Wednesday, December 24, 2014

WINTER DORMANCY: Bubbles while Sleeping

 Napa vineyard in winter dormancy
 Almost every-time we need a wine to accompany a meal, I'll go into the basement and select something that will hopefully add to the table. Bold red wines, like those from Barbaresco and Rioja are sleeping there, and I can only imagine they wait for something braised and earthy. There are bright, worldly Sauvignon Blancs, and even a few Albarino's that would love to meet some soft cheese or a broad range of mild dishes. But, the essential wines found there, especially this time of year, are filled with sleeping bubbles. They had been bottled under great pressure, secured with a mushroomed cork and a wire cage. Dormant, like the sleeping vines not far away, sparkling wines seem only to wake excitedly this time of year when we have something to celebrate.

Sparkling wines known by monikers like cre'mant, traditional method or Champagne, are made from a time-honored process where the carbon dioxide/CO2 produced by a second fermentation is trapped in the bottle. Historically, it was cold air temperatures that had interrupted fermentation in a cellar, only to re-awaken in the warmer spring.  Wines produced as sparkling evolved in these cool cellars to become the wines of bubbles we know today. Sparkling cre'mants are produced outside the Champagne region using regional grapes, but adopting the same production method as their standard-bearing and expensive cousin. Regions like Alsace, Bourgogne, Loire and Limoux, among others, consistently produce high quality sparkling wines. Charmats, or Metodo Charmat-Martinotti, is an Italian mass production alternative, where the second ferment is controlled in a pressurized tank, and then transfered to bottle under pressure. It is not the same thing as the more laborous cre'mants.

Our current marketplace offers great value to quality in traditional method sparklers, among the best are:
  • Gloria Ferrer, vintage 2010 Blanc de Blanc & non-vintage Blanc de Noirs
  • Cavas from Spain: Cavas Casteller, Brut; Cordorniu, Rosado Brut; Codorníu, SelectÌon Raventós Brut; Segura Viudas, ARIA Estate Brut
  • Blason de Bourgogne, LA RE'SERVE Rose' Brut is a well made and award winning regional blend dominated by Pinot Noir. The blend represents the best fruit from as many as 800 family growers around Burgundy. A terrific value, it is produced in the traditional method by Les Caves de Marsigny. In the glass, its pale rose hue is the result of limited skin contact with dark skinned fruit, and offers bright, expressive aromas of dried strawberries, white cherries and apple blossoms, almost creamy in the mouth with a moderate strength to acidity.  Find it at Trader Joe's for around $10!

A recently published E&J Gallo Consumer Wine Trends Survey has noted, " as a whole, the survey told us that Americans are enjoying wine more often than ever before by bringing it into dining, entertaining and even the most casual experiences — all while demonstrating an eagerness to experiment with various flavors and formats". It continued, recognizing that emerging social media platforms allow every consumer to be a wine critic. Convenience is certainly important for this growing market with its increasing ease of accessibility. Even sleeping bubbles are "shedding the preconception that sparkling wines are just for special occasions. Many reported that they are popping bottles for everyday moments and nearly all of them (93 percent) would pair sparkling wine and Champagne with the foods they’re enjoying."

In this season of thankful celebration, and with longer days ahead, it is truly the time to open those sleeping bubbles, for spring will soon wake.

 How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
 To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
 As tho' to breathe were life!
 Life piled on life
 Were all too little, and of one to me
 Little remains: but every hour is saved from that eternal silence,
 Something more, 
 A bringer of new things; (Ulysses: A Tennyson)

Cheers for Peace and Goodwill, for All!