Bubbles for Any Budget!

As we approach February 14th, the stores are showing the bright red colors of Valentine’s Day – a time when our hearts turns toward expressions of love and romance. Nothing is more quintessential for this month than sparkling wine! Real Champagne can be pricey, but there are many lovely expressions of sparkling wine that can fit the occasion and the pocket book.

Sparkling wine is made all over the world, including in Champagne, France, which is the only place real Champagne comes from. It used to be that no other region could challenge the sparkling wine from Champagne, yet that is no longer so. Many wines, especially the sparkling wines of California, can provide the luxurious texture and flavors to rival Champagne.

Sparkling wine is made in different ways, contributing to the difference in price. Large production wines fermented in steel tanks will, on average, be less expensive than wines whose secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle and which are aged slowly. As with any wine, location and vineyard management also contribute to the price.

Champagne is known worldwide for the beauty and texture the region can deliver in a bottle. The grapes of Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Two major contributors to the distinction of Champagne are the weather and the limestone-laced soils. Champagne is made using the “Méthode Traditionnelle,” an extensive process where the secondary fermentation (which produces the bubbles) takes place in the bottle that you purchase. These wines present with great acidity and a creamy texture. There are modestly priced Champagnes, yet great ones can cost in the hundreds of dollars. The most famous may be Dom Perignon.

Some sparkling wines are produced using this traditional method, as well. One of the large production wines out of California is Roederer Estate Multi Vintage Brut. Wine Spectator frequently designates their wines as a “Smart Buy.” Other more expensive, well-crafted bottles come from Mumm and Schramsberg.

Prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine made from the glera grape. This friendly sparkling wine is produced by the “Charmat” method. The secondary fermentation is accomplished in large steel tanks rather than in the bottle. It has a simple fruity flavor with an appealing bitter edge. La Marca is a great example that is readily available in most stores. My personal favorite is Ruffino. These can be purchased for as little as $9 to $15.

Moscato is the Italian word for muscat. In the area of Piedmont in Italy, it is made into a variety of sweet wine that presents with a fruity and floral aroma and flavor. It is used to make sparkling Asti and moscato d’asti. Inexpensive bottles are readily found and can be quite refreshing.

All of these sparkling wines can add to the festivity of any occasion – especially that occasion with someone special.


Great Value: Columbia Crest Grand Reserve Cabernet, 2014

The tree is put away, the lights have been taken down (hopefully), and the bills from the holidays need to be addressed. Where is that value wine when you need one most? Well, for those experiencing the need for a good drinking, modest priced Cabernet – I have one for you.

I recently read a review in Wine Spectator regarding the Columbia Crest Grand Reserve Cabernet, 2014. It was tasted and awarded 91 points. Interesting start… Then, they listed the price for $12. This gets more of my attention. For me, that’s an invitation to see if I can find it and taste it myself.

One of the other things that I consider when searching for value wines is the actual number of cases that have been produced. It is no fun to write about a good wine when no one else can purchase a bottle easily. Well, the production numbers on this wine: 170,000 cases! That is big, and it means great distribution and availability.

My hunt was a short one. I found it at Total Wine, and the price was even better than what I’d read. I paid $8.50 per bottle, and if that doesn’t beg a purchase to drink mid-week for a happy time, I don’t know what does. I purchased two bottles for my own take on the wine, because I don’t make recommendations without tasting the wine first.

So what did I find? The wine on the first night was just okay. The nose was subdued with some floral notes and dark red fruit. The taste on the palate followed suit. The fruit was there on first blush, yet faded quickly. I would have given it more like an 85.

The next night, I opened the second bottle I purchased and what a difference! The nose was bright and filled with red and black fruit and I experienced the same thing on the palate. It really kept bringing me back for more. This was a great tasting wine! The second bottle was something that was very pleasing and easy drinking – especially for mid-week. If you can find this for $8.50, consider that a steal. I would also wholeheartedly recommend it for a party setting.

Why the difference in the bottles? Consider the case production number. It is a very large number and there are only, on average, 24 cases of wine that will be produced from one barrel. With that size production, if they used traditional size barrels, that is over 7,000 barrels. There will be variation in barrels, and that will easily give you some bottle variation. Nonetheless, it can be a very pleasant bottle to open at any time.


The Nose Knows: Part 2

The sense of smell is critical for taste  – whether it be when tasting food or wine. Remember, we can discern 10,000 different smells, at a minimum. A recently published paper touts that we can distinguish up to 1 trillion smells! The second number is a mathematical extrapolation, not based on a human study. Either way you look at it, we can discern a lot of smells. It again makes the point of how important wine aromas are and just how much they factor into the pleasure.

Why do I bring this up again? Well, one of the first places to be using that super sense of smell is in the glass before you pour the wine. The glass itself (not the wine) may often be the source of what we perceive as off odors or spoiled wine. The first thing I do is smell the glass to ensure that it is clean and free of any off-putting aromas itself.

Karen MacNeil, author of the Wine Bible, has a great 2-minute clip that makes the point clearly, and I wanted to share it with you.