkling wines from Vouvray, from one of the finest producers in Vouvray. This is incredibly high quality wine, and at this price it’s a steal.

Above: A detail of the lees (the dead yeast cells) that will be disgorged before the wine is bottled and released.

Under $40

Pierre Brigandat Champagne Brut Reserve NV
$32, Bonhomie Wine Imports.

A lively and expressive Blanc de Noirs that offers ripe and clean fruit, but also a definite sense of soil and mineral.

Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée Sainte-Anne Brut NV
$38, Terry Theise Selections, Michael Skurnik Imports.

This to me is a classic Champagne — floral and biscuit aromas, great acidity and tension, a chalky finish, just delicious. A blend of equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Pierre Gimmonet Champagne Selection Belles Années Blanc de Blancs Brut NV
$35, Terry Theise Selections, Michael Skurnik Imports.

A new cuvée from Gimmonet made of a blend of two vintages of the Cuvée Gastronome, the wine bottled at lower pressure so as to be more harmonious with food. A lithe and tasty wine.

Thanks, again, BrooklynGuy! You ROCK! And happy new year, everyone!

Some best bubbles and life beyond Prosecco…

Above: I took this photo earlier this year atop Cartizze, the most prestigious growing site for Prosecco, where the cost of land per acre is higher than in Napa Valley. In 1998, Tom Stevenson wrote that Prosecco is “probably the most overrated sparkling wine grape in the world” (The Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine, reprint 2003).

Xenophobe and racist Italian agriculture minister Luca Zaia has infamously and nationalistically asked Italians to drink only Italian sparkling wine for their New Year’s celebration this year. His campanilistic call comes in part as the result of a backlash from last year’s nationalized television controversy when the announcers of RAI Uno opened Champagne during a televised New Year’s eve event.

Of course, Zaia is also infamous for the favoritism he’s shown for his beloved Prosecco this year. He even created the Prosecco DOCG, placing the humble Prosecco grape in the pantheon of the top classification, before Common Market Organisation reforms took effect this year.

Above: Italy produces such a wonderful variety of sparkling wines, from the humble yet beloved Prosecco to the often regal, zero-dosage Franciacorta. Franco and I tasted an amazing array of sparkling wines last year together at Ca’ del Bosco.

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE Prosecco. And I love the place where it produced and the people who produce it. Just ask Alfonso: he remembers well how I guided us to Valdobbiadene from Trento earlier this year, without ever looking at a map, my Trevisan cadence getting stronger and stronger as my beloved Piave river and its tributaries came into earshot. You see, many years ago, I made my living traveling along the Piave river, from Padua to Belluno, playing American music for pub crawlers.

Above: One of the best champagne-method wines I’ve tasted in recent memory was this Franciacorta rosé by Camossi. Structure, toasty notes and fresh fruit flavors, bright acidity and fine bubbles, an excellent pairing for all the lake fish, smoked, pickled, and roasted, that Franco, Giovanni, Ben, and I ate one fateful night in Erbusco.

But there are so many wonderful sparkling Italian wines beyond Prosecco (Sommariva and Coste Piane are my two favorite expressions of Prosecco available right now in this country). Franciacorta is the first obvious destination but there are so many other producers of fine sparkling white wines made from indigenous and international grape varieties: champagne-method Erbaluce from Carema in Piedmont (Orsolani), Charmat-method Favorita from Mango in Piedmont (Tintero), champagne-method Pinot Noir from Emilia (Lini), Charmat-method Moscato known as Moscadello di Montalcino from Tuscany (Il Poggione), a rosé blend of Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir from Langa in Piedmont (Deltetto)… Those are the first that come to mind but there are many, many others. Sparkling wines are produced in nearly every region of Italy, from the sparkling Chardonnay and Pinot Noir of Trentino and South Tyrol to sparkling Ribolla of Friuli and the sparkling Verdicchio of the Marches. Once, I even tasted a sparkling Nerello Mascalese from Sicily that had been vinified as a white wine (but I can’t recall the producer… please let me know if you know one).

Above: Hand-riddled magnums of Chardonnay for Ca’ del Bosco’s Franciacorta.

Why do we feel obliged to drink something sparkling on New Year’s eve, anyway? I’m sure the answer lies somewhere between the royal court of Britain, the Czars, Napoleon’s vinous invasion of Russia, and some enterprising Germans who set up shop in Champagne in the 19th century.

Tracie B and I still haven’t decided what we’re going to open on New Year’s but I’m sure it’ll be something good.

On deck for tomorrow…

Best Champagne and other French sparkling values by guest blogger BrooklynGuy.

And in the meantime, please check out Tom’s post today on “classy sparkling wines.”