UA-44578012-1
Sparkling Wines

Considering California Sparkling Wine

Michael CruseMichael Cruse at Cruse Wine Co. smelling his pet-nat Valdiguie, November 2014

“We really want to make a California sparkling wine with all that entails,” Michael Cruse of Cruse Wine Co, and Ultramarine sparkling wine, tells me. All it entails includes the ripe fruit flavors characteristic of California’s sun, a feature that historically has tended to work against quality sparkling wine in the state.

California sparkling wine remains a difficult category. The California conundrum of too much sun and not enough acidity has so far largely kept it from achieving the balance and brightness in the glass wine geeks love. It’s never achieved the respectability Champagne immediately garners, and wine lovers rarely brag about it.

However, in recent years a shift has been happening. Boutique size wineries all over the state have begun popping open small scale sparkling projects. Last year the Pet-Nat craze coming from France began taking over California wineries.

Pet-Nat style sparkling wine seems more do-able for small production wineries. The approach offers the advantage of far less intervention, little equipment, and far less time to get those bubbles in the bottle than methode traditionnelle style wines. You can turn around a pet-nat wine in as little as a year, versus the several years required by the other approach. But most pet-nat bottlings remain incredibly hard to find. One of the tastiest versions to come from California last year, J. Brix 2013 Cobolorum sparkling riesling, for example, only had 17 cases made. It’s hard to start a quality revolution with such small numbers.

At the other side of the category, methode traditionnelle (that is, the same method used to make champagne) examples rely on far more input from the producer. Thanks to the work and expertise required, many of today’s champenoise style sparkling wines found in the state are made by large scale wineries. Such wineries do successfully churn out bottles but most California examples blend grapes from multiple locations producing wines with the state’s clear fruit expression but little character.

In reality, California has had little of its own sparkling tradition. The closest we’ve come was with the work of Paul Masson on the cool slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Masson’s work with California sparkling wine brought international attention to the category. He was able to continue his work through Prohibition selling his wines for sacrament and medicinal purposes, but after Masson’s retirement, his vineyards shifted to still wine production.

The difficulty with sparkling wine rests in its technical elements. Elevating the category truly to the level of fine wine depends upon an expertise grown not just from transferring knowledge but also in hands on experience. Even the apparently approachable style of pet-nat suffers at the same point it gains popularity. While it seems far easier to make, in truth making clean pleasurable versions depends upon yeast health, numbers, and viability that doesn’t consistently come from simply throwing wine in the bottle.

The improvement of any craft depends on a sense of critical mass intersecting with critical brilliance. Critical mass offers the foundation of interest to support development of knowledge and maintain its momentum. Critical brilliance brings together creativity with the backbone of experience to give it traction. For California sparkling wine, the coalescing of all these elements brings the opportunity of elevating the category to a level that truly means fine wine.

Enter Michael Cruse.

Tasting with Michael Cruse

Michael CruseDiscussing Methode Traditionnelle w Michael Cruse in front of his 2010 Ultramarine Sparkling Wine, Nov 2014

Though it’s only just starting to be released this month, Cruse’s sparkling label, Ultramarine, has already achieved a kind of cult status. That’s saying something as he explains not more than twelve people have even tasted it yet. From those twelve, however, its secured distribution through California, as well as within the tricky New York market.

Cruse’s cult status rests not only in the wine itself, but also his perhaps still hidden influence. Thanks to the underdeveloped history of California sparkling, few in the state could be considered consultants in the category. Those few with the knowledge tend to be secured by larger houses. With Cruse’s experience and custom crush facility, Cruse Wine Co., he’s become the go-to sparkling winemaker for several well-respected clients throughout the state. Over the next several years, sparkling projects Cruse has helped give focus will begin appearing across California.

Finding a Passion for Sparkling

Cruse’s path hasn’t always pointed towards sparkling wine. With an undergraduate degree in Molecular and Cellar Biology, emphasizing Biochemisty, from UC Berkeley, Cruse was certain he’d continue to a PhD. Stepping into research through labs at Berkeley, and UCSF, while also publishing, his path to graduate work seemed certain. Then something changed. He began to recognize others he met doing post-docs in science proved unhappy. Over time, the shift in perspective meant he began wondering if he could apply his love for lab work in another field.

“It took into my mid-20s to realize I could get paid for a real job.” Cruse laughs. Working through a formal education includes its disadvantages. Students rarely or barely earn money during their degree training. Then continuing into academic life, researchers learn to sustain themselves through minimal pay while doing loads of unpaid research under the umbrella of advancing their expertise and education. But for the curious, that same environment supports their passions.

“What I love about academia is that no one is ever telling you that isn’t how you should be spending your time,” Cruse explains. “People are always studying, writing, researching, working on something. I had a lot of kinship with that kind of work.”

When Cruse did make the leap out of academia, the transition wasn’t immediately easy. “Moving into a regular job as a lab oenologist,” Cruse tells me, “I would have night terrors because I didn’t know what to do with my brain.” The continuous problem solving of a research laboratory differed from the more repetitive work in a wine lab but the challenge of the transition eventually led him to his work with sparkling wine.

The mechanics of Cruse’s research work rested in reviving lab techniques established in the 1980s, but forgotten by the end of the last century. “I was in the library,” Cruse says, “looking at transcripts and papers from the 1980s figuring out how they were doing their work so we could apply it.” The library research provided solutions where lab knowledge otherwise failed. Such a lesson eventually became the salve for his night terrors as well.

While transitioning from oenologist, into cellar work, and then to assistant winemaker for red wine wineries, Cruse got curious about sparkling wine. Doing library research on old methods, then applying them to sparkling home wine experiments became his after work project.

“I was in the library looking at books from the 1880s, from before people had these [contemporary winemaking] machines to see how they made sparkling wine.” He explains. In 2010, he would make his first bonded California sparkling wine, the current release Ultramarine.

Natural and Sparkling?

Michael CruseMichael Cruse discussing site and technique, Nov 2014

Through his still table wines, and pet-nat Valdiguie for Cruse Wine Co., it looks easy to describe Cruse’s work as happily fitting with the family of natural wines. He avoids additives, doesn’t cold stabilize, and minimizes or avoids sulfur when the wine will remain stable.

His unsulfured Cruse Wine Co. 2014 Pet-nat Valdiguié is made with an interest in affordability put alongside admirable vineyards. Tasting it, the wine proves to be the cleanest example I’ve tasted of a new world pet-nat, all rose blossom aromatics cut with a leafy, herbal freshness that fills the palate through a delicate foam.

Indeed, with Ultramarine too, relying on older texts as he did, also bolstered his more minimalist approach to winemaking. But there he becomes reticent to describe his approach as natural.

“Sparkling wine is a very techniques driven wine,” he explains. He’s referring to making wine through methode traditionnelle. “Whether you agree with a natural wine approach or not, you’re going to use the same technique.” For Ultramarine, Cruse avoids additives, cold stabilization, and innoculation as well.

“But am I going to use a riddling aid? Yes. Will I add dosage? Yes. A dash of sulfur at disgorgement? Yes. Trying to claim sparkling is a natural wine becomes a stretch.” Still, the wine is undoubtedly unique — single vineyard, single vintage with each bottle hand riddled, and disgorged. When I push him he finally responds, “I guess you could say we’re minimalist.”

Finally, I ask him to further explain his earlier comment about California sparkling wine with all it entails.

“For me, I want the wine to be noticeably California. That doesn’t have to be flamboyantly fruity.” He explains. “It is intense, and flavorful, and strong. That is the site.” He says. It’s an answer that exemplifies the quiet humility he somehow couples with certainty.

Inspired by the grower producers of Champagne, Cruse focuses Ultramarine production on fruit only from the Charles Heintz Vineyard. It’s a site he believes offers exceptional farming for sparkling wine.

The lemon curd and pastry elements of the bubbles resemble flavors found in still chardonnays familiar to lovers of the vineyard. But the graceful long finish, and cut mineral edge speak to a fine wine elegance brought by the hands of its producer. And there we discover the California balance of Michael Cruse.

***

To sign up for the Ultramarine mailing list: http://www.ultramarinewines.com/joinus/

For more on Cruse Wine Co.: http://www.crusewineco.com/

***

Next Wednesday‘s column here: “In Defense of Natural Wine.” Post update: Wednesday Nov 12 article will post Thursday Nov 13 due to travel delays.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Comparing Sherry and Champagne

Just prior to the opening of Sherryfest West, Martine’s Wines and Valkyrie Selections hosted a Sherry and Champagne event at The Battery in San Francisco. The event included several flights of grower champagnes, followed by flights of grower sherry, all accompanied by a panel of experts.

The panel included Baron Ziegler of Valkyrie Selections, and Gregory Castells of Martine’s Wines to introduce champagne, and Lorenzo Garcia-Iglesias of Bodegas Tradicion, and Jan Pettersen of Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla to discuss sherry. Peter Liem opened the event with a discussion of the ways in which champagne and sherry unwittingly resemble each other.

The Houses Poured

The wine flights included Champagne Gonet-Médeville, Champagne Larmandier-Bernier, Champagne Saint-Chamant, then Fernando de Castilla, and Bodegas Tradición.

Champagne Gonet-Medeville offers a focus on refined freshness, rather than opulence. The wines carry delicacy, purity, and beautiful subtlety throughout.

Champagne Larmandier-Bernier gives a center line of salinity and freshness through a body of texture and fruit presence. The wines are all made with only native yeast ferment, a condition quite unusual in Champagne, and sparkling wine more generally. With the exception of their rosé, their wines are all 100% Chardonnay. The house is also one of the biggest proponents of bio-dynamic farming in the region, a recommendation that proves challenging as Champagne suffers high mildew pressure. Biodynamic farming, then, requires far more hands on viticulture in the region.

Saint-Chamant Champagne delivers a wine of opulence, with incredible complexity, while at the same time maintaining freshness. The wines open with age offering an easy balance of opulence and mineral freshness. Current release vintages from the last decade are still quite young and would do well with time in the bottle before opening.

Fernando de Castilla could be considered a boutique bodegas, or grower sherry house. It developed through a focus on only the highest quality sherry, wines made for the best of the local market. More recently Fernando de Castilla has begun to export these unique styles of sherry outside the Spanish market. As an example, Fernando de Castilla offers one of the only remaining examples of Antique Fino, a wine made through the older approach to sherry rarely possible today. To read more on the heritage of Antique Fino: http://www.crushwineco.com/crush-library/fernando-de-castilla-antique-fino/

Bodegas Tradición, another boutique level bodegas, seeks to create the finest quality sherry by avoiding or reducing filtering, and additives, and hand selecting the best lots for bottling. The result are wonderfully pure expressions of the wine. They also succeed in delivering beautiful older examples at small production levels.

The Discussion

The coupling of champagne and sherry appears at first an unusual choice. The two wines are thought of rather separately with bubbles from the cool Northern reaches of France seeming unlike fortified wine from the warmer areas of Spain. As Liem explored, however, in terms of methodology and production there are actually numerous insightful comparisons to be made between the two wines.

Following are thoughts from Peter Liem, during his introduction to the event.

Peter Liem introducing Sherry + ChampagnePeter Liem (right) discussing the commonalities between Sherry and Champagne
Sherryfest West, San Francisco, June 2014

“Champagne and sherry are two wines very dear to me for personal, and professional reasons. On the face of it, sherry and champagne look like disparate things.

“Champagne is the epitome of cool climate, from Northern France, delicate, and low in alcohol. Sherry is fortified to be above 15% in alcohol, from one of the Southern most growing regions in Europe, and is low in acidity.

“There is a spiritual element common between the two, as well as commonality in the production processes. Both are very much about where each is made. They come from calcareous soils. We often say “calcium” for short.

“In Champagne, we have chalk. The rock, you can break it off. It is very old from the Cretaceous period. In Sherry, we have albariza. It is a younger soil, around 35-million years old, and is much more crumbly in structure than chalk. It is more akin to sand, than the rock found in Champagne.

“In Champagne, you find actual physical rocks. In albariza, when dry, which is 5 months of the year, the soil can be compact, dry, and very hard. When it rains, it turns to mud. Albariza is like a light, calcareous sand.

“The affect of both soils is to create a distinctive minerality in both of these wines. When we think about the minerality of these wines it becomes interesting to compare them. When we compare them, we can compare their processes.

“In the past we would say both come from rather neutral grapes. No one would say that anymore. Producers as recently as 10-years ago, champagne producers would say they were looking for neutral base wines because the character of champagne comes from aging.

“In general, the base wines of sherry and champagne are not wines we want to drink. Both of these wines rely heavily on yeast. In champagne, the secondary ferment, and lees aging contribute greatly to the wines’ character. In fino and manzanilla, the layer of flor affects wine in important ways. Both are aged for a long time.

“For champagne, 10-years is nothing for aging. Many of the best need 15 years to show their best. Sherry is very long lived. It undergoes very long aging processes.

“In terms of perception, there is also a lot in common. Both wines are largely misunderstood. Many people don’t even think of sherry as wine. People often think of champagne as apertif only. In actuality, sherry is a very complex wine. It is also the most food friendly wine on the planet, bar none. In terms of perception, there is a lot of work for us to do.

“Both wines are a product of blending. In some cases, these wines are the result of extremely vast blends. Non-vintage champagnes can be comprised of hundreds of base wines. A sherry solera can be 200-years old and encompass, for all intensive purposes, hundreds of base wines.

“Finally, both champagne and sherry have been sold, or marketed as brands. In both, the brand of sherry, or the brand of champagne is the defining element for the beverage. Sherry bodegas are known for giving a consistent product. A champagne house develops their blend early in the process, and is often known for it.”

***

For more from Peter Liem on Champagne, check out his site: http://www.champagneguide.net/

For more from Peter Liem on Sherry, check out his site, also carrying his book on Sherry, co-authored with Jesús Barquín: http://www.sherryguide.net/

Peter Liem discusses his work on ChampagneGuide.net in an I’ll Drink to That podcast with Levi Dalton, episode 11: https://soundcloud.com/leviopenswine/peterliem

and his book, Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla, written with Jesús Barquín in I’ll Drink to That podcast episode 38: https://soundcloud.com/leviopenswine/peterliembook

***

Thank you to Noah Dorrance.

Thank you to Baron Ziegler, and Gregory Castells, Lorenzo Garcia-Iglesias, Jan Pettersen, and Peter Liem.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

1

Salon Champagne: A 6 Vintage Vertical

Pebble Beach Food & Wine culminated in a panel of 9 wines from Salon and Delamotte moderated by Antonio Galloni, and featuring Didier Depond, president of the sister houses. The wines poured from Delamotte blanc de blancs included the non-vintage, 2004, and 1970 out of magnum; from Salon the 2002, 1999 from magnum, 1997, 1995 from magnum, 1988, and 1983 from magnum. To comment on the wines the panel also included Rajat Parr, Shane Bjornholm, and Emily Wines.

Salon Champagne, A Verticalclick on image to enlarge

The Value of Salon and Delamotte

Salon Champagne has long held a special fascination for me. I admire the innovation of Eugène Aimé Salon that originates with his idea to create the world’s first chardonnay-only champagne, age it minimum 10 years, and create it only in the very best vintages. The first Salon vintage began in 1905. Since, only 45 vintages total have been made — 37 of those in the 1900s. A Salon has not been made since 2008 as the vintages since have not stood up to the quality demands held by the house.

Though blanc de blancs appears as a common option in sparkling wine now, champagne’s tradition and history rests more deeply in blending grapes. Salon was the first to imagine chardonnay on its own could offer enough sophistication for the best champagne. Incredibly, Salon champagne utilizes not only chardonnay-only, but also only 100% Grand Cru fruit from a single village within Cote de Blanc, the heart of quality for chardonnay grapes within Champagne. In aging the wine a minimum of 10 years, the silky texture and flavor development of chardonnay deepens. By creating the wine only in steel tank (no barrel usage), the focus remains on purity and freshness.

Delamotte stands as a true sister house, rather than simply a second label, to Salon. Four cuvées are made by Delamotte in order to keep the focus on quality — blanc de blanc non-vintage, blanc de blancs vintage (only in good years), brut non-vintage, and a rosé. Delamotte originates as one of the oldest champagne houses, created in 1760 utilizing only 100% Grand Cru fruit from the Cote de Blanc.

The wines are utterly beautiful. Younger vintages, such as those into the 1990s right now, carry wire-y tension focusing almost entirely on juicy citrus components with light earthy notes. As the vintages age, the flavors deepen bringing the earth elements slightly more to the fore, alongside refreshing saline or olive notes and chamomile tea or bergamot. Throughout, the wines carry a seductive silkey texture and utterly long, mouth watering finish.

The Salon and Delamotte vertical tasting included some of the most special wines I’ve been lucky enough to taste. We were also the first people outside Salon to taste the newly released 2002 vintage. Depond clarified that in the Salon cellars only twenty-three magnums of the 1983 vintage remain. Two of those were opened for our PBFW tasting. Antonio Galloni is widely known as one of the world’s leading wine experts. He described the 1983 from magnum as “one of the most extraordinary wines I have ever tasted.”

Notes from Didier Depond

It was an honor to meet Didier Depond, and taste through the Delamotte and Salon vertical led by his knowledge of the wines.

Rather than interpret his comments, following are quotations from Depond through the tasting.

“The size of bubbles is the elegance of the wine.”

“To make Salon, we want a perfect balance between sugar and acidity. The most important factor is the acidity and pH in the wine.”

“It may be very difficult for you to understand. It is very pleasant right now to drink this wine but tasting vin clair is very difficult for us, even painful.” Vin clair is the still base wine that will then go through a secondary fermentation to become sparkling. The acid levels of vin clair are very high and can literally hurt the mouth as a result. “We have to imagine the wine in 15 to 20 years. It is very difficult to imagine. We keep this wine [Salon] a minimum of 10, 11, 12 years in cellar.”

“We use only steel tank. I don’t like barrel for champagne. It is my opinion. I share my opinion with myself. Champagne is about the freshness, the pleasure, the happiness. I love the cleanness, and the freshness of the wine. For me, it is the definition of the wine.”

“It is easy to drink a magnum. It is the best size for me. It is better if you drink it as two [people], rather than only one.” (laughing)

“Salon is a unique situation. It is a mono-cru. We are chardonnay, and chardonnay from only one vintage, and only one village.”

“It is a very open discussion on disgorgement. For myself, sometimes I open a bottle with a very open disgorgement, and it is very beautiful, a 30-year disgorgement, and no oxidation. Sometimes, I am disappointed, yes? But, the wine is alive. [Explaining] Sometimes, I am disappointed with myself, to see this morning, I am older. But I am rarely disappointed with Salon.”

“All dosage for Salon is at the limit of a brut wine [next to brut nature–that is, very low sugar but still present]. Dosage is very important. Sugar is a preservative. It helps the wine age. If you want to do low dosage, you have to pick your grapes a little later to balance the sugars. It is very easy to make good champagne. If you make a good dosage, you make good champagne.”

“Dosage is like a beautiful woman with just a touch of makeup.”

“Today I know exactly how many bottles we have in our cellar [at Salon] for the next 20 years.”

***

Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews remains ad-free without a pay wall, and takes hundreds of hours a month to research and write. If you enjoy and value the work you find here, please consider supporting this project with a monthly donation, or one in any dollar amount via the form below. Your support is greatly appreciated.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Thank you!

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

1

Selecting Prosecco

The sparkling wine Prosecco rises from the dramatically lifting foothills of the Alps in Northeastern Italy, with its quality center stretching from Valdobbiadene to Conegliano. The method for making Prosecco, Metodo Italiano (also known as the Charmat process), brings a more delicate focus than the Champagne method allows, presenting more distinctive aromatic qualities, as well as preserving fruit and flower characteristics of the grapes used as a result.

Glera and Metodo Italiano

Metodo Italianoclick on image to enlarge

Regulated Prosecco allows use of only the glera grape (previously known as the prosecco grape but renamed to avoid confusion). Glera is preciously fruit focused in its flavor, carved through its edges with a green-salt bitter note that at its best gives its wine shape.

Metodo Italiano does not require the high acid levels demanded from the Champagne method, therefore generating a sparkling wine with less overt linear tension than its counterpart. In lower quality examples the lack of tension means an overly simple fruit-only wine I tend to find cloying. As with any region, however, such examples tend to appear from the bulk, industrial segments of the production process. It is important to remember that many producers play with only the best fruit, earlier picking times, and some technique variations to keep the wine focused and clean in its core.

Though Prosecco is generally finished today in pressurized tanks (in the stainless steel tank portion of Round Two shown above), the introduction of these tanks is quite recent. Prior to the 1970s, the approach to making Prosecco still included movement into a secondary vessel, but culminated finally with fermentation finishing in bottle under crown cap. It is uncommon for Prosecco makers to take this approach today, but a few still do.

Prosecco Favorites

Following are notes on a few special examples of unique Proseccos available within the States.

Ca’ dei Zago

Ca’ dei Zago DOC “Col Fondo”
My favorite of the Proseccos mentioned here utilizes the older method of finishing fermentation under crown cap. The Ca’ dei Zago offers a slightly cloudy body, as a result, but also brings with it an additional biscuit note thanks to the crown cap completion that is pleasing. This wine carries those crisp biscuit notes topped through with lemon zest and the distinct glera edge to carve its shape over the palate. The wine also brings nice focus and good mineral tension through clean fruit and floral aromatics. The Ca’ dei Zago is a nice example of a Prosecco that succeeds at complexity and a core of tension within a wine that is still distinctively Prosecco.

Zardetto

Zardetto “Tre Venti” 2012 DOCG
As a single vineyard Prosecco, Zardetto’s Tre Venti succeeds at showing the unique fruit character possible from this sparkling wine method. The Tre Vigne shows apple and ginger with a touch of narcissus on the nose, tightening through the palate into a wire-y, masculine body of apple with blossom, toasted notes and hints of marmalade through a long finish. I enjoyed the surprise of this Prosecco quite a bit, and would like it with food.

Zardetto “Zeta” Dry 2012 DOCG
Delicate and pretty floral aromatics, alongside ripe apple with light toast and ginger accents breeze into a giving fruit focused palate with refreshing saline-mineral length. Where the Tre Vigne vibrates wire-y, the Zeta is all feminine flow. This is a wine to drink easy with friends, and a smile.

Nino Franco

Nino Franco Grave di Stecca 2010
Nino Franco brings a single vineyard, older vine focus to their Grave di Stecca also choosing to pick earlier to bring juicy focused length to this Prosecco. The Grave di Stecca 2010 gives a crisp spice nose carrying into a uniquely spiced palate of orchard fruit, on a palate that simultaneously offers rich depth and nice focus with lots of mineral length and a long juicy finish. This wine holds up very well alongside a range of foods.

Though the Grave di Stecca follows all of the DOCG requirements, because the family wishes to honor the unique flavoral characteristics of the vineyard, they choose not to submit it to the actual DOCG inspection. This wine, then, is essentially a declassified DOCG. Incidentally, I have also had positive experiences with the aging potential of this particular Prosecco.

Nino Franco Riva di San Floriano 2012 DOCG
Heralding from a beautiful steep sloped vineyard on the edge of Valdobbiadene, the Riva di San Floriano brings a star bright, perfume spice nose through to its ultra crisp apple and spice palate. This is an elegant example of a single vineyard Prosecco with lots of vibrancy and a long juicy finish. This wine does well as an aperitif and alongside white fish, or lighter risottos.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

 

 

0

Drinking Bubbles from Limoux

An under-celebrated while reliable source of value sparkling wine rests in the Southern France region of Limoux. In the foothills of Languedoc’s Pyrénées, near the historic city of Carcassonne, stands the original Abbey of Dom Perignon, the legendary cultivator of the wine that would later come to be known as Champagne.

As the story goes, the Dom practiced his methods first in Limoux, before carrying them North to Champagne to popularize the drink there. In its elevation, Limoux offers the vibrant acidity needed to give focus and length in the Méthode Traditionelle. One of the pleasures of Limoux rests in its common use of grapes such as Chenin Blanc, and Mauzac alongside the more familiar Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Chenin Blanc gives an earthy-herbal-floral depth and richness with mineral length to its sparkling wines, while Mauzac brings a unique pert-apple with cut grass character.

Crémant de Limoux AOC

Sparkling wine from Limoux shows as two distinctive styles, Crémant de Limoux, and Blanquette de Limoux. Crémant de Limoux celebrates Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc primarily, with no more than 90% together forming the wine. The final portion brings in Pinot Noir and/or Mauzac.

Crémant de Limoux offers a great source for bubbles at a screaming value. With the long standing history of the region it’s easy to find bubbles well below $20 that are also a pleasure to drink.

Domaine Collin

Domain Collinclick on comic to enlarge

Domaine Collin produces two Brut Crémant de Limoux sparkling wines — a Chardonnay, Chenin, and Pinot white blend, as well as a rosé of the same grapes. Both wines offer nicely subtle complexity with depth. The white came in as my favorite of the Limoux wines presented here. It’s a wine for people that want palate tension placed alongside richness, juicy mineral length coupled with depth of flavor. At $13 it’s a screaming deal. The rosé is a beautifully made balance that’s a touch softer, and more approachable than the white with its cherry elements dancing through the citrus and floral notes.

Gérard Bertrand

Gerard Bertrand 2011click on image to enlarge

Gérard Bertrand offers a crisply focused, clean, and elegant Chardonnay, Chenin, Mauzac 2011 white blend coming in around $16. It’s a nice balance of dried flower-herbal notes coupled with delicate fruit creams, biscuit accents, and a long mineral finish. There is a nice balance of complexity to value here.

Blanquette de Limoux

Limoux holds the primary source of Mauzac in the world. The grape is required at minimum 90% of the Blanquette de Limoux — a Méthode Ancestrale style sparkling wine. However, in recent years Mauzac plantings have been replaced by Chardonnay, leading to a decline in the unusual variety.

Blanquette de Limoux is one of the gifts of the region. Though Méthode Ancestrale originates as the first approach to champagne method sparkling wine, it is uncommon today. The style offers a creamy palate with low alcohol as wine is generally not fermented entirely dry. Since the style originates with the monks of Limoux, it has been treated to its own controlled appellation with Mauzac determined as the dominate grape. 10% of the wine may be blended to Chardonnay and/or Chenin Blanc.

Cote Mas

Cote Masclick on image to enlarge

Cote Mas offers great value in their brut Crémant de Limoux, both coming in between $13 and 16, depending on the retailer. The white blend brings all four grapes together for a clean, meyer lemon cream-on-a-biscuit nose followed through to dried jasmine, hints of kumquat, white grapefruit pith, and orange blossom on the pert, juicy palate. Chardonnay, Chenin, and Pinot Noir blend into the pert, refreshing rosé giving floral citrus alongside cherry blossom to round the juicy palate.

Cote Mas also offers their Blanquette de Limoux celebrating their love for Mauzac through a 100% rendition of the wine. The jasmine and mandarin aromatics roll into a giving creaminess on the palate spun through with ginger flower. With its ultra low alcohol, and touch of sweetness this is a wine to enjoy slowly through the evening. At $13, the Méthode Ancestrale makes this a special, ultra-affordable wine.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Stress Drinks in the Holidays

Truth? The beautiful, perfect, glow of love and light that is the holidays stresses most of us out. I can barely get through Thanksgiving, hide on Christmas, and then finally want to sparkle up for New Year’s but that is largely because the year we just went through is FINALLY OVER. It’s a NEW one! Yay!

A couple years ago I did a comic called, “The Precise Gift Buying Guide for the Wine Lover: Whites and Reds.” I felt like reprising the idea but instead of thinking about what to buy everyone else, I thought we could all use a reminder to make sure we have the stock we need on hand.

I sent out a tweet and a message on Facebook asking people what stresses them out on the holidays. The most horrifying response alluded to a world in which only Yellow Tail existed to drink. Please! Do not let that happen to you! Use the bubbled scenarios below to determine your optimal beverage.

***

What To Drink When the Holidays Stress You Out: A Decision Flow Chart

Holiday Stress Drink Chart 1 Holiday Stress Drink Chart 2Holiday Stress Drink Chart 3 Holiday Stress Drink Chart 4click on any of the pages to enlarge

***

Thanks for the help everyone! It was a lot of fun to come up with solutions for your stressful scenarios.

Cheers!

***

Thank you to Katherine Yelle, Meredith Miller Elliott, Lenn Thompson, Ashley Copper Quinn, Geoffrey Stauffer, Dale Tanigawa, Laura Anglin, Shawn Swagerty, Fredric Koppel, Michael Alberty, Don Beith, Andrew Hummel-Schluger, Chris Scanlan, Jeannette Montgomery, Marita Dachsel.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

6

Making Sparkling Wine via Metodo Italiano

Metodo Italiano for Sparkling wineclick on illustration to enlarge

With my recent visit to Valdobbiadene, and the Prosecco of Nino Franco, I’ve received some messages asking if I could do an illustration explaining the process for making sparkling wine like Prosecco.

The approach differs from how wines like Champagne, Franciacorta, or Cava are made in that, with those examples, the secondary fermentation (which gets the bubbles in the bottle) occurs within the bottle in which the wine is later sold. This approach is called Methode Traditionelle.

With Prosecco, the secondary fermentation instead occurs within a large tank, and the wine is bottled after. This approach is known as Metodo Italiano.

Technically speaking, either method can be taken with any grape that can make sparkling wine. However, the two methods have differing effects on the final wine, and so many consider each to suit different grapes better than the other.

For example, the Methode Traditionelle generally requires higher acid levels in the original grapes, and so suits fruit like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which have naturally higher levels of acidity in cool climates.

On the other hand, Metodo Italiano has less impact on the flavors of the grapes, and so does well at preserving the original aromas and flavors of the fruit. For that reason, this approach does well at showcasing a grape like glera in its resulting Prosecco, which, at its best, has a pure fruit expression and accent of fresh greenery.

I’d already done a drawing of Metodo Italiano, so, here it is!

Cheers, and thanks!

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Visiting Nino Franco

As some of you know, I just returned from a press trip in Italy. I am still researching and tasting from the various regions. In the meantime, here are photos from the first two days of our visit. We began in Valdobbiadene, in the Treviso province of the Northeast.

Silvia at the top of Rive di San Floriano Vineyard

Silvia Franco at the top of the steep slope vineyard, Rive di San Floriano

The region surrounding Valdobbiadene falls within the highest quality area of Prosecco, which reaches to the town of Conegliano. The steep sloped hillsides rise prior to the Alps out of former-marine soils combining the cooling effects of the mountains, with chalky, crisp, mineral-driven soils.

looking into the town of Valdobbiadene

the town of Valdobbiadene

The region between Valdobbiadene and Conegliano is being considered for a World Heritage site designation. Known history of the region reaches back to the 11th century, and includes scientific work done by one of the first wine schools in the world, and commemoration in Renaissance paintings by artists Conegliano, and Bellini. One of the unique aspects of the area that qualifies it for consideration rests in its long standing relationship with viticulture. The region’s geography, both culturally and physically, so thoroughly intertwines with the vines that the shape of the area, and the persistence of the hillsides cannot be discussed without recognizing the role of Prosecco.

Tasting the Nino Franco Rustico

The Franco family have lived in the region for generations, with four generations now having operated their Nino Franco winery.

Annalisa and Silvia

Annalisa and Silvia Franco hosted us for lunch as a way of introducing us to their wines, and welcoming us to Italy. Then we toured the vineyards of the area.

Tasting the Primo Franco Prosecco

Giovanni Franco founded the winery in 1919 naming it after his son, Antonio (nicknamed Nino). At the time it was not possible to sustain a sparkling only operation, so the family sourced red grapes from neighboring areas to make still wines as well. Having been part of the family business since the 1970s, Primo Franco (Nino’s son) became the head of the company after his father’s death in the early 1980s. He chose to shift the focus away from still wines and begin the project of a sparkling only winery. In 1983 he completed his first example as head of Nino Franco, naming it the Primo Franco.

The Single Vineyard Prosecco, Grave di Stecco

Today, the family also makes single vineyard Proseccos showing the unique expressions of the hillsides through the area. The Grave di Stecca is one such example from the family’s own vineyard located in Valdobbiadene.

Over the hillsides of Valdobbiadene

The area of Cartizze, in the heart of the Valdobbiadene-Conegliano stretch is considered the premier of the region. The concentration of vines, and the intricate vineyard rows are stunning and begin to make sense of quality differences between the best of Prosecco, and the bulk versions of the valley floor. The mountains in the distance here also host vineyards just below the forest tops.

Over the hillsides of Valdobbiadene

Standing in a vineyard in Cartizze

Glera, the Prosecco grape

The glera grape has recently earned its name, having previously just been called prosecco. To distinguish the region from the fruit, the name Prosecco is now protected and isolated to the region in Italy. At its best, glera offers focused fruit flavors with a crisp edge to it.

Harvesting a terraced vineyard

standing in a terraced steep slope vineyard during harvest. Standing a terrace below, I am at least four feet below the harvester. Looking straight ahead I can only see her boots. (Thank you to Cathy for the photo suggestion.)

Cathy and Primo tank sampling first fermentation

Prosecco goes through two tank fermentations, with DOCG quality inspections at each stage. The first tank fermentation occurs immediately after harvest and produces the more austere still wine that will be the basis of the sparkling. Cathy and Primo as we tank sample the 2013 harvest of Rive di San Floriano.

Primo and Silvia tank sampling second fermentation

The still wines are brought with their lees to the secondary tanks where they will undergo secondary fermentation and be left on their lees the better portion of a year for aging. Lees contact and aging are a choice made at Nino Franco, and are not necessarily practiced by other wineries. Silvia and Primo help us tank sample the sparkling 2012 Grave di Stecca.

Aging Prosecco on lees

The single vineyard Grave di Stecca is aged in bottle before release.

Prosecco tasting

Tasting through the Nino Franco lineup, all sparkling. from left: Rustico (their “premium entry level”), the Valdobbiadene blend, the single vineyard 2012 Rive di San Floriano, the single vineyard 2010 Grave di Stecca, the Merlot-Cab Franc sparkling rosé (project they make with a red wine producing friend) 2011 Faive, the 2012 Primo Franco

Primo with his first bottle of Primo Franco

Primo standing with his first bottle of 1983 Primo Franco

The Franco family, Silvia, Primo, Annalisa

Silvia, Primo, and Annalisa Franco standing in Cartizze

***

To read more about Nino Franco, check out Alfonso Cevola’s post from a visit he made here: http://acevola.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-battle-for-prosecco.html

***

Thank you to Primo, Annalisa, and Silvia Franco.

Thank you to Megan Murphy, and Kanchan Kinkade.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com


5

The Bollinger Vin Clairs Experience

How Champagne is Made

click on comics to enlarge: how champagne is made, an overview

Terlato Wines was kind enough to include me in a Bollinger Vin Clairs tasting yesterday. Vin Clairs, for those that are unfamiliar, amounts to the still base wine that then goes through second fermentation in bottle to become the final champagne. Guy de Rivoire, Bollinger’s Commercial Director, facilitated the tasting, coupled with an overview of the House, and the blending process.

Incredibly, Bollinger’s Special Cuvée (their non-vintage champagne) can include up to 60 component parts of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir vinified separately, within some neutral barrels, and some stainless steel vats. Each component is bottled in large format, kept in cellar as a still wine to ensure adequate flavor resources for future vintages. These reserve wines total about 650,000 magnums, or 1.3 million bottles. Still, Bollinger produces only 0.6-0.7% of total champagne made in the region per year.

The experience included six components from multiple vintages, and (separately) from each of the three grapes, leading into the final still Special Cuvée, which included at least some of the components we tasted. The culmination occurred in comparing the still Special Cuvée to its sparkling counterpart. Finally, the tasting extended into several vintage champagnes, and the non-vintage rosé followed by a 2004 vintage rosé.

Bollinger Making the Assemblage: the Vin Clairs blend

Making the Bollinger Special Cuvee

click on comic to enlarge: Blending still wines into Bollinger’s Special Cuvée

Approximately 90% of the vineyard land in the Champagne region is grower owned. According to yesterday’s presentation, there are approximately 5000 growers in Champagne, and 10,000 Champagne brands producing 25 to 30 million cases of champagne per year. Champagne houses generally operate as a negociant, sourcing grapes from some mix of the 5000 growers through the region. Within Champagne, there is also a small portion of wines made on a grower-winemaker model in which the owner of a vineyard vinifies a small production champagne from their own grapes. Among champagne houses in the region, only three remain under independent ownership, Bollinger being one of them.

Bollinger produces their non-vintage “Special Cuvée” from a blend consistently structured by at least 60% Pinot Noir, with some Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. With an eye on aging, their vintage blends maintain the >60% Pinot model, sticking to Chardonnay for the rest. Another feature unique to the Bollinger House includes their ownership of more than 60% of their vineyards. The entirety of their fruit comes from Marne district. A portion of the still wines are fermented in old oak barrel, bringing an additional textural and flavor component to their wine. The rest are fermented in stainless steel.

The Bottled Wines

Bollinger’s Special Cuvée offers a silk taffeta texture with the swish of a floor length dress. It carries a richly flavored, while fine-boned presentation of dried flowers, light (not sweet) honey and beeswax, walnut and clove touches with a light pleasing zip of acidity.

Tasting through the several component still wines, followed by the final vin clairs, then moving into the sparkling Special Cuvée drove home how impressive the work of the Chef de Caves really is–to imagine tracking the various wines, creating blending trials for so many potential components, then tasting the final still assemblage to anticipate its presentation after second fermentation… fantastic. So much to track, so much work, so much clarity of vision.

We were able to taste both the 2004 and 1992 Grande Année, as well as the Special Cuvée rosé and Grande Anneé 2004 rosé. Though it sounds obvious, I was moved by the 1992–it’s vibrant zest acidity (in magnum) was coupled with rich smokey, walnut-driven aromatics followed by an electric cord of mouth stimulation cloaked in rich flavors. The saline-chalky electrical-current on this wine was lovely.

***

Thank you to Mary Anne Sullivan, and Stephanie Caraway of Terlato.

Thank you to Guy de Rivoire of Bollinger.

Cheers to Jeremy Parzen!

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Talking with Frédéric Panaiotis

“There is a French saying,” Frédéric Panaiotis tells me. “Help yourself and the sky will help you. I like this. This is my motto.”

Frederic Panaiotis

Frédéric Panaiotis, the Chef de Caves for Ruinart Champagne

I met Frédéric Panaiotis after arriving embarrassingly early to a private Ruinart dinner due to a mix-up with my driver. He and Nicolas Ricroque, the champagne’s brand director, welcomed me warmly and offered bubbles to set me at ease. We began with Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and their dinner’s good view. Later, with food, we’d also step back into older vintages of Dom Ruinart paired with courses made for us by the talented chef Michelle Bernstein.

Ruinart began as the oldest established champagne house in the world, founded in 1729, at a time when bottling the beverage had been illegal. With its forbidden nature, so the story goes, it was desired and enjoyed at the court of Versailles, where the original Ruinart family was friendly. Over drinks one evening with the king, Nicolas Ruinart had an epiphany. His champagne would please. The Ruinart “wine with bubbles” business began September 1, 1729 with the intent of offering unique gifts to Nicolas’s fabric customers–the family owned a cloth company–but within six years of founding the bubbles venture it dominated the family interests and by 1735 they shifted entirely to champagne.

Now, a little less than 300 years later, Ruinart persists, founded on blending strategies with a focus on chardonnay. Today, Frédéric Panaiotis serves as the house’s Chef de Caves, or chief winemaker, in charge of nursing the grapes from vineyard to vin clair (champagne’s first step still blend), to bubbles, all with the intention of maintaining the Ruinart house style.

It is this willingness of the winemaker to give over to something older and longer that gives champagne its persistence and brilliance both. Panaiotis recognizes he is part of this longer tradition. “When you join a champagne house,” he tells me, “it is important to understand my name will not stay.”

Panaiotis emphasizes the importance of this history. “In California, a winemaker can make their mark on a house, and that is understandable. But, in Champagne, it is different.” He continues, “In Champagne, you should never remember who was making the wine 40 years ago. He is just one of the guys making sure the wine style is the same.” The comparison highlights two different models of success–one of persistent innovation, on the one hand, and one of established grace, on the other, both to be valued but for different contexts.

Panaiotis discusses the history of Ruinart w Morimoto's help

Frederic Panaiotis discussing Ruinart champagne at a special demonstration with Chef Morimoto, Pebble Beach Food & Wine 2013

Panaiotis strikes me as a man full of grace, and gravitas both. As much as he regards himself well integrated into a larger team–both historically and currently–he also acts as the facilitator of that team’s larger goals.

It is in listening to Panaiotis, I am struck by how the two models–California and Champagne–showcase not only different ideas of history, but also differing examples of leadership. He appreciates the value of both approaches, having resided in Mendocino for almost three years between 1989 and 1991, assisting in the production of sparkling wine for a California label.

Now as chief winemaker for Ruinart, Panaiotis emphasizes the strength of the house band. “When it comes to winemaking, a well-honed team is so much more efficient and reliable. There can always be someone that is sick, but not all of us. So, the response, the assessment of the wine has to be done by the team, not one person.”

Successful focus on the group together, however, depends on also recognizing each individual’s talents. Creating that well-honed contingent, Panaiotis explains, comes from smartly utilizing each person’s abilities. “I must understand who on the team is more competent, more sensitive on certain areas than others.” In describing his meaning, Panaiotis uses himself as example. If he is feeling off one day, it’s necessary for him to recognize who around him can be more effective. “Everyone has expertise, skill in something.” He says, “I have to recognize that. Then I can trust you. Then the team responds. Whoever from the team for each part of what we’re doing.” Panaiotis emphasizes the advantage of this approach, “it’s very satisfying and more fun when we all work together.”

Nicolas, Michelle, and Frederic

Brand manager, Nicolas Ricroque, Chef Michelle Bernstein, and Frédéric Panaiotis doing final preparations for dinner

Getting Panaiotis to discuss his time in California uncovers an aspect of his character I suspect is foundational–curiosity coupled with systematic study. His education focused on the sciences, taking him through a career that has included chemical wine analysis, years of research on cork taint, and several positions making sparkling wine, in both California and Champagne. Talking about his work in Mendocino, Panaiotis tells me about his studies. “I took Spanish while I was working in California. Wine is great. With wine, you learn something everyday.” He references an idea we both agree upon–the more you know, the less you know. “But with me, it is not enough, so I study languages.” Currently Panaiotis is getting started with Mandarin.

It is not just a thirst for more knowledge that drives Panaiotis, it is also an interest in deeper understanding. We touch on the idea of food and wine pairing, a subject common to the world of wine. But with Panaiotis it blooms into a conversation about culture, recognition of values and ideas. Panaiotis’s thinking is multi-layered throughout. To understand food and wine pairing more effectively, he studies other languages.

He explains his reasoning. “Language is a key aspect of learning how people think,” he offers. “I am always interested in food and wine pairings. Language is key to understanding a culture’s ideas.” By recognizing the ideas of another culture, you gain new insight into flavors and food relationships as well. The various forms of study, then, all circle back, even while revealing something new in themselves. It is both that are true.

In discussing Panaiotis’s wealth of experience he reveals again his blend of grace, and gravitas, coupled with what I recognize as genuine humility, a trait he already revealed through his discussion of team work and leadership–a person of genuine humility, I believe, recognizes what they are genuinely good at, while understanding too there is always more to learn.

Through the Ruinart dinner, and the next day’s Morimoto cooking demonstration, Panaiotis showed his talent for pairing food and wine, an ability clear throughout our discussion as well. But he understands the source of his own strengths. “I am not gifted.” He explains. “People think I am gifted in food and wine pairings. No. No. No. I am not gifted.” As he speaks he is utterly sincere and to the point. “I work very hard all the time to keep learning.”

The hard work Panaiotis puts into his job he also does with clear gratefulness and joy. “I don’t make champagne,” he tells me. “I make something to make people happy. Putting a smile on people’s face, that is my job. How many people can say that?”

***

Thank you to Frederic Panaiotis for including me, and taking time to talk with me.

Thank you to Nicolas Ricroque.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.