Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ings
All wines that sparkles are not Champagne
I am in search of the perfect wine to serve guest at our Cape Cod Bed and Breakfast over the upcoming holidays. When it comes to that very special occasion or celebration, what is the type of wine most people think of buying to share and commemorate the event? Champagne, of course! Even as a kid from a little farming town outside of Chicago, I knew that something that popped its cork and had bubbles was special. I admit that Cold Duck may have been the first wine I purchased because it met my ‘pop and bubble’ criteria. I have come a long way since those days, I hope.
The Wednesday night tasting at the Belfry Bistro expanded my horizons about popping and bubbling alternatives. Kris, from Cellar 55 Wine Merchants, and Polly, from Classic Wine Imports, selected four interesting sparkling wines. Notice, I did not say four Champagnes.
All sparkling wines from Champagne France can be called Champagne, but a sparkling wine form anywhere but Champagne France cannot be called Champagne. Champagne is not just a generic term for any sparkling wine, but is the protected French name of sparkling wine produced from specific grapes grown within a specific, legally defined area of Northern France. The French wine industries’ regulated approach to the making of Champagne has assured that some of the greatest sparkling wines come only from France, but usually with a predictably higher price tag. Also, French wines are almost exclusively made from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier grapes. The four sparkling wines of our tasting challenged both the grape and price paradigms of French Champagnes.
We started the evening with Laetitia NV Brut Cuvee, a sparkling wine from the central coast of California. Like French Champagne, it is a classic blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but with Pinot Blanc instead of Point Meunier. Laetitia follows a ‘Methode Champenoise’ tradition of malolactic fermentation including bottle aging, riddling, and disgorging. It is Non-Vintage, which means a number of vintages from various years are blended to give Laetitia’s Brut Cuvee a consistency from year to year. This smooth sparkling was nicely pared with little neck clams from Woodbury Shellfish, a sustainable grower from Wellfleet, MA.
Although the first wine we tasted was nice and reminded me of many good Champagne and sparkling wines I have had, the second wine started that paradigm shift from what I had experienced before. It was Italian, the NV Riondo Pink Spago Argento Vino Frizzante. Made from a red Rabosa grape, this fresh and fruity wine was a pale rose color in the glass. It really came to life when it was pared with tuna sashimi. The next wine was a real surprise, the Pacific Rim White Flowers Sparkling Riesling NV. Made with grapes from Washington State's Yakima River area, it did not taste like the sweet German Rieslings I have tasted. It was served with an interesting paring of fresh local Nantucket Bay scallops.
I think in this case, we did save the best for last. The last wine was a 2008 Paringa Sparkling Shiraz from Southern Australia. Paringa Vineyard’s website says: ‘Paringa - A magical place where clean soil meets the clean water meets the clean air’. This bubbling wine is a deep magenta red color and I find it a delightful visual shock when first poured in a flute. I have enjoyed this wine before where the host had referred to it as ‘black gold’ and I agree, especially when pared with Chocolate ice cream and other assorted chocolate treats. It was by far my favorite of the tasting.
After this great tasting, I had this song running through my head by a very funky singer by the name of Taj Mahal, it was titled ‘Snow in the Desert’ with the refrain of ‘Champagne don’t drive me crazy, cocaine don’t make me lazy; ain’t nobodies business but your own’. It may be true, but now I have a sparkling alternative to Champagne that I will be serving to guest at our Sandwich Bed and Breakfast over the Holidays. See our Holiday Specials, come stay with us, and I’ll share some great bubbly with you.
Charlie Preus, the Innkeeper’s Assistant and Wine Steward at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod, Massachusetts