From Asti to Champagne, bubbles were a bright spot in 2017. While sparkling wine is no longer confined to special occasions, it continues to mark some of life’s most memorable occasions and its charm can elevate the most mundane moments.
For many, 2017 was a year of exuberant highs and abysmal lows which made living in the moment and being grateful for predictable things like the quality of a DOCG Prosecco from Cartizze or the toasty aromas of a Champagne aged on the lees for a decade all the easier. Here’s a look at what I discovered about bubbles during 2017’s twelve months of tastings.
January began with a traditional sparkling toast courtesy of the Boisset Collection whose exceptional Buena Vista “La Victoire” Champagne ($50) honors the history of Sonoma’s Buena Vista winery, the first to introduce méthode traditionelle sparkling wine to California in the 19th-century. “La Victoire” is a blend of 70% Pinot Noir from Premier Cru vineyards from the Montagne de Reims, and 30% Chardonnay mostly from Grand Cru Mesnil sur Oger and Chouilly. The wine has a dosage of 8.7 g/L and was aged more than three years on the lees. It was served at midnight with a bittersweet chocolate soufflé, a pairing designed to showcase the wine’s dosage and mirror its texture.
February was a celebration of the exquisite cuvees of the Champagne AR Lenoble family from Damery, France. Lenoble’s Antoine Malassagne and Jordan’s Lisa Mattson arrived for a morning tasting that included the soon to be released Jordan Cuvée by Champagne AR Lenoble ($49). 500 cases of a limited release of the AR Lenoble Brut Intense were bottled exclusively for Jordan. This non-vintage brut is produced by Antoine using grapes from his family’s vineyards and long-term growers. The blend is 30% grand cru Chardonnay from Chouilly, 35% premier cru Pinot Noir from Bisseuil and 35% Meunier from Damery. Twenty-five percent of the blend is composed of reserve wines, and the base wine is from the 2011 vintage. This wine has a dosage of 5 g/l and spent four years aging on the lees. Jordan Cuvée is available for purchase as the winery and can ship to addresses in California.
March lauded producers whose sparkling wines rose to the occasion at the Finger Lakes Wine Competition. Sonoma producer Gloria Ferrer’s Blanc de Blancs took the Best Sparkling category and Double Gold medals were awarded to Slovenia’s Chateau Topoľčianky’s Sekt 1933 and Tabor Hill Grand Mark Sparkling. Chateau Topoľčianky’s Sekt 1933 is a méthode traditionnelle blend of 80% of Chardonnay and 20% of Pinot Blanc grown in the Nitra and South Slovakia regions and aged for nine months. This wine is not yet imported. From the Lake Michigan Shore region, Tabor Hill Grand Mark Sparkling is a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay blend noted for its signature Macintosh apple, citrus and toast flavors with a richer dosage that retails for $30.
April brought winemaker Sébastien Walasiak from Ay-based Champagne Collet produced by the region’s oldest consortium COGEVI dating to 1921. The house is inspired by the Art Deco period and wines range from the NV Brut Art Deco ($49) which is 40% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 20% Meunier with 9 g/l dosage and four years on the lees. The exquisite Esprit Couture ($120) is a hand riddled-blend of 40% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir and 10% Meunier from just ten Premier and Grand Cru villages. Espirt Couture is aged for a minimum of five years in a proprietary bottle that can’t be mistaken for anything other than haut couture. More reviews of Champagne Collet wines can be found at Planet Grape Wine Review.
May saw the arrival of a new designation for single estate Cava ‘Cava de Paraje Calificado.’ The list of producers and their 12 approved vineyards includes Codorníu’s La Pleta, El Tros Nou and La Fideuera sites. Director of Winemaking Diego Pinilla poured Codorniu’s Ars Collecta 2007 456 Brut a blend that hails from all three sites: Xarel·lo (10%) from La Fideuera, Pinot Noir (45%) from El Tros Nou and Chardonnay (45%) from La Pleta. The wine spends 7.5 years on the lees. Percentages of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are creeping upwards in all designations of Cava although single vineyard wines including Codorniu’s 2008 Finca La Fideuera ($125), 100% Xarello Paraje aged for over 7.5 years, reflects the terroir expression of the indigenous Xarello.
June was a return to Champagne with a visit from Ben Cuaresma of the Strategic Group and Garth Hodgdon, U.S. Ambassador for Champagne Krug. The maison is historically last to market with their vintage wines, the current release is 2002 ($260) (disgorged in 2015) which relies on 21% reserve wine. A powerful style that’s deeper gold in color with intense autolytic aromas of vanilla and toast, hazelnuts, oyster shell, truffle, white mushrooms and saline minerality. Krug Rosé ($150, 375 ml), first released in 1983, a coppery color with savory notes of bouillon and broader, earthy flavors thanks in part to fermenting in small oak barrels making for an ideal gastronomic wine. Krug CEO Margareth Henriquez known as the “turnaround CEO” has since been promoted to the role of president of LVMH’s Estates & Wines which she will assume in January 2018.
July welcomed Ashley Parker-Snider and Tim Snider from the Fess Parker Winery in Los Olivos who brought their second release of “Fesstivity,” ($48) a Santa Rita sourced sparkler with 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay that’s barrel aged in neutral French oak for eight months. Labeled as Blanc des Noirs but with no style indication, the wine was bright with crisp green apple, nuts and a touch of caramel, this is one of the Central Coast’s best.
August was a study in Prosecco with Bisol’s Stefano Marangon. Learning to differentiate between Prosecco DOC and Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG, in this case Bisol’s 2013 Private Cartizze ($35) was simply a matter of tasting the wines side by side with their maker. The 2013 Private Cartizze is made using the traditional method. It ferments in bottle and spends 21 months on the lees with .5 g/l residual making it a zero dosage style. Lip smacking intensity is a hallmark of this 100% Glera wine with yellow pear and riper fruit flavors, candied citron, almond and leesy apple skin on the mid palate and a smoky, flinty intensity through the finish. Slated for a fall 2017 release if you can find this wine, time for an upgrade to your Prosecco budget.
September brought the focus back to California with an inaugural release from the Bacigalupi Vineyards best known for growing the Chardonnay purchased by Chateau Montelena and made by Mike Grgich into the white wine that won the 1976 Paris Tasting. Their Russian River Valley inaugural release “Brilliante” ($70) is 50% Wente Clone Chardonnay and 50% Wente Clone Pinot Noir aged for three years on the lees with .75% g/l dosage. The wine pays homage to Pamela Bacigalupi’s father Paul Robert Heck and his lasting influence on the production of sparkling wine in Sonoma County.
October was spent further exploring Italy’s Veneto with a comprehensive tasting of the wine styles of the Lugana with Vinitaly International Academy Ambassador Laura Donodoni. Lugana sparklers can be made using the tank or classic method with the indigenous Turbiana variety (a biotype of Verdicchio) the dominant grape. Ca’ Maiol Brut Metodo Classico Non Vintage (not sold in the U.S.) was aged on the lees for 36 months and showed precise and leesy with markers of fennel, citronella, lemon and pear. This high acid variety is well suited to spumante styles but very little is produced and most of it is consumed locally. The Santa Margherita Wine Group recently became the majority shareholder in Cà Maiol which has been one of the star producers for the Lugana DOC for the last thirty years.
November Asti Spumante has a long history as the iconic sparkling wines of Italy’s Piedmont region. Casa Martini marks its 50th anniversary in 2018 and Director of Operations Giorgio Castagnotti presented both Prosecco and Asti DOC wines. The Casa Martini Prosecco DOC made by Livio Prandi showed delicate honeysuckle, green apple, citrus, pear and sage with 14 to 15 g/l residual sugar. Asti being made by a different tank method is considered an inherently natural product driven by the pretty aromas of Muscat with lively acidity and childhood memories of orange creamsicle. The wine is proposed as an ideal partner for Indian cuisine.
Mionetto Technical Director Alessio Del Savio brought a phenomenal technical tasting of base wines from Friuli, Treviso, Conegliano, Valdobbiadene and Cartizze illustrating the quality of the different terroirs and the importance of blending. As one of the first producers to advocate for zero dosage, Mionetto’s 2016 Prosecco Superiore Valdobbiadene DOCG 130th “Cuvee Anniversario” Brut Nature ($25) epitomizes that preference and relies on fruit grown within ten mile radius of the winery. Evoking crisp citrus laced with chalky mineral notes, according to Del Savio the Glera variety is far more successful in this Brut Nature tank method than when made using the traditional method. Del Savio used 30% of his previous vintage in the incoming vintage adding more depth and intensity to this intentionally fresh style.
December culminated in an exploration of luxury with Gilles de Larouziére, President and the eighth-generation head of the Reims-based Champagne house Maisons & Domaines Henriot. The company produces several wines with the Blanc de Blancs ($60), an assemblage of Chardonnay grapes mainly from the Côte des Blancs and village crus: Mesnil sur Oger, Avize, Chouilly, Vertus, Montgueux, Trépail, Epernay and the Vitry region, which has 30% reserve wines. The luxury Cuvée 38 La Reserve Perpétuelle NV, a 100% Chardonnay Côte de Blancs Grands Crus, spends five years on the lees and retails for $599 a magnum bottle. Henriot releases 1,000 bottles of wine annually with the 2012 wine scheduled for release in 2018.
As a brand, Henriot achieved luxury status when it was declared the court Champagne of Franz Joseph I, emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Royal appointments may be a thing of the past but the traditional method of production – although modernized by the introduction of the wire cage, stainless steel tanks and the gryopalate – is itself authentic and timeless “We employ the best techniques related to our vision of the wine,” said de Larouziére who produces five different wines and 1.5 million bottles annually. “But it’s not our goal to increase volume or accelerate our time to market.” A rare sentiment in today’s world.