This spring I visited Cava. This fall I visited Champagne. In between and ever since, I’ve been popping open scores of sparkling wines—to taste, to learn, and to teach my palate how to rejoice.
My tastes are catholic. I love the zero-dosage wines’ hollow bones. I love col fondo’s quirky, cloudy bitterness. I love blanc de blancs’ evanescence into a mouthful of crunchy minerals, blanc de noirs’ silk-stocking luxury, rosé’s smiling generosity. I love vintage wines for turning me into a queen.
It’s not all good. Sparkling wine is ferociously difficult to make, and the results are sometimes too sweet, too fizzy, weirdly closed, characterless, a mix of the above. Those wines fail at the one job we hire sparkling wine to do: to remove all worldly care.
And to be good with food. A wide range of styles means sparkling can flow throughout a meal, pairing with the reedy to the rich to the sweet. Their bubbles scrub the palate, their acidity refreshes, and their modest alcohol encourages conviviality over debauchery. Sparklers made from white grapes are cleansing and crystalline, while blends and blanc de noirs can balance richer cuisine. Both styles, given some bottle age, beautifully reverberate with the savory. And demi-sec can be your goodnight kiss.
Over the next week I’ll publish notes on many sparkling wines from recent tastings. Rather than press upon you the full catastrophe, I’ve picked out wines that highlight a particular characteristic. These are complex wines with a lot of (tiny) moving parts, which makes them difficult to classify, but I’ve grouped them into like styles—not winemaking styles, but finished styles. Let’s call them opulent, elegant, refreshing, and interesting.
Because it’s the holidays—why not?—let’s start with the Opulent.
Opulent Sparkling Wines
2009 Champagne Mailly Brut “l’Intemporelle” Champagne
A wine with a scent of citrus-soaked almonds, toasted flowers, marzipan. Its powerful attack froths quickly into a creamy-textured body suggestive of spiced ginger, and a glittery citrus finish pulls it all together. A blend of 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay from this cooperative’s best grand cru plots, with a dosage of eight grams per liter. Fifteen thousand bottles were produced. I wish it were half the price so I could buy twice as much.
12% abv | $99 (sample tasted at the winery)
NV Champagne Taittinger Brut “La Française” Champagne
A blend of 40 percent Chardonnay, 35 percent Pinot Noir, and 25 percent Meunier grown in nearly three dozen crus, aged four years sur lattes prior to disgorgement. The high percentage of Chardonnay bestows green-apple freshness, while the extra aging imbues the wine with toasty, creamy charms. It’s opulently aromatic, suggesting Meyer lemon, vanilla orchid, pastry, roasted hazelnuts—yes, there’s a lot going on—while its pearly texture counters this luxury and adds a pop of citrus-peel acidity to a shimmery finish. It’s a bit of yin and yang, bright and cleansing but with enough oomph to partner with (and feel refreshing with) rich cuisine.
12.3% abv | $60 (sample) Imported by Kobrand
NV Champagne Bollinger Brut “Special Cuvée” Champagne
I visited Bollinger this fall and fell hard for the richness and complexity of the wines. I’ll publish more on them soon, but to whet your appetite, here’s one nonvintage Brut. It’s 60 percent Pinot Noir, 25 percent Chardonnay, and 15 percent Meunier, and fully half of the blend is reserve wine. The cuvée spent a minimum of three years on lees prior to disgorgement. This gives it creaminess, length, richness, and persistence, but it’s also astonishingly light-textured, with a flame of citrus peel and mandarin and a glittery comet-tail finish. It feels lit from within.
12% abv | $60 (sample tasted at the winery)
2004 Champagne Joseph Perrier “Cuvée Josephine” Champagne
A nearly fifty-fifty blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; 2004 is the current vintage in release. Its active pearly mousse offers a scent of wet chalk, toasted lemon peel, yellow fruits, green citrus, and it’s intense and concentrated on the tongue, suggesting peach skin, apricot, apple flesh. As the wine warms and expands, I find myself looking through an illuminated pane of flowers and fruits decorated with a filigree of herbs. Opulent, yes, but also elegant, with fine details and tremendous persistence.
12% abv | about $140 (sample tasted at the winery) Imported by Michael Corso Selections
2007 Ferrari Perlé Trento DOC
Made from 100 percent Chardonnay, grown at 400 to 700 meters of elevation on the mountain slopes of Trentino, in the Dolomites. The 2007 vintage was variable, with a warm spring followed by a cool, wet growing season. Harvest was early, and the fruit was hand-picked while dodging thunderstorms, but the slow ripening and early harvest guaranteed good acidity. The wine was aged a minimum of five years sur lattes; this bottle was disgorged in 2015. Although nearly eight years old, it’s incredibly fresh and precise, suggesting lime peel, bitter almond, Meyer lemon, and brioche. The texture is tingly and shimmering, with a finish that shivers across the tongue and leaves an impression of cooling sunlight. This wine has an armature that can carry it ten or more years in bottle. It’s also a stunning deal.
12.5% abv | $38 (sample) Imported by Palm Bay
2014 Vinavanti Sparkling Viognier Orange de Blanc Méthode Ancestrale “l’Hériter” San Diego County
A complicated mouthful in every way. Technically it’s an orange wine pétillant naturel, one hundred percent Viognier, foot-tread and left on skins for a day before pressing. A small portion of this must was frozen, and the rest fermented on ambient yeasts. When dry it was mixed with the reserved juice and bottled unsulfured for the prise de mousse. The resulting wine is deep russet gold and fizzes vigorously off the lees the instant you pop its crown cap. The aromas are yeasty, savory, redolent of dried peaches, ginger, wet birch, salumi, and the palate is savory, too, with structure, wholesomeness, and chew. But in all this wine is less about flavor than evocation. It’s like a birch glade, wet and yellow with fall leaves. A peach orchard after harvest, when the scent that lingers is ripeness against earth. A picnic on the midday grass with fruit and cheese and yeasty baguette. The production is tiny, only 40 cases. Find it if you can.
12.2% abv | $24 (sample)