Santa's Sparklers

Iris Vineyards Areté Brut Rosé

Iris Vineyards Areté Brut Rosé

A long-time red wine fan, I’ve recently become infatuated with sparkling wines (which are the complete opposite of my beloved Barolos and Brunellos style-wise).  What’s not to love?  Sparkling wines are light, refreshing, easily paired with almost any food, and bring extra celebratory glitz to any occasion.

They also come in a fascinating array of styles from very dry (Brut Nature) to very sweet (Doux) and are made with many different grape varieties so there’s something out there for everyone.  Here are a few of the more interesting sparklers I’ve tried this year.

On the drier end of the spectrum, try Jacky Blot’s Domaine de la Taille aux Loups Montlouis-sur-Loire Triple Zero ($28) from the Loire Valley, France. Made of Chenin Blanc, the “Triple Zero” refers to the fact that there is no additional sugar added at chaptalization (before fermentation), liqueur de tirage (before the second fermentation), or liqueur d'expedition (after yeast disgorgement). The lack of additional sugar at these stages results in a stone-dry wine with racy acidity, high-toned structure, and pure flavors of citrus, pear, and zesty lemon.

bruno1If you like sparkling wines that are dry but not bone-dry, try an Extra Brut.  These will have up to 6 g/L of residual sugar so are not as austere as a Brut Nature.  Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée NV ($50) from Champagne, France is a brilliant choice.  Fine mousse and vivid straw gold color pave the way to a virtual rainbow of fruit aromas (grapefruit, red apple, raspberry, and peach) that usher in refined brioche, chalky minerality, and toasted almond flavors.  Seamlessly integrated with mesmerizing complexity and a tightly woven lingering finish make this wine a standout.

On the more commonly traveled Brut path (up to 12 g/L residual sugar), look for Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut NV ($45) from Champagne, France.  This wine is exceptional with red earthy fruit intertwined with biscuit, almond, and toasty notes.  Regal structure and electric acidity ease in a long finish.

irisbox2Crossing the Atlantic over to Oregon, it’s always exciting to taste a new wine from a producer and winemaker you already love.  This year Iris Vineyards and winemaker Aaron Lieberman introduced their first sparkling wine in the 2015 Areté Brut Rosé ($45).  This wine is made in the traditional method from 100% estate-grown Pinot Noir.  Iris lies at the very southern tip of Willamette Valley, Oregon which is cooler than most of the region.  The cool climate and higher elevation of 800-1000 feet help their grapes retain vibrant acidity which is essential for sparkling wine.

The 2015 Areté Brut Rosé is finely structured and light on the palate with brisk acidity showcasing alluring notes of crisp apple, pear, strawberry, and red plum. Lieberman also hand-crafted a six-bottle wooden box especially for this inaugural wine (only 72 cases were produced).  If you like this sparkler, look for next year’s Blanc de Noirs with Blanc de Blancs coming in 2019. This wine is only available directly from Iris.

gfanniversaryCalifornia also offers many wonderful sparkling wine options.  One great choice is the 2010 Gloria Ferrer Anniversary Cuvée ($40).  This limited edition Brut sparkling wine from Carneros in Sonoma is made from 67% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay and spent 5 years on its lees.

This wine exudes a freshness that belies its age and seems almost frozen in time with youthful red apple and pear flavors. However, its concentrated vanilla, honey, and crème brûlée notes tell the story of its age coupled with creamy complexity, layered flavors, and a long haunting finish.

One of the more unusual sparklers I’ve tried recently is Jo Landron, Atmosphères ($21).  Made of 80% Folle Blanche and 20% Pinot Noir, this wine comes from the Muscadet region in the Loire Valley.  Zesty acidity backs tangy lemon, pear, and slight toasty notes in an elegant yet approachable style. Light on its feet, this wine is an instant hit with its food-friendly nature and also fun to serve because people think they know what it is but are always surprised when they hear its primarily made from Folle Blanche. Extra style points for the cool whimsical label.  atmospheres

Another French choice (but from Alsace) is Lucien Albrecht’s Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé NV ($19).  Made of 100% Pinot Noir in the traditional method, exuberant brambly raspberry, dried herbs, and saline mineral flavors are complemented by lively acidity and a creamy palate.  This wine is an easy-drinking crowd pleaser yet a serious wine at a great price.

So grab your wine glass (you don’t need a flute anymore) and start trying any interesting sparkling wines you see.  With today’s abundance of high-quality choices at many price points, chances are you’ll find a new favorite to usher in the new year.

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