Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bubbling over with fine spirits

Kate Moore (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)

Q. What are some common misconceptions about sparkling wine?

A. Probably the most obvious is the provenance of sparkling wine and when it can be called “Champagne.’’ When it is from the appellation of Champagne specifically, and only then, can it be called true Champagne. Not to say that sparkling wine cannot be wonderful outside of the AOC-protected [appellation of controlled origin] Champagne area. The region of Champagne itself is not warm, sunny, or the most friendly climate for growing grapes, another reason why it can be so costly to manufacture.

People are often surprised to see that we have vineyards here in Massachusetts. Westport Rivers in particular produces a fantastic Brut sparkling wine made of the three classic grapes of Champagne (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier) that are producing top-notch sparkling wines right on par with classic Champagne. In fact, I’ve fooled not just a few French people with this in “blind tastings’’ of local versions versus French Champagne.

Q. What should people be looking for when they’re buying a bottle?

A. Find a style that you like. For example, if you love Pinot Noir in general, you might enjoy an earthier, richer sparkling wine. For Champagne in particular, that would be along the lines of Bollinger, which is heavy on the Pinot and lighter on the Chardonnay. If you prefer something crisp and classic, try Laurent-Perrier (France) or Roederer Estate (California), which are mostly Chardonnay-based. Look for a “house’’ style that you identify with, and also consider the food that you’d like it to accompany. I see a trend in people enjoying sparkling throughout an entire evening, and that could include multiple courses. I approach the pairing of sparkling wine with food as seriously as we all do with still wines, and in some cases, I consider sparkling wine the most food-friendly of all in that the bubbles do have a way of lifting certain textures and flavors to a different level than still wines. I think a blanc de blanc Champagne [made with Chardonnay only] is wonderful with a rich triple creme cheese, for example. And sparkling rosé, heavy on the pinot, is fantastic with richer fishes like salmon.

Q. What exactly is it that makes a quality sparkling wine stand out from a lesser one?

A. There is no question that the consistency of the big houses, the “grandes marques,’’ is something that has taken many, many years to perfect. If you enjoy Veuve Clicquot NV, for example, you are pretty much guaranteed to have the same experience each time you taste it. I feel that even more interesting, albeit riskier, is to branch out and try a small grower Champagne, a sparkling wine produced by the same person or family that owns the land and the grapes. Most of what you see dominating the market, particularly in Champagne, is big brands that actually source their grapes from up to 80 different parcels. The “grower’’ Champagnes have smaller margins to work with, and less to invest in packaging and marketing, but what they are showcasing is true “terroir’’ and artisanal wine-making. Hand-harvesting, little manipulation with commercial yeasts, tiny production.
In terms of non-Champagne sparkling, any wineries that are coastal and or cool-climate are almost always guaranteed to be high quality because they mimic closely the conditions in Champagne. I also think Italian Prosecco is top-notch for overall value and approachability, as are some of the sparklings from California like Schramsberg, Domaine Carneros, and Roederer Estate.

Q. Can you recommend a few bottles for the cost conscious?

A. For those looking to buy a few and still come out with some unique selections, go for our local Westport Rivers 2005 Brut or Nino Franco Prosecco from Valdobbiadene, Italy. Both of these come in less than $20 retail. I know Best Cellars has a Pierre Morlet, and the Cheese Shop in Concord has a terrific sparkling selection, as does the Spirited Gourmet in Belmont, and Lower Falls Wine Co. in Newton.


Boston Globe

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