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Allan Scott, Hounds, 2009

Pinot Noir
Allan Scott, Hounds, 2009
Marlborough, New Zealand

New Zealand captured the attention of wine lovers around the world with her fragrant and refreshing Sauvignon Blancs. Now it’s the Pinot Noirs that are making everyone sit up and take note.

The warm and sunny conditions in Marlborough, combined with Allan Scott’s precision viticulture techniques designed to keep yields low, have created ideal conditions for the Pinot Noir grape to flourish and produce exceptional wines.

The wine has a medium ruby color, as is typical of this thin-skinned grape that rarely produces dark inky wines. The aromatics have a raspberry and red cherry perfume, with a lovely note of cloves and sweet spices. The palate is characteristically soft, round and supple with fresh acidity on a medium-bodied frame.

Food and wine pairing: This is superb all by itself because of the soft tannins, but it pairs well with lightly spiced dishes, richer fish dishes, and delicate red meat.

Domaines Schlumberger, Cuvee Christine, Vendanges Tardives, 2011

Gewurztraminer
Domaines Schlumberger, Cuvee Christine, Vendanges Tardives, 2011
Alsace, France

This is a sweet dessert wine that is best enjoyed at the end of your meal. It is absolutely spectacular, and we very much hope you’ll enjoy a glass.

The Gewurztraminer grape has the most sensational aromatics of exotic fruit, particularly lychee, mango and pineapple. It also exudes floral notes of red roses and a gorgeous sweet spice.

The palate is sweet but on the finish the wine starts to develop a drier style, making it so enchanting and delicious. The fresh and crisp acidity weaves in and out of the body, counterbalancing the sweetness. There is plenty of weight, immense concentration of tropical fruit flavors, and the length just goes on and on. Superb!

Food and wine pairing: This is classically served with dessert, and is fantastic with a plate of tropical fruits, and delicious with soft cheeses.

BUBBLES

BUBBLES
By James Cluer, Master of Wine

You can picture it. A drop dead gorgeous girl is holding court at a dinner party. She begins her spiel with a story about drinking Champagne at The Four Seasons with Gianni, who you would ADORE. Right on cue, she flicks her hair. While she continues her story I start to drift off. I wonder if it really was Champagne that she was drinking, and if she ended up shagging Gianni.

Chances are that it was Prosecco, and Gianni went home with nothing but the bill. But the point is that I feel sorry for the Champenois, who have worked so hard to protect the name of the place where they make their sublime bubbles. Alas, for many wine drinkers, sipping some god awful sparkling wine from Peru still qualifies it as Champagne. Shame on you.

Although Champagne is the benchmark, there are some very good quality sparkling wines made around the world. Actually, there are some that outclass Champagne itself. And given the price of the real deal, it’s worth looking at what other options exist.

The short story is that California produces the best bubbly outside Champagne and it is half the price. If you want to spend even less then consider Spanish Cava, which is a bargain. And if you like something fruity and oh-so-sophisticated to pronounce then order some Prosecco. Finally, if you’re 16 and its Prom night then fill your boots with some sweet frothy Asti, close your eyes, and hope for the best.

When you are evaluating quality in sparkling wine the key things to look for are complexity of aromatics and flavors on the palate. You want a wine that evolves, with layers of flavors. Another key aspect, that is unique to bubbly, is the texture of the mousse. It should be soft and creamy, rather than sharp and aggressive. Otherwise, the acidity is important, and should be balanced with the dryness and fruitiness, so you avoid anything being too tart, or too flabby for that matter.

Champagne is the benchmark because many of them have exactly these qualities. They make wines that undergo much longer ageing than most other sparkling wines. This allows the nuances of toasty notes, hazelnuts, and fresh baked bread to evolve, the impression of acidity to soften, and the wines to take on great depth. Plus of course they have the inherent quality of the grapes which is due to the chalky soils, cool climate and other aspects of this unique terroir.

But if you’d like to explore other sparkling wines then try some Cremant, which means French sparkling wine made outside the Champagne area, but using the same methods. You can find good Cremant from the Loire valley, where they use Chenin Blanc for the most part. These can have lovely flavors of ripe apple, and a bracing thread of acidity that will make your mouth water for minutes.

Alsace also makes some very nice Cremant, often using Sylvaner, a white grape variety. Some people accuse the producers of only using lesser vineyards or poor quality grapes to make Cremant, but in fact some of these can be quite delicious. I once met a producer who specialized in Cremant in Alsace, and claimed to have beaten the Champenois in blind tastings. But alas the marketing might of the famous Champagne houses are always quick to dismiss such claims, with a polite but gentle shake of the head, as if to say that you can’t compare a Ferrari to a Honda.

Anyway, you can find Cremant from Burgundy, Bordeaux, and even the south of France in Limoux. Each region uses different grapes but the wines are almost always bone dry, light to medium in body, with a crisp and crunchy acidity. Expect to pay between $20-$30 for most of them, but don’t expect layers of complexity.
Elsewhere in Europe, you’ll find a gigantic amount of sparkling wine from Spain, known as Cava. I’m always amazed at the price of Cava, which is often under $20. They use the same traditional methods of production as the Champenois, but the grape varieties are usually indigenous Spanish things with impossible names. Xarel-lo, Macabeo and Parellada hardly roll off the tongue.

The style of Cava can sometimes be identified as having a smell of freshly raked gravel, for those of you who like sniffing driveways. There are usually apple and citrus notes, and almost an earthy touch to the flavor profile. Is there such a thing as high quality Cava? Yes, and some of these have a splash of Chardonnay in them. But in general, I look at Cava for unbelievable value for money.

Staying within Europe, the Germans have always been fond of a glass of sparkling and they produce ocean loads of Sekt. Some of these, like Henkell Trocken, find a home in hotel mini-bars around the world, inflicting untold punishment on weary travelers who polish off a bottle after a stressful dinner.

Most of the German Sekt that reaches our shores is actually made from grapes grown in France and Italy, and then turned into sparkling wine using the so-called “tank method”. The essence of the tank method is adding yeast and sugar to a tank of still wine, and closing the lid so the carbon dioxide cannot escape. So the second fermentation takes place in a large tank which means you don’t get the complex flavor effects caused by the yeast breakdown within a smaller container, such as a 75cl bottle.

But, like with Cava, there is such a thing as high quality German Sekt. These are usually made from Riesling, grown in prestigious regions in Germany, and the producers follow the traditional Champagne method. But good luck finding these. They tend to get snapped up in Germany, where they’ll drink them at the breakfast buffet.
Over in Italy, one of my favorite wines is Franciacorta, a little known area in the north that produces wines on a par with Champagne. This is worth tracking down. Expect to pay around the $50 mark for a mature bottle. It is made in the traditional method, from the same grapes that they use in Champagne, and matured for long enough to create the complex flavors that make for high quality sparkling.

But outside Franciacorta, Italy is much more famous for Prosecco, which has become trendy in recent years. It is usually tank fermented, and tastes cheap, manufactured, and has a terrible sweet fruit salad flavor to it. Obviously I’m not cool enough to enjoy this popular choice.

I think I’d even take an Asti over a Prosecco, although Asti is primarily a sparkling wine for dessert because of its sweetness. It’s fashionable to hate Asti, and call it “nasty Asti”, but I like the peach, apricot and honey flavors, especially with a plate of fresh fruit. Maybe it’s just because Prom night was such a success.

But seriously, the only place I regularly buy sparkling wine from outside Champagne is California. Now we’re talking quality. After all, California is the location of choice for several of the great French Houses. You’ll find Roederer, Taittinger, Chandon and others. It’s also where you’ll find some great American Houses, like my favorite called Schramsberg, who produce wines that usually outclass most Champagnes.

Thankfully, American consumers think you should only drink sparkling wine on special occasions. This means that prices are very attractive, and so expect to pay between $25-$50 for most of them, which is a comparative deal.
Otherwise, for sparkling wines outside of Champagne, you have to include Australia and New Zealand. Both these countries are significant producers and consumers of bubbles. It’s true that there are the cheap and not-so- cheerful versions such as Seaview, Yellow Tail and even that sparkling Shiraz stuff, which is vile at the best of times. But actually there are some outstanding sparkling wines made in Tasmania and in the Yarra valley. Some of these are better than your average bottle of Champagne.

So the bottom line is that Champagne still represents the pinnacle, but if you want to save a few dollars and try something else then look to California. If you want to go even further on austerity measures then maybe Cava is for you, or perhaps even a bottle of Cremant. Yes, they can be good, but frankly I’d rather save my shekels and spring for the real deal – like a nice bottle of Bollinger, Taittinger, Roederer, or Krug.

Wine—–Region—–Food pairing
Schramsberg—–California—–Smoked salmon
Roederer—–California—–Caviar
Pierre Spar—–Alsace—–Oysters
Segura Viudas—–Spain—–Goats cheese
Henkell Trocken—–Germany—–Mimosas
Batasiolo—–Italy—–Fresh fruit plate

Henriot, Rose Millesime 2008

Champagne
Henriot, Rose Millesime 2008
France

In Champagne most wines are made by blending multiple vintages together, which are then referred to as “multi-vintage”. But in exceptional years, when the quality of the harvest is outstanding, producers will release a vintage wine, like this gorgeous 2008 Rose.

It’s a big decision for a producer to release a vintage wine. It’s a showcase of the very best wine they can possibly make. And when the House has a prestigious reputation it becomes even more meaningful.

Henriot’s 2008 Rose has all the hallmarks of an exceptional quality wine. On the nose there is beautiful intensity, complexity and elegance. On the palate the balance is extraordinary, there’s subtle yet powerful concentration of flavor, and the length lingers on and on. Superb! We hope you enjoy it.

Food and wine pairing: The quintessential aperitif, sublime with light seafood, and unforgettable at the end of a beautiful meal.

Taittinger, Prestige Rose

Champagne
Taittinger, Prestige Rose
France

Taittinger is one of the most revered Champagne Houses. Connoisseurs adore the flagship Comtes de Champagne, perhaps the finest of all the sparkling wines made from 100% Chardonnay.

The House was started in 1734, and is family owned and operated. They have 288 hectares of vineyards, and a labyrinth of underground cellars where they slowly age their lovely wines.

The color is a pale salmon pink. A delicate stream of small bubbles rises to the surface, lifting the aromatics. Fresh raspberry, strawberry and a note of freshly baked bread entice the nose.

On the palate the wine is beautifully dry yet fruity, light and elegant in style but with intense and persistent flavors, and a gorgeous long length.

Food and wine pairing: The ultimate aperitif, and the perfect wine to pair with light seafood dishes. In France it is a popular way to end a lovely meal too.

Villa Maria, Reserve, Clifford Bay, 2012

Sauvignon Blanc
Villa Maria, Reserve, Clifford Bay, 2012
Marlborough, New Zealand

Villa Maria is the most awarded family-owned winery in New Zealand. It was founded in 1961 by Sir George Fistonich who has been instrumental in putting the country in the vinous spotlight.

Marlborough is the center of production. The region enjoys a large number of sunny days and cool nights, which is perfect for ripening this varietal. This Clifford Bay Reserve comes from vineyards in the famed Awatere sub-region.

It’s a beautifully intense and lively wine with piercing aromatics, fresh and youthful, and bursting with exotic herb notes, wild grass and passion fruit. Dry, light bodied, with crisp acidity, showing clean and pure citrus characters on the finish.

Food and wine pairing: The perfect match for smoked salmon, crab, and other light seafood dishes. It also pairs well with spicy food.

Domaine Marc Morey et Fils, 1er Cru En Virondot, Chassagne-Montrachet 2008

Chardonnay
Domaine Marc Morey et Fils, 1er Cru En Virondot, Chassagne-Montrachet 2008
Burgundy, France

Since 1919 the Morey family has been cultivating a small number of vines in a tiny appellation in southern Burgundy called Chassagne-Montrachet.

The Domaine is steeped in tradition. The focus is on winemaking, not marketing. It’s about extracting the finest qualities from this hallowed terroir, and creating expressive wines that reflect the place they come from.

The nose opens up with citrus, mineral, peach, hazelnut. There’s a combination of elegance and intensity. The palate is beautifully dry, with medium to full body, a creamy yet crisp texture, and an extravagant display of complex flavours that excites the senses. As in all fine wines, the length lingers for minutes.

Food and wine pairing: This pairs perfectly with white fish, chicken, pasta in a cream sauce, and is a lovely way to end a meal with some soft goat’s cheese.

Craggy Range, Avery Vineyard, 2012

Sauvignon Blanc
Craggy Range, Avery Vineyard, 2012
Marlborough, New Zealand

Terry Peabody, a successful businessman, had a passion for wine. He believed that New Zealand could produce wines that were superior quality to the established regions of France, and then set out to prove it.

The Avery vineyard is in Marlborough at the northern tip of the south island. With rocky well-drained soil and excellent sun exposure it is regarded as a special vineyard site.

The nose has complex yet youthful aromatics of apple, fresh cut grass, passion fruit and gooseberry. On the palate the steely acidity revives the senses, the light body refreshes, and the mix of flavours excites the palate. Craggy Range is now admired around the world.

Food and wine pairing: In hot climates this is the ultimate dry white wine, enjoyed as an aperitif or with light and fresh seafood dishes such as crab, salmon and scallops.

Mantlerhof, Mosburgerin, Reserve 1er Cru 2011

Gruner Veltliner
Mantlerhof, Mosburgerin, Reserve 1er Cru 2011
Niederosterreich, Austria

For over 200 years this family has farmed a small parcel of vineyards, making tiny quantities of exquisite Gruner Veltliner. This is a fantastic grape that performs best in Austria.

This famous producer prefers to remain low-key and focus their efforts more on production than marketing. This wine comes from the 1er Cru classified site Mosburgerin, a vineyard noted for its complex flavours.

The nose has a youthful freshness yet depth of aromatics. Celery, pear, citrus, minerals, pepper, and other nuances combine to create vibrancy and complexity. The palate is dry, light to medium bodied, with layers of green fruit flavours wound around the crisply acidic backbone, that leads into a beautiful long finish.

Food and wine pairing: The perfect match with spicy Asian dishes, fresh seafood, and soft cheeses.

Tommasi, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, 2009

Tommasi, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, 2009
Veneto, Italy

There are a handful of Amarone producers that command international respect for their truly fine wines. Tommasi is unquestionably on that list.

Amarone is made from indigenous varieties that you don’t find elsewhere, named Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara and Corvinone. The best bunches are picked from the vine and then laid to dry on straw mats for 5 months before pressing. The tiny amount of juice extracted is deep, dark and concentrated.

The nose explodes with sweet dried fruit, with a note of raisin and dark chocolate. The palate is very full bodied, with luscious fruit sweetness, round tannins, and an aftertaste that lingers on and on. These wines can age for 30+ years.

Food and wine pairing: Grilled meats pair well. The wine is also perfect with hard cheeses as you finish your meal.