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Bubbly for the 99 Percent PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill Citara - BT Contributor   
December 2011

Red, white, and you: Agreeable wine for $12 or less

Pix_for_Vino_12-11Champagne has always had this image as a one-percent thing. You know, the financial geniuses who crashed the world economy sitting around some four-star restaurant shoveling caviar onto blini while slurping buckets of Cristal. Or corporate executives celebrating their purchase of the entire U.S. government over flutes of Dom Perignon. Or our erstwhile “public servants” toasting their cushy new lobbying gigs with magnums of Veuve Clicquot.

Well, screw ’em.

This column is all about sparkling wine for the rest of us, the 99 percent. And even given our budget limitations, there’s an amazing amount of really good bubbly out there. Honest. If you skip the big names and concentrate on small French and Spanish producers, you can find some quite remarkable values.

In fact, the nonvintage (NV) NV Saint-Germain Brut -- my favorite sparkler of the tasting -- is such a terrific wine for the money I’d have a hard time recommending that anyone in the 99 percent buy a more expensive “prestige” label. The rest of the wines weren’t exactly chopped grapes, either. Across the board, which included wines from relatively obscure vintners like Saint-Germain and huge sparkling-wine houses like Segura Viudas, the quality-to-price ratio was impressive.

I’d be happy to let any of these wines occupy a place on my table. And not just for the holidays. At these prices you don’t have to be a one-percenter to afford the magic of bubbles.

There’s no better place to start than with that Saint-Germain Brut. (Note: Total Wine tells us the label recently changed to Saint-Reine. Same bubbly, new name.) Though not technically Champagne -- the winery is outside the Champagne region, in Burgundy -- it seduces right from the start with aromas of green apples, citrus, and melon, the fruit underscored by hints of yeast and minerals.

All those aromas carry through to the palate, where there’s a certain richness that sets it apart from more austere French sparklers and also makes it a better match with a variety of foods.

From France’s Loire Valley comes the NV François Montand Brut Rosé. Its delicate, pale pink color belies its bright aromas and flavors of ripe strawberries and raspberries, mellowed a bit by soft Meyer lemon-orange acidity. While fruit dominates on the front of the palate, it finishes with a slight minerality, adding a needed complexity.

The only vintage sparkler of the tasting was the Cuvée Jean Philippe 2008 Brut from the Languedoc. You can really taste the age on this one -- a bit earthy, a bit yeasty-toasty, a faint whisper of caramel. The fruit is all red and green apples, the finish is short, and the acidity is very much in the background. At our price point you don’t often get a vintage bubbly, so while the earthy-toasty elements of this wine may not appeal to everyone, it does make for an interesting bunch of bubbles in the glass.

I’ve gotten on my horse about Segura Viudas before, but its NV Brut Reserva is so on-point I’ll just have to do it again. In my humble opinion, there’s no sparkling-wine house that does as good a job of turning out well-made, well-priced bubbly as this mammoth Spanish vintner. At $10 a bottle, this is one of the best wine deals on the market. It’s scented with green apples, lemon, lime, and melon, a touch of minerals, and the toasty aroma of fresh-baked bread. The bubbles are fine and persistent, the finish is long and lemony, and it has the body to play well with food.

If you really want to get to the value segment of the market, pick up a bottle (or a case) of the Jaume Serra Cristalino NV Brut. Made in the “traditional method” -- fermented in the bottle -- at eight bucks a pop, it’s cheaper than many inferior wines made by the bulk fermentation, or charmat, process. The most notable aspect of the Cristalino is its rich, almost creamy texture, though you’ve also got to like its clean apple-citrus flavors and long-lasting bubbles.

A much different wine was the Piper Sonoma NV Brut. Though California wines have a reputation as being fruit-driven, this wine showed off the crisp, bracing acidity more typically seen in Old World wines. Its pinprick bubbles practically dance in your mouth, where flavors of lemon and lime, yeast, and minerals come together seamlessly. If you’re a one-percenter, it would pour nicely with caviar or a stack of foreclosed mortgages.

If you’re in the other 99 percent, well, maybe we’ll have something to celebrate soon, too.


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