A sparkling wine review including the Pol Roger Brut Reserve “White Foil,” the Mionetto, Lunetta, Voveti and Lamberti proseccos, JJ Vincent Cremant, Champalou Vovray Brut, Trapiche Extra Brut, and the J Vineyards Brut Rose and their 25th Anniversary Brut.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers December 29, 2011
Bubbles in wine were once considered a fault, especially when the increased pressure caused the bottles to explode. The early Greeks attributed the presence of bubbles in wine to either astrological influences or malevolent spirits. It is likely that the French monk credited for “discovering” sparkling wine, Dom Perignon, was trying to find a way to prevent the bubbles from occurring. And it is equally likely that the development of stronger glass bottles by the English and their use of cork stoppers is what led to the subsequent success of the French Champagne region.
The better sparkling wines are created by a secondary fermentation that occurs either in bottles (methode champenoise) or huge tanks (Charmat). The process requires residual sugar and yeast which is added to a base wine that previously has been fermented. These base wines are usually high-acidity varietals such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay although nearly any grape can be made into a sparkling wine. The typical colors range from pale yellow to a pinkish rose with a range of sweetness depending upon the amount of sugar remaining after the second fermentation. The color, sweetness and flavors are crafted by the winemakers who strive for a consistent “house” style. Like most modern wines, the majority of sparklers are meant to be consumed within a few years of release, although some will age gracefully for decades.
Champagne remains the quintessential sparkler and only wines produced within a specifically demarcated region within northeastern France may carry that title on their label. An elegant example is the Champagne served at the April wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the non-vintage Pol Roger Brut Reserve “White Foil” ($39). The creamy, full-bodied blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay shows perfect balance with rich apple, red berry and peach flavors.
Those with royal tastes and a tighter budget should try a dry Prosecco. Produced by the Charmat technique in northern Italy, Prosecco is an excellent value-priced sparkling wine option. Mionetto was the first to import Prosecco into the U.S. and its Mionetto Brut D.O.C. ($11) remains deservedly popular with soft, lush apple and citrus notes accented with a pleasant nuttiness that persists in the finish. The Lunetta Prosecco ($12) has bright, fresh fruit flavors with more pronounced peach and pear along with a crisp acidity, while the Voveti Prosecco ($12) has more citrus and floral aromas that join harmoniously with green apple and honey flavors. The similarly well-made Lamberti Extra Dry Prosecco ($13) shows an interesting spiciness along with its Granny Smith apple and lemon flavors.
Another reasonably priced French alternative is Cremant, produced either in Loire or Burgundy. Legally required to be hand-harvested and aged for at least one year, these may be slightly pricier, but are worth the extra expense. The ginger-scented JJ Vincent Cremant de Bourgogne ($20) expresses complex fig, green apple and pear with some pineapple in the finish. The enticing apple aromas in the Champalou Vovray Brut ($20) combine nicely with the lemon, pear and toasty bread flavors.
The sparkling Argentinean Trapiche Extra Brut ($10) contains Malbec, which provides a bit more depth to the apple and tropical fruit flavors that mingle nicely with brioche and nuts at the end. From California, try the delightful, strawberry-scented J Vineyards Brut Rose ($20) that has raspberry, orange, lemon and apple flavors on a crisp, balanced frame. The J Vineyards 25th Anniversary Brut ($24) also is very good, with toasty almond, lemon, apple and toffee notes.