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Re-Post: Best Hidden Secrets Of The Wine World: French Sparkling Wines

January 31, 2013 12 comments

During 2011, I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project closed and even the web site is down, but I still like those posts, so I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into mini-series, such as “Best Hidden Secrets” you see here – I will continue re-posting them from time to time.

Also note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense in the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…

Saint-HilaireSo far we talked about a number of “secrets” of the wine world: Rioja, Second Labels, Amarone, wines of Georgia. Let’s continue our journey of discovery. This time we are going to talk about French Sparkling Wines.

Everybody knows about Champagne, a special wine for celebrations. If we think that occasion is special enough, the first thought is: we need a bottle of Champagne to celebrate. Of course producers of Champagne also know that, and respond with ever increasing prices – it is practically impossible to find the bottle of Champagne for less than $35 – and as with any other wine, there is no limit on top.

What is Champagne anyway? First of all Champagne is a place, a region in northern France – the only place in the world which can produce bottles of the sparkling beverage with the Champagne name on it. Second of all, Champagne is a sparkling wine, made in accordance with very specific winemaking rules and techniques, which are typically referred to as “Méthode Champenoise”. In that method (which legend has, was discovered by accident), the wine is fermented twice, and second fermentation takes place in the closed bottle, which leads to the wine becoming carbonated (hence the generic name “sparkling wine”). One quick note on the grapes – traditional champagne is produced from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, in various combinations as decided by the producer. If you want to read more, as usual Wikipedia offers great wealth of information (you can read it here).

Today sparkling wines are made all over the world, and of course none of them can be called Champagne, as the word “Champagne” on the label is protected by law. I’m sure you heard many of the names and tried many of the wines, but to give you a brief summary, Spain produces sparkling wine under the name Cava, Italy typically makes Prosecco (there are some other lightly sparkled wines, like Moscato D’Asti, but we will leave it aside for this post). Sekt is made in Germany, and most of the other countries simply use the term “Sparkling wine”, sometimes also identifying the grape, such as Sparkling Shiraz from Australia or Sparkling Malbec from Argentina.

With such a diversity and widely available offerings, why French sparkling wines are such a secret? While being the closest to the original (Champagne), they offer probably the best QPR (Quality Price Ratio), beating often California Sparkling wines and even Cava – and they taste really authentic.

French_Sparkling_with_GlassesThere is a substantial variety of Sparkling wines coming from France alone. Almost each and every wine producing region (Burgundy, Bordeaux, Alsace, Loire, Jura, …) produces its own versions of the sparkling wines, in most of the cases called Cremant: Cremant de Bordeaux, Cremant de Bourgogne, Cremant de Jura, Cremant de Loire and others. You can find additional information on the sparkling wines here. All of these Cremant wines are made using the same “méthode champenoise”, however, typical regional grapes can be used to make the wine.

So as usual, I wanted to prove to you that the knowledge I’m sharing is worthy of a “secret” designation, which can be of course done by forcing you, me readers, to buy the wine and taste it (and then telling me that I was right). However, as this is not an easy undertaking, I took this function upon myself, and here are the results of tasting of 3 inexpensive French Sparkling wines. I got 3 French Sparkling wines – Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux Brut ($10.99), Cave de L’Aurance Cremant de Buourgogne Brut ($11.99) and Lucien Albrecht Cremant de Alsace Rose Brut ($14.99). Before we talk about tasting notes, I want to mention that the Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux claims to be the first sparkling wine ever, produced by Benedictine Monks in Saint-Hilaire abbey in 15th century ( beating Champagne by at least a hundred years) – but I guess they never put much effort into marketing, while Champagne did, so the result is obvious (however, it is better for us, consumers).

French_SparklingAnyway, here are the notes:

2008 Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux Brut: closest to the classic champagne. Nose of yeast and hint of fresh bread, very refreshing, good acidity, citrus notes, dry, medium to full body. Best of tasting.

Cave de L’Aurance Cremant de Bourgogne Brut: quite limited expression on the nose, but very elegant on the palate. Offers golden delicious apple and ripe white grapefruit notes, medium body.

Lucien Albrecht Cremant de Alsace Brut Rose: very complex on the nose, with some onion peel and white truffle. On the palate offers strawberries, pink grapefruit, medium body.

Now you know one more secret. No, you don’t need to trust me. I would definitely encourage you to get a bottle of your favorite Champagne. Then you need to get a bottle of Blanquette de Limoux, and compare them in the blind tasting. I have done this with the group of friends, and you can find the surprising results here. I challenge you to do it – and then leave me a comment with the result – I will be waiting.

That’s all for now, folks. For the next secret of the wine world – stay tuned. More secrets are coming…

Celebrate! Celebrate! Let’s Open Some…

December 30, 2010 1 comment

Champagne! Of course, Champagne. No celebration is complete without the toast of “bubbly” – New Year’s arrival, wedding anniversary, winning of the Grand Prix, christening of a new ship, and many other occasions, big and small are acknowledged with Champagne.

Champagne is a very interesting subject in general, but even more so when New Year’s arrival is around the corner. You can find articles and blog posts about Champagne everywhere – here is a good example, post by Dr. Vino. Well, let’s join the conversation about Champagne.

Champagne is a wine which belongs to the group of so called “sparkling wines” – the wines with many tiny bubbles (there are at least 49 million bubbles in a bottle of champagne – feel free to count yourself if you don’t believe it). As many other things in life, discovery of Champagne is a combination of accident and luck – on a very primitive level, not fully fermented bottle of wine was frozen, then temperature rose, fermentation restarted (this time, in a bottle) – voila, you got a bottle of Champagne.

Well, small clarification will be appropriate – Champagne is both a wine and a place – in France, of course, where else. Are Champagne and Sparkling wine synonyms? No. Any Champagne is Sparkling wine, but not any sparkling wine is Champagne. Only sparkling wines produced in Champagne region in France using so called méthode champenoise can be called Champagne. All other sparkling wines produced outside of the Champagne region, even using the same method, can only be called Sparkling Wine.

Let’s play a little game which we will call “what is in the name”. Champagne only comes from Champagne, what about about other sparkling wines? Today sparkling wines produced everywhere, from wide variety of grapes and at ever increasing pace. Only this year I had sparkling Malbec (very good) and sparkling Shiraz (don’t do it). In United States sparkling wines are produced in California (lot’s of good wines), Oregon, New Mexico (surprisingly good), New York and many other states. Traveling through the world, a lot of sparkling wines have their own names. Let’s see if you will recognize some of them:

Prosecco – sparkling wine from Italy

Sekt – sparkling wine from Germany

Cava – sparkling wine from Spain

Cremant – sparkling wine from France (Cremant d’Alsace, Cremant de Bourgogne, Cremant de Loire, Cremant du Jura and many others)

Blanquette de Limoux – comes from Limoux in Languedoc, France with the claim of being the first Sparkling Wine, before Champagne became Champagne.

Champagne is endless subject – no way to cover it in the short blog post. Let’s stop our world tour right here, and let’s talk about the celebration “at hands” – New Year 2011. What bottle are you going to open to celebrate arrival of the New Year? How about a little dream? Again, you said? True, just a few days ago I wrote a post about the wines to dream of. Something was missing in that post, I think – and that “something” is … Champagne! There was no Champagne mentioned in that list. So we need to fix it. And if you need a Champagne to dream of, I have only one recommendation – Krug.

If you wonder why I so focused on one and only one Champagne, I can tell you – I had a chance to try it, and I was blown away. At the PJ Wine Grand Tasting event in November 2009, Krug 1996 was served among others, no doubt excellent Champagnes (Veuve Clicquot Rose, Dom Perignon 2000, …). I made a mistake – pretty much fatal, as it appeared – to start tasting from the Krug 1996. I had vintage champagnes before, and never really appreciated them. Krug 1996 was something else – with richness of freshly baked bread, nutty and creamy, fine-tuned refreshing acidity, ultimately balanced – it was incredible. All the Champagnes in that tasting, with pedigree or not, literally tasted like water next to Krug 1996. Yes, this wine is expensive (about $300+, you can check the price here), but it worth every penny – and worth dreaming about. And if you need to expand your Champagne dream list, you can find a lot more recommendations here.

There are few days left before we will toast new hopes, new dreams, new desires with the New Year 2011. No matter what will be in your glass, I wish for your wildest dreams to become reality. Raise your glass To Life, and keep dreaming!

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