A week on sparkling wines: Paul Bara Grand Cru NV Brut, for Katherine and Fred

Every once in a while people send me messages with a request for this site to focus on particular types of wine. I try to at least consider these requests. My friends ask for such things on occasion as well.

Not that long ago, Katherine asked me to do a week focusing on sparkling wines, especially, she argued, since the holidays are coming up. Though I thought I’d reviewed plenty of sparkling wines on here, she convinced me that this is just the time of year to go ahead and do more. I decided to take up her request by focusing on five unique examples of sparkling wines, each from a different country–five for the week.

The truth is, a week on sparkling wine must begin with France, the history of the two are too tied together to ignore. France is full of incredible sparkling wines, a number of which I have reviewed here, but the truth simply is that the Champagne region is the most famous, and carries a history with it too that demands attention.

Reflecting on which French sparkler I’d begin with while talking with my friend, Fred, he asked me to please review his favorite (he actually I think demanded–insert laughing smile here). He calls it his “desert island wine”–that is, what he’d want cases of to live through isolation (with his lovely wife, of course) on a small island in the middle of warm seas. When he says this I always imagine that there are plenty of tropical fruits, and root vegetables, lots of nice seafood, and a little cave in which his wine would stay cool. Somehow, I also assume Fred has magically sorted out how to make fried chicken on his desert island get away. Fred loves fried chicken.

So, we begin a week on sparkling wine, as requested by my friend Katherine, with a specific champagne as requested by my friend Fred. The requests are theirs, the reviews are mine.

click on comic to enlarge

Bouzy is a village at the heart of Montagne de Reims (in Northern Champagne), a region regarded for its excellent Pinot Noir. Interestingly, though Burgundy is known for its Pinot Noir, the Champagne region actually has the highest number of pinot plantings in all of France. Famous to Bouzy is Paul Bara, the producer of a grower’s champagne by the same name, and the local pen of History of Bouzy. To say Bara makes grower’s champagne is to say, he not only grows his own grapes, he produces the champagne that will come from them as well, a dual-role not overly common in the champagne world.

Taking advantage of the high value pinot of the area, Bara focuses on the grape as the predominate foundation of his house. Known for bringing structure to sparkling wine, the pinot noir provides a kind of backbone on which rich flavors may shape. The Paul Bara shows this quality–offering wonderful structure, with well-balanced fruit and minerals. The nose starts delicate, and opens to richer yellow fruits, and light white flowers as it warms, showing a mix of yellow peach, mirabelle plum, orange zest and orange blossom. The flavors in the mouth follow, including each of these with a further layering of tart apple, and meyer lemon. There are even hints of fresh green herbs, and slight touches of mushroom. The minerals here are pleasing–they begin as wet chalk on the nose, and transform into a vague sea salt flavor accenting the fruits, and offering a long finish.

Incredibly, when you look to the production techniques of the Paul Bara family you discover that their property is a mere 11 hectares (that’s 26 acres), with incredibly low yield plants. The family’s commitment is to the highest quality fruit, and wine production. As such, they claim that each bottle from their winery is actually tended individually by hand moving through the champagne production process. The reality of that is truly remarkable.

I can see why this is Fred’s favorite champagne. With my dedication to sparkling wine, people sometimes ask me to walk through the local champagne section with them, and discuss the selections so that they can decide what to purchase. When doing this I regularly refer to the Paul Bara as the benchmark champagne–It is wonderfully balanced, showing fruit, minerals, moderate acidity, and good structure. In this way it is ideal to what a champagne can offer. It stands as a solid balance point between funkier, more yeast driven sparkling wines on one side, and leaner, more graceful, delicate fruit sparklers on the other.

I’m going to admit though that perfection is not what drives me to taste any wine. While I recognize, admire, and even enjoy what I’m calling the perfect wine, I am compelled more often by a hint of strangeness. In fact, when it comes to champagne I prefer a lot of yeast, a bunch of biscuit or brioche scent, a slightly funky palate. If you want a champagne more like I’ve just described, the Paul Bara is not your choice. However, I still commit to describing this Paul Bara as a benchmark for quality and balance. It is the sparkling wine to select for a mixed group with varying tastes. It would also do well as an apertif to open your palate for a meal, or to drink while eating fried chicken.

We goofy Americans–we love our fried chicken. (insert laughing smile here)

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psst… if Fred likes this wine review comic the hand drawn and colored original will also be his Christmas present

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