Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Today we tasted a selection of ten different sparkling wines, from Italy, Spain, Washington, California, New Mexico, and of course - Champagne, France. Prior to the lecture and tasting I had never given sparkling wines much thought. Sure, there are really expensive ones that might taste better (or at least give the illusion that you're drinking something amazingly elegant), but I never knew just how varied they can be - from a peachy sweet (but one-note) Asti to a California Rose that smells like warm toast with butter and strawberry jam.

True Champagnes share a common theme: toasty, bready aromas, high acid and complex flavor. Three visual quality indicators of sparkling wines are:
size of the bubbles - smaller is better
mousse or foam - should be fine in texture and dense
perlage or stream of bubbles - should be consistent and persistent

And so, the favorites of today:

Blanc de Noirs, Gruet, New Mexico, non vintage
True Champagne is made from Pinot Noir (red), Pinot Meunier (red), and/or Chardonnay (white) grapes. When it is made with solely red grapes, it will be labeled Blanc de Noirs (though the wine will still be either white or rose; minimal contact with the red grape skins means that no/little color infuses the wine).
This New Mexico winery actually produces some of the finest Champagne-style wines in the country (according to Mr. Weiss, and judging by this specimen!). The wine had a faint rose-gold tinge to it - very pretty indeed - but the taste was even more charming. It smelled and tasted of strawberries and raspberries and guava, and had a good long finish (not common in sparklers).

Iron Horse Estate bottled, Brut, Green River-Russian River, Sonoma, 2004
A very sweet, yeasty aroma - like brioche - with nut, melon, and coconut notes. A wonderfully complex blend of acid, fruit and hazelnut, with a long mineral finish.

Brut, Taittinger, Champagne FR, nv
This wine's aroma caught me by surprise - no fruit, no nut, nothing except Rice Crispies - as powerful as if I jammed my whole head in a cereal box. I happen to love Rice Crispies, but it was disconcerting to smell in a sparkling wine! However, it had a nice light body, refreshing acidity with a hint of sweetness, lots of fizz, and toasty fruit flavors.

Brut Pol Roger, Champagne FR, nv
What an aroma! Fresh peaches and cream, grilled pineapple and even more peaches caramelized in butter and brown sugar. And it tasted even more sumptuous.

Brut Bollinger, Champagne, FR, nv
This one smelled and tasted of toast with butter and sugar and Golden Delicious apples, with crisp acidity and a touch of sweetness.

Asti, Nando, Piedmonte, Italy, nv
Oh yum. Our dessert wine of the day - and yet another sweet wine I would happily drink if given the chance. I could smell the sweetness before it even came near my lips - along with the scent of green apples and peaches. With its low alcohol (around 7%), citrus highlights and fruity sweetness, this is just the wine to take outside on a warm spring afternoon like today.

By the way: our class took the first (of three) Wines test today (covering viticulture, viniculture, and the New World regions and wines), and I got a 98%!!!!

I celebrated by walking to the FDR estate and flopping down on the warm dry grass to read for a couple hours. Thank goodness spring is finally here!! (well not officially until Saturday, but...)

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