Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Recession Busters - Wallet Friendly Holiday Sparklers

   As we move towards the end of the year holidays, sparkling wine sales pick up quite a bit of steam. In fact, a large majority of producer's sparkling wine sales - by some estimates almost half - come in the month of December. And while true Champagne (which only comes from the Champagne region of France) is still the king, great value sparkling wines are available from many different countries.

For this tasting, we opened three sparklers from three different countries, all designated a "brut" or dry style with 12 or less grams of residual sugar per liter and all costing under $15. Two of them, The French sparkler from Varichon and Clerc and the Spanish Cava "Sonim", are made in the champagne method which involves inducing a secondary fermentation in the bottle by adding yeast and sugar. The carbon dioxide produced is the source of the bubbles. The Italian Prosecco from Zardetto is produced in closed stainless steel tanks where the same process is induced in a larger volume.
   The first wine in our tasting was the Varichon and Clerc, a French bubbly produced via the Champagne method from three grapes, Ugni Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Colombard. It retails at my local store for just $9.99.

Here we have fine, small bubbles with aromas dominated by nutty/yeasty tones. It was also very nutty in the mouth at first but with airing began to show some apple and pear elements. The nose also opened a bit more and showed some melon and vanilla. It's delicate, steely and finishes quite dry with good length. It's a great value at this price point. It's imported by one of my favorites, Maximum Wine Co.
   Next up at $12.99 was the Spanish Cava Sonim. This sparkler, produced from 40% Parellada, 30% Macabeu and 30% Xarel-lo, three indigenous Spanish grapes, had a much more pronounced leesy/nutty nose with vanilla and herbal tones. In the mouth, the Sonim leans much more to citrusy fruit tones, especially lime zest. It finishes dry and tangy with good persistence. It's imported by Aviva Vino.

   Lastly we tried the $12.99 Italian Prosecco from Zardetto. With this sparkler we found a much more fruit driven nose featuring apricot and melon with the nutty nuance clearly taking a back seat. This may have had something to do with the secondary fermentation occurring in tank as opposed to in the bottle. In the mouth, there was clearly more sweet fruit, again dominated by apricot and white fruits. It finishes long, yet still dry and though it's not quite as delicate as the Varichon and Clerc, If you like a fruitier style, this one's for you.

Imported by topnotch importer Winebow, this sparkler is a sure crowd pleaser. If I had to rank them in order of my preference, I'd go with the Zardetto as number one, followed by the Varichon and Clerc and then the Sonim. Still, they are all good values and present excellent examples of sparkling wines that won't bust your budget. They'll make great aperitifs to a special holiday meal. Happy Holidays and as always, cheers!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Chateau Pascaud '07

   Good, inexpensive Bordeaux can be hard to find. And for most common folk like me, it's usually an afterthought when it comes to everyday red. But when a decent steak or a leg of lamb are on the menu, red Bordeaux, which is usually based on either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, can be the perfect fit. Tonight's entry from Chateau Pascaud was a $11.99 Bordeaux Superieur, an area that produces entry level juice for everyday consumption.

The vintage is 2007, a good but not great year in a zone where the weather still matters every year. In this case, the Chateau Pascaud is dominated by Merlot to the tune of 85%, with Cabernet Franc making up the balance. It's got very attractive red and black fruit aromas complicated by a bit of earthiness that became more pronounced as it aired. Both the '08 and the '09 should have a bit more stuffing than this '07 did, as both years were warmer and better. It's medium-bodied and very smooth and though it finishes a bit short, it went very well with a venison roast with chanterelle mushroom gravy, mashed sweet potatoes and roasted root vegetables (featuring baby carrots that just came out of our cold garden last week!). This attractive little wine is imported by Michael Skurnick, an importer with a wonderful portfolio. Cheers.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Purato Nero d'Avola 2010

   Some of my favorite everyday wines are coming out of Sicily these days. There's a purity of fruit, some stony terroir and prices that are extremely wallet friendly. A case in point is the lovely $9.99 Purato Nero d'Avola 2010. It's got big aromatics that bring to mind raspberry jam and baked cherries, brown spices and a distinct stoniness. There's a wonderful fruity mid-palate and excellent balancing acidity. In addition, this mid-week crowd pleaser is produced from organically grown grapes while the package features recycled paper, glass and vegetable ink. You can't much greener than that while you're tossing down red, that's for sure.

Produced by Feudo di Santa Tresa and imported by one of my favorites, Vias, this great little wine will pair perfectly with your bolognese, roast chicken, pizza or the rustic and delicious sausage and black-eyed peas my lovely wife Janet made us tonight. Cheers to one and all.

Friday, December 2, 2011

La Vigne en Veron Chinon 2009

  Chinon may be the most unknown appellation for American consumers of red wine in all of France. It's from the Loire valley and when most of us think of that region we think Sancerre, Pouilly Fume or Muscadet which of course are all white wines. Red wine from the Loire is not only uncommon but it is often just not very good. The reds are made from Cabernet Franc with an allowance for a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon blended in. They used to be mostly thin, uninteresting wines that tended to be under-ripe and overly acidic. Nowadays though (and maybe this is partly another effect of climate change on wine production), there are new Chinons in the market that are fuller and fruitier yet balanced enough to pair with whatever you want to throw at them. Which brings me to today's offering from small negociant Foucher-Lebrun. Negociants are producers that source grapes from various growers (Jadot and Drouhin are well known negociants). So while their wines may not be estate grown and bottled, if their sources are good then the wines may be also.
   This 2009 Chinon was a perfect match for a beef brasciole that my wife made us today. It featured somewhat reticent aromas of spicy baked cherry and licorice, but flavor-wise it was very forward and easy to drink with medium bodied dark fruit flavors and that bell pepper quality that is very typical of Cabernet Franc. It finishes smooth with good acidity and cut that gives it a lingering freshness. Imported by one of my favorites, Polaner Selections, this Chinon is an excellent value at a mere $9.99. Cheers.