Archive for December, 2010

Any night is New Year’s Eve with sparkling wines

December 29, 2010 Leave a comment

While holidays are when most people open sparkling wines, there’s no reason to wait until the tinsel is falling off the tree to open something bubbly and fun.

With some friends over for a between-the-holidays midweek gathering, I gathered an assortment of various bubblies to share. I didn’t have enough of any one to make it the focus of the party but there was enough variety to open some eyes to the possibilities you can find in sparkling wines. Here’s what we tasted and toasted:

The Jaume Serra Cristalino, a Spanish Cava (I know that’s redundant but don’t tell; some folks don’t know that Spain produces Cava) made from Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo grapes. I’ve written before about this light and refreshing bubbly but last week I saw a shopping cart full of this wine at a local store and it was selling for $5 a bottle. So I bought a bunch of bottles because you never know when something needs toasting. The taste and nose is reminiscent of a Prosecco, lots of green apple and mineral with more citrus than you’ll usually find in Prosecco. Crisp finish and did I mention it sells for $5?

The Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco ($12-$14) is a wine you rarely see in this town dominated by Mionetto and Zardetto, two fine Prosecco producers but not quite the level of Nino Franco’s better efforts. Franco makes a line of delicious Prosecco (or Prosecci) at his winery in Valdobbiadene in northeast Italy, where some of Italy’s finest Prosecco is made.
A touch of yeast, citrus, lively fresh fruits and melon. Quite nice.

Robert Mondavi has added a sparkling wine to his Woodbridge label of affordable wines. The non-vintage California Brut Sparkling wine (SRP is $10 but you can find it for less) is made in the Charmat method (same as Prosecco) with primary and secondary tank fermentation. Shows flavors of green apple, pear and citrus with a note of yeast. Pleasant and lots of bubbles.

The evening’s favorite, however, was a wine I smuggled in from the East Coast. Last year, during VINO 2010, the four-day all-Italian wine fair in New York City, I had the pleasure of meeting winemaker Riccardo Ricci Curbastro from the Franciacorta DOCG in the Lombardy region of northeast Italy.

Blogging colleague Susannah Gold, also enchanted by Franciacorta, has a wonderful article on Curbastro here and a fine article about Italian sparkling wines for New Year’s Eve here.
Franciacorta is another of Italy’s largely unknown (outside of the larger cities) but entirely worth the effort to find sparkling wines, of which you can read more here from Gregory Dal Piaz on Snooth.

Many things contribute to making Franciacorta such a delightful wine. The winemaker’s talent, of course, but also the use of the methode champenoise with the wine undergoing secondary fermentation in the bottle instead of the tank (the Charmat method). Our party enjoyed the Brut (60 percent Chardonnay, 30 percent Pinot Bianco and 10 percent Pinot Nero) but Curbastro also offers an Extra Brut made 50/50 of Chardonnay and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir to all you Anglophones out there).

You can take it from here. There are plenty of opportunities to open a sparkling wine on New Year’s Eve without breaking the bank. And don’t just wait for a holiday, because nothing makes any occasion a festive occasion more than the POP of a cork. As Curbastro would say, Tanti Auguri e Felice Anno Nuovo.

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Chardonnay still a good starter

December 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Dreaming of a white Christmas means so many things but I’d like to start with a Chardonnnay, please.
Maybe winter (actually it’s still really, really late fall) isn’t traditionally considered Chardonnay time but let’s be real. A good (affordable) Chardonnay is hard to find.
The always entertaining W. Blake Gray, in his blog The Gray Market Report, earlier this week commented that many people disrespect Chardonnay because it’s become the phylloxera of the grape world.
“But there’s also contempt from the knowledgeable about Chardonnay’s kudzu-like takeover of the world’s vineyards,” write Gray. “It’s like phylloxera; it escaped its home in Burgundy and has caused the uprooting of native vines in Greece, Portugal, Italy, Spain — basically, any country where grape farmers are trying to make a living.”
His premise being that great Chardonnay is out there but it’s not produced everywhere the grape is grown.
And it’s grown nearly everywhere, largely due to wine makers eager to share in the wine’s immense popularity.
So why not write about Chardonnay, no matter how loud the cries from the ABCer’s (you known, Anything But Chardonnay).
During my Thanksgiving break (which was about 4 hours) I enjoyed the St. Francis 2008 Sonoma County Chardonnay, which lists for around $10-$12.
According to the winery, most of the grapes (65 percent) grapes come from the Russian River Valley, the very sort of cool climate that produces terrific Chardonnays.
This wine certainly reflects the mellowing influence of the Pacific Ocean, showing ripe fruit flavors and sharp acidity, which made it a fine pairing for the Thanksgiving table. provides further reviews here, if you’re interested in reading more.
St. Francis Winery, located in Santa Rosa, Cal., also produces some delightful red wines, including a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and a couple of fascinating Zinfandels, including the Wild Oak Old Vines Sonoma County Zinfandel.
I tasted through these wines during the holiday (the Old Vines Zinfandel was the red wine at the Thanksgiving table) and I’ll write more about these later.

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