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Versatile Bubbles – Make Any Day Sparkle

July 8, 2020 5 comments

Here is the question, wine lovers: what is your attitude towards sparkling wines? I’m not looking for a “politically correct” answer – “Champagne is for every day”, “bubbles every day” and so on. Yes – in theory, you can drink Champagne or any other sparkling wine for that matter (is there still a winery left which doesn’t make bubbles in some form?) – Champagne, Cremant, Cava, Prosecco, Sekt, Sparkling Shiraz or any other bubbles from anywhere else in the world – every day. Yes, you can – but do you?

No matter how much you love wine, I can bet that bubbles are not your average daily choice of beverage. There are many reasons for this. Of course, the price is one issue. Most of the typical Champagne today is pushing $40 per bottle, and this classifies as a “special occasion” type of beverage. This goes well beyond Champagne – all the random sparkling wines nowadays made literally everywhere, will set you back even further. Another reason – once opened, Champagne doesn’t last very long – two days in the fridge is probably okay, but the longer the bottle is open, the fewer bubbles are left. I’m sure there are many other reasons, some more personal than the others – for example, my wife loves red wine, but she would only have half a sip of Champagne if I will force her, so it is obvious that bubbles are not our daily beverage of choice.

It is hard to solve the personal issues, but if we will look at the price as the major issue, we can find some solutions to that. For example, how about some Prosecco? Yes, Prosecco is very different from Champagne – it is made from different grape; it comes from a different place  – the Veneto region in Italy; it is made using a different process. But Prosecco is still a sparkling wine, usually costing about a third of the price of the typical Champagne bottle – and if you are looking to brighten up any day, Prosecco will do the trick (and the day will be even brighter knowing the amount of money you save).

Don’t take Prosecco for granted- it is a number one selling sparkling wine in the world today in terms of volume. Champagne roots can be traced back to the 15th/16th century, and Prosecco origins can also be traced to almost the same time. However, the production method for Champagne, called méthode champenoise was first described in the 1660s, while the production method used for most of Prosecco, Charmat-Marinotti, was invented in 1895. But these are minor technical details. The major difference is that while Champagne was craved by royalties and wannabes around the world for a few centuries, Prosecco first commercially appeared outside of Italy, in the UK, in 1989. And now, mere 30 years later, Champagne has to chase Prosecco’s success.

Okay, let’s stop talking and start drinking. Back in April, I attended a virtual tasting of 5 different Prosecco wines. It was done over Zoom, with 5 winemakers presenting their wines from their homes – but while tasting was virtual, the wines were not. For what it worth, here are my notes on the wines we tasted.

Villa Sandi takes its name from the historical villa, built in 1622. Villa Sandi produces a wide range of still and sparkling wines, including Prosecco from Cartizze, the most prestigious Prosecco vineyard.

NV Villa Sandi il Fresco Prosecco DOC Treviso (11% ABV, $15)
Pale green, fine mousse
Lemon, lemon zest, minerality
Fine bubbles, generous, crisp, fresh, Meyer lemon, pleasant and easy to drink
8-, a perfect summer quaffer or everyday bubbles

History of Bottega goes back to 1635 when Andrea Bottega started cultivating the grapes. Until 1992, Bottega was best known for its Grappa, and then in 1992, Il Vino dei Poeti Prosecco Spumante was created. Today, Bottega produces a large number of spirits, as well as wines. The range of Prosecco and sparkling wines includes more than 20 different bottlings.

NV Bottega IL Vino dei Poeti Gold Prosecco DOC Treviso (11% ABV, $29.99)
Straw pale, fine bubbles
A hint of apple, tropical fruit
Clean and refreshing mouthfeel, good acidity, lemon, a touch of Granny Smith apples, distant hint of nutmeg.
8-/8, restrained and elegant rendition.

The story of Mionetto started in 1887 when Francesco Mionetto opened the winery in Valdobbiadene, which is now known as the epicenter of Prosecco production. In 1982, Mionetto adopted the Charmat method for productions of the sparkling wines and introduced temperature-controlled fermentation. Mionetto had been leading the way in Prosecco production since then.

NV Mionetto Brut Prosecco DOC Treviso (11% ABV, $12.99)
Straw pale
Hint on peach and apple on the nose
Fine bubbles, crisp, fresh, touch of peach, fresh acidity of Granny Smith apples
8-, perfect everyday bubbles

Well, there is not a lot I can tell you about La Marca, as the winery website is excellent for marketing purposes, but doesn’t talk much about history. If anything, lots of cocktail ideas can be found there – see for yourself.

NV La Marca Prosecco DOC (11% ABV, $14)
Straw pale, large bubbles
Ripe peach, guava, pear, nose intense and inviting
Surprising contrast on the palate, dry, crisp, nice textural presence, tart lemon notes, good balance
8-, again- perfect everyday bubbles.

Valdo was founded in 1926 to produce sparkling wines in the areas of Valdobbiadene and Cartizze. Valdo was quickly acquired by the Bolla family and continued producing a wide range of sparkling wines. Right now, Valdo offers 29 (!) different sparkling wine bottlings, including some made using méthode classico and one organic Prosecco. This wine was also happened to be my favorite in this tasting.

NV Valdo Marca Oro Prosecco DOC (11% ABV, $13)
Straw pale, fine bubbles
Touch of yeast, toasted bread, and apples.
Fresh, crisp, cut through acidity, lemon, good minerality
8/8+, might be my favorite in the tasting, very reminiscent of champagne.

Here you are, my friends. Summer is here, and Prosecco’s refreshing qualities can brighten up anyone’s day. I’m off to pour another glass. Cheers!

Exploring Wines Of New Zealand – With Villa Maria on Snooth

July 8, 2017 6 comments

Wines of New Zealand need no introduction – for sure to the oenophiles. Winemaking started in New Zealand in the 1850s, but it really flourished in the second half of the 20th century, when jet travel allowed much easier access to the future winemakers to get educated and experienced in Europe. Since the 1990s, New Zealand greatly embraced sustainability and … screw tops. I’m definitely very happy about the first – sustainable farming always leads to the better wines and happier environment. The screw tops – they are fine, I’m not convinced though that they are the best for aging the wines properly. However, I don’t want to convert this post neither into a rant, nor into a debate, so let’s just move on.

Villa Maria WinesThe story of Villa Maria winery is easily an exemplary story of realizing the “American Dream” – only in this case, it is, of course, have to be called a “New Zealand dream” (I hope such a concept exists).

George Fistonich started in 1961, at the age of 21, with one acre of vines in Auckland. In 1962, he harvested the grapes and produced the wines under the name of Villa Maria. That was the beginning of the journey of one man, who had the passion, vision, perseverance and enough obsession to make it. Villa Maria was a one man operation through the 60s, hiring its first staff in the early 70s, and now employing 250 people and exporting their wines to the 50 countries. As a perfect proof of making it, George Fistonich became Sir George Fistonich, receiving the first knighthood in the country for the services to New Zealand’s wine industry.

Villa Maria today has vineyards located in Auckland, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay and Marlborough regions. The grapes range from the New Zealand’s staples such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir to such an obscure varietals as Arneis and Verdelho. Villa Maria became a cork-free zone in 2001. And I can tell you, they really treat sustainability seriously – the Villa Maria bottles were some of the lightest wine bottles I ever came across, which I’m sure greatly affects the carbon footprint.

A week or so ago, I was a part of the big group of winelovers tasting Villa Maria wines together in the virtual tasting organized by Snooth (no worries, the wines were real). Here are my notes from tasting and also, re-tasting of the wines.

First, two of the Sauvignon Blanc wines. First one was called “bubbly” as it was lightly carbonated – and it was definitely a fun wine, perfect for a summer picnic, fresh and delightful. And the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was simply a classic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, done with a perfect restraint:

2016 Villa Maria Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough (12.5% ABV, $15)
C: literally non-existent
N: touch of grass and currant, a classic SB, restrained.
P: nice, touch of bubbles, touch of sweetness, black currant, nice and round, refreshing.
V: 8-/8, definitely nice

2016 Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough (12.5% ABV, $13)
C: straw pale
N: pure cassis, beautiful, freshly cut grass, classic
P: excellent balance, acidity, currant and a touch of grass. Nice and pleasant.
V: 8, I can drink this at any time, excellent wine

Now, the Rosé and then Chardonnay. The Villa Maria Rosé is predominantly Merlot. It is light and simple, but it has enough finesse to pass one of my personal tests – I particularly like the white and Rosé wines which are well drinkable when they are a bit warm – it is annoying to maintain the wines at the ice cold level (at home, for sure). The Rosé was delicious and drinkable even at the room temperature, so it definitely passed that test. And as for the Chardonnay – I know that I will be in the tiny minority from our tasting group, but I found it to be just okay. It had all the classic Chardonnay traits, but, somehow, didn’t hit the home run for me…

2016 Villa Maria Private Bin Rosé Hawkes Bay (12.5% ABV, $14)
C: Pink
N: strawberries and strawberry leaves, round and pleasant
P: strawberries, touch of sweetness, could use a touch more acidity, but still, nice and delicate
V: 8-, definitely improved the next day, more delicate, better balance

2015 Villa Maria Single Vineyard Taylors Pass Chardonnay Marlborough (13.5% ABV, $45)
C: straw pale
N: creamy, vanilla, freshly baked brioche buns with a touch of butter on them
P: Granny Smith apples smothered in butter, good acidity, excellent midpalate weight, nicely plump, but clean. Nice cleansing acidity on the finish.
V: 7+, needs food.

Now, the reds. Pinot Noir was unusual compared to what I typically expect from the Marlboro Pinot Noir. It was heavier than I expected, and on the day 3, it became a lot closer to the powerful Oregonian Pinot (which is a good deal at $26, right? ). The Merlot blend was an enigma. It opened up beautifully as I just opened the bottle, but then it went back into its shell and never came out of it, even on the day 3 …

2014 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir Marlborough (13.5% ABV, $26)
C: bright ruby
N: touch of sweet cherries, violet
P: tart cherries, tart acidity, touch of tobacco
V: 7, 7+ on the day 3 – showed a lot more fruit on the palate, Oregonian notes of dark power, espresso, mocha, with sweet core of cherries and plums.

2013 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon Hawkes Bay (13.5% ABV, $20, 70% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: medium intensity, baking powder, vanilla, sweet mocha
P: black currant, ripe and sweet, touch of espresso, tar, dark fruit, dry, tannic finish
V: 7, unusual experience …

Have you had any of these wines? What are your thoughts? Cheers!

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