With 2020 coming to a close, I am posting the top sparkling wines, but to be clear, I drink sparkling wine all year round! We have been blessed recently with Yarden selling their Gilgal Sparkling wine for under 20 dollars a bottle! Honestly, there is no better deal out there and that is why they were the wines of the year last year! Yarden continues to impress with their 2014 entries and they are the sparkling wine producers to beat, for anyone entering this market.
How is Sparkling wine made?
There are many options – but the vast majority of sparkling wines fall into three categories:
- Le Méthode Champenoise (Méthode Traditionnelle)
- Methode Ancestrale
- The Charmat Method
Le Méthode Champenoise (Méthode Traditionnelle)
So, what is Champagne and how do we get all those cool bubbles? Well, it all starts with a grape of some sort, in most cases, Chardonnay, but we will get back to the other varietals further down. For now, like all wine on planet earth, Champagne starts with a grape. It is picked (often early to lower alcohol and increase acidity), then crushed, pressed, and allowed/encouraged to go through primary fermentation, exactly like all white wines on planet earth. At this point, most houses ferment the base wine in metal tanks or barrels. Some still use wood, but they are the minority.
Of course, like much of France (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne), especially in Champagne, the wine can be chaptalized after racking, until an 11% ABV. Now before the heat waves that have covered much of this earth (call it what you wish), Bordeaux and Champagne prayed to hit their desired mark of ABV, and therefore they used to add sugar to bring up the ripeness on their fruit. Nowadays, Champagne is picking earlier and earlier, and Chaptalization is not a common thing anymore, as mother nature is taking care of the fruit’s ripeness all on her own!
Once the wine has been fermented the next question arises, should they let the base wine go through a wine’s second natural fermentation called Malolactic Fermentation? Most allow the fermentation to take place and require it, a fact that is easy nowadays with controlled winery environments, though some do not like it at all. Finally, the barrels/tanks are blended or in the rare case, kept aside as a Vintage Champagne, meaning the base wine used in it, is sourced from one vintage and not a blend of a few vintages.
So, at this point what we have is base wine, and while it may be an OK wine, it is far from what the final product will be like. Most base wines are nice enough, but it would be like licking on a lemon, these wines are highly acidic, and not normally well balanced at that point.
The next step is to bottle the wine, with yeast and basic rock sugar, which causes a second fermentation. The actual amount of the two added ingredients is a house secret. The wines are closed with a simple beer bottle cap. You will notice that ALL wines made in this manner have a lip around the top of the bottle, where the cap is attached to. Again, if the year is exceptional then the wine becomes vintage champagne and is aged for at least three years. If the vintage is normal then the bottle’s content is a blend of a few vintages and is aged for at least one and a half years.
All the while during this second fermentation process, the wine is aged and the wine becomes more complex from the yeast. The yeast breaks down as it eats the rock sugar, adding the effervescence, and while the yeast breaks down, it adds a lovely mouthfeel and rich complexity. This process is known as autolysis, releasing molecules that are slowly transformed as they interact with those in the wine.
The process is a dual transformational process. First, the yeasts are broken down, but if that occurred in a 100% hermetically sealed environment, we would have SERIOUS issues, like HS (Hydrogen Sulfide) and mercaptan (think nasty rotten eggs). Oxygen is a two-edged sword, with too much a wine oxidizes, and with too little, you get HS and nasty foul egg smell. So, the cap that covers the Champagne bottles as they rest for 18 months to 3 years in these cool racks, actually allow for a certain amount of oxygen to flow through, the caps are not hermetic seals. The special stoppers, AKA caps, allow the wine to mature on the lees, with a very slow feed of oxygen coming through, thereby allowing the wine to mature at a rate that is best for it. You can mature them quicker, with a different cap, but you would lose the value of a wine sitting long on the lees.
According to Wikipedia, the effects of autolysis on wine contribute to a creamy mouthfeel that may make a wine seem to have a fuller body. The release of enzymes inhibits oxidation which improves some of the aging potentials of the wine. The mannoproteins improve the overall stability of the proteins in the wine by reducing the number of tartrates that are precipitated out. They may also bind with the tannins in the wine to reduce the perception of bitterness or astringency in the wine. The increased production of amino acids leads to the development of several flavors associated with premium Champagne including aromas of biscuits or bread dough, nuttiness, and acacia. As the wine ages further, more complex notes may develop from the effects of autolysis.
Finally, it is at this stage, after the bottles have matured their proper time, based upon their label (blend or Vintage), we get to the final stage of Champagne, remuage (or “riddling” in English) and Dosage. To get rid of the lees (the dead yeast cells and other particulates), the bottles are hand or machine manipulated to convince the lees to move towards the cap. Then the neck of the bottle is frozen, and the cap is removed, the lees come flying out in a frozen format, and then the bottle is recapped with the famous champagne cork, but not before it is dosed with more sugar. This very last step is the reason for this post, but let’s leave that till further down in the post, for now, let’s talk varietals and color/style.
Color/style and Varietals
So, we have covered the how part of Champagne (well almost more on Dosage below), and now we need to talk color and grapes. The base grapes for Champagne are Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. There are very few houses that also use Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot blanc, Pinot Gris. Champagne, like the rest of France’s wine industry, is controlled by the AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée).
So, for Blanc de Blancs Chardonnay, which is white from white, Chardonnay is the only grape allowed. Meaning, that the juice from Chardonnay is 100% of a BdB Champagne, or in rare occasions from Pinot blanc (such as La Bolorée from Cedric Bouchard).
For Blanc de Noirs, the Champagne is made from either Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier, or a blend of the two. Finally, for Rose Champagne, it can be a blend of the three grapes.
This has been all the rave recently, LD or Late Disgorgement. All this means is that the house or winery (outside of Champagne) kept the bottles capped for a longer time. So the 2007 Yarden Blanc de Blancs was sold in 2014 or so. It is a lovely wine and recently Yarden released a 2007 LD Yarden Blanc de Blancs. It is the same wine, just held longer in capped format (another 4 years or so), and then recently they disgorged the wine, more on that below, and put in the dosage and the Champagne style cork and released it now. Essentially, for all intent and purpose, Yarden aged the Sparkling wine 4 more years and released it later on. The interesting thing will be to taste the two wines (the LD and normal 2007 Yarden BdB and see how 4 extra years of lying on lees helped/hindered/or did nothing). I will be doing that soon enough.Read the rest of this entry
2005 Baron Herzog Zinfandel, 2006 Goose Bay Chardonnay, N.V. Herzog Selection Blanc De Blanc Brut Champagne, 2005 Hagafen Napa Zinfandel, 2003 Barkan Cabernet Sauvignon Superieur, Baked Gefilte Fish Loaf, Pot Roast, Roasted Orange Peel Veal
This past Saturday night saw us partying with friends and family for the second night of Rosh Hashanah. The meal started with the requisite tradition called simanim. Simanim are a play on words and are a very basic Jewish tradition of using word play to bring out symbolism and actual changes or good tidings. Our friends brought over two of the simanim, and we took care of the rest. The simanim are a yearly rite of passage, and one of my favorite Jewish traditions. Many of the recipes have been changed to protect the innocent. My ancestral recipes call for 4 basic ingredients, oil, oil, oil, and some vegetable or fruit and one cooking style – frying. We decided that this tradition was awesome, but that it needed to be toned down such that it could be enjoyed for years to come, and not just for the few where we are vertical. So it called for some baking and less oil. We ordered the symbolic food in the order of Sephardic Jewry, and here they are:
- Dates or Figs (Tamar in Hebrew)
- The symbolism here is that God should end our enemies
- Broad Beans coated with a mixture of olive oil, cumin, and garlic (Rubya in Aramaic)
- The symbolism here is that God should increase our merits
- Leeks – prepared masterfully by our friends, sautéed in oil and spiced Italian (Karti in Aramaic)
- The symbolism here is that God should cut down our enemies
- Creamed Spinach – prepared masterfully by our friends, creamed with soy yogurt (Salka in Aramaic)
- The symbolism here is that God should remove our enemies
- Sweet Butternut Squash – sliced butternut squash, sprayed with oil and covered with honey, then baked in an oven set to 400 degrees (Kra in Aramaic)
- The symbolism here is that God should tear up our evil decrees and read before him our merits
- Pomegranate seeds (Rimon in Hebrew)
- The symbolism here is that our mitzvot (observance of the Jewish laws) be as plentiful as the pomegranate seeds
- Sweet apples dipped in honey
- The symbolism here is that God should grant us a New Year as sweet as honey
- Fish head – Rock Cod head baked at 350 degrees.
- The symbolism here is that in this New year we should be at the head of the class and not at the tail
We always joke that we should try to bring out a head of a lamb instead of a fish head and freak out everyone there. It would be totally epic, but while it is the preferred manner of implementing the head symbolism, it would fly in the face of “behaving”.
After the fish head was eaten, we moved on to our patented baked herb fish loaf, which we sliced into three-quarter inch servings, and served with the accompanying baked onions, and guacamole. We paired the dish with a 2006 Goose Bay Chardonnay and followed it with an N.V. Herzog Selection Blanc De Blanc Brut Champagne. The Chardonnay was solid as good as I remember it from the last time I had. The Champagne was a logical alcoholic beverage to share with the guys, but the deliver was flawed – maybe literally. I am not sure, but the wine was clearly flat, fruitless, and acidic. It’s only saving grace were the few bubbles that we left in the bottle, quite a shame.
The fish was followed by a menu of; Veal with orange peel and stuffed with mushroom and onions, Shoulder pot roast with festive vegetables on the side, spinach Soufflé/kugel, and fresh vegetable salad. The festive vegetables were cooked with the roast, but at different stages of course. The shoulder roast was initially seared on all sides and nicely caramelized and then removed. Diced onions and garlic were then placed in the hot dutch oven and were caramelized until nice and brown. The meat was returned to the pot, along with half a bottle of wine. After the meat and wine turned into a nice piece of meat, the potatoes and carrots were added. Twenty minutes later peas and green beans were added and cooked for a few minutes and then all of this was poured into a shallow pan to cool off and sleep overnight in the chill chest. After some 24 hours, the meat was removed and sliced, and then placed back in the pan with all of the juice and vegetables, where it would lie until it was warmed up the next day.
To pair with the meats and vegetables we started with a 2005 Herzog Zinfandel – which was a failure, and pulled quickly from the table, but not before it was inflicted upon one of my guests – AHH! It was followed by a 2005 Hagafen Zinfandel, which was not much better out of the bottle, but after many hours of airing, and long after the guys left the house, it became quite nice actually. It was a shame as by now three bottles had fallen to the way side, and thankfully, I had a lovely bottle already opened and airing nicely. This was the 2003 Barkan Cabernet Sauvignon Superieur, as I told the crowd that night, it was at its peak (the last time we had it, it was not nearly as good). While it was now soft, it was still plush and lush with fruit and the wood and tannins had integrated quite nicely into an impressive presentation of wood, mouth coating tannins, rich fruit, tobacco smoke, and some really nice chocolate.
Two out of five wines, is not a record I am proud of, but the food was solid, and the two wines were enjoyable. What can I say, you win some and you lose some. If you grade the evening on the bottle hit count, clearly a subpar performance. If however, you grade the evening based upon on the friends around the table, the Holy Day that it was, the camaraderie, and food, I think it was downright awesome. We will always strive to make it better though – next time 🙂
The wine notes follow below (in the order they were consumed):
2006 Goose Bay Chardonnay – Score: B+
I must say that this chardonnay is not your run of the mill chard. The fruit on this chardonnay is almost perfumed because of its intensity and the wine is nicely balanced. The nose on this bright straw colored wine is perfumed with rich peach and tropical fruit. The mouth on this medium bodied wine carried the perfumed qualities from the nose along with apple, peach, and lemon. The mid palate is acidic with a touch of minerals. The finish is long with a hint of oak and more tropical fruit acidity. The oak helps to round out the mouth, while the acidity helps to brace the fruit defined mouth. The oak is showing more now and the fruit is slightly fading with the acidity still bracing. Based on my conversation with the wine maker; Philip Jones, the wines never lack from acidity, so this wine will last another year, but start drinking up.
2005 Baron Herzog Zinfandel – Score: B (maybe B-)
Close to undrinkable, at least that was the opinion of many on the table. The boysenberry, and crushed rose petals were over the top and demanded the drinker’s attention, which is a shame. The blackberry, pepper, and oak that lies in the back are nice, but not with that much noise in the foreground and on the lingering finish. The nose is nice with blackberry, boysenberry, rose petals, and oak. The mouth is wrecked with the over the top floral presentation that is followed by enough boysenberry to suffocate a horse. The mid palate is balanced with acidity and oak, but the finish is downhill with more of the same ills. This wine did not improve with time or air. The wine was not corked or spoiled, but clearly either in a real dumb period or highly flawed.
N.V. Herzog Selection Blanc De Blanc Brut Champagne – Score: B-
Not really impressed. The nose was flat and was actually the best part, with toast, almonds, citrus, and a drop of yeast. That was all they wrote about this wine. The table barely drank it. The mouth was filled with nothing – which was the problem. The best thing that could be said was that it had some acidity, but almost no fruit, and the bubbles were almost flat. Man, a mostly flat Champagne! Anyway, a loser and one that should be drunk quickly. Thankfully there were other wines to take this failure off our minds!
2005 Hagafen Napa Zinfandel – Score: A-
WOW! this wine turned face SLOWLY! This opens in a dull mode, this wine is clearly in a dumb state right now. The nose was flat, the mouth was redolent with boysenberry and oak, but no black fruit to be found. However, after a fair amount of time, like a day or so, the wine opened up to show its true self. The tannins popped out of their coma, the mouth filled out, the nose became redolent with chocolate and tons of fun stuff. Please make sure to open this puppy early and try it every few hours, you will see it change in phases – until it reaches its climax, it was a fun experience, but unfortunate for my guests who never had the chance to taste the real Hagafen Zinfandel.
Once awake and free of its dumb and slumbering state – the nose on this purple to black colored wine is black with ripe fruit, blackberry, mounds of chocolate, spice, sweet oak, and vanilla. The mouth on this full bodied wine fills out with mouth coating tannins that are integrating, but still present. The absurd boysenberry flavors have finally faded and the wine shows a rich, black, and full mouth with blackberry, nice tannins, and semi-sweet oak with raisins. The mid palate shows more integrated tannins vanilla, rich and sweet oak, and balanced acidity. The finish is long and supports the wine’s full mouth with more rich oak, vanilla, and bright acid that carries the black fruit, acting like a bow around this lovely package. It is one crazy wine that is clearly in a dumb state and needs a bit more time to pop out of its state.
2003 Barkan Cabernet Sauvignon Superieur – Score: A
They are all gone, and that is about the only thing “bad” I can say about this wine. We drank it at its peak, and for that I am thankful. If you have one or more lying around — drink up and enjoy, it’s time has come and it is now – RIGHT now!
The nose on this almost pure black colored wine explodes with rich sweet oak, blackberry, plum, dates, and a fantastic impression of effervescent Belgian dark chocolate. The mouth on this full bodied wine is like those wonderful large chairs you see in the movies, plush, soft, enveloping, but still ever present and firm – quite a showing. This was the clear winner of the evening. The mouth follows the nose with blackberry and plum. The mid palate delivers a powerful presentation of rich and concentrated sweet oak, integrated but present tannins, and just enough acidity that plays with the enveloping tannins and fruit, almost like an orchestra. The finish is long and wonderful with more black fruit carried by the sweet oak and tannins, tobacco smoke, and a replay of the chocolate. This is not a beast or a wine that has a statement out loud. Rather this is a concentrated and plush wine, with a quiet demeanor rich black fruit, chocolate, tobacco, all wrapped up in a nice oak box. Quite a wine! I am torn in ways, I am sad I have no more, but happy that I tasted it at its peak, and not on its way down.
This past Saturday day we enjoyed a simple lunch between the two of us that consisting of our patented Gefilte Fish Loaf, some roasted chicken, a nice cholent, and a bottle of 2002 Herzog Selection Gewurztraminer Verbau. The fish was bang up as usual, the roasted chicken and the cholent were quite nice as well. The fish was nicely herbed, the cholent was spicy, and the roasted chicken was peppery enough to make the wine quite enjoyable. The semi-sweet, oily, rich wine was a perfect match for all the spicy food.
The wine note follow below:
2002 Herzog Selection Gewurztraminer Verbau – Score: B+ – A-
This was a really fun wine, and one that works great with spicy food or as a wonderful aperitif, though not as a dessert wine, as it is not a “sweet” wine, but one with enough sugars to ward off sharp flavors like stinky cheese and Asian or Thai dishes. It is throwing off tartrate crystals – but do not be worried, they are harmless. Also, do not let the blue bottle throw you, this is not a simple Bartenura Moscato like wine (the famous kosher blue bottle wine), but rather a real player. The nose on this light gold to gold colored wine is rich and honeyed with sweet and ethereal honey, peach, caramel, almonds, violets, and rich fruit aromas. The mouth on this semi-sweet and semi-complex medium to full bodied wine carries the nose’s fruit and stance, with more rich honey suspended in an oily and almost glycerol mouth coating presentation, which is accompanied by rich honey, caramel, a slight hints of citrus. The mid palate is bright and balances the mouths semi-sweet fruit. The finish is concentrated but only medium long (which is a shame), with more bright acid, ripe fruit, and more oily rich honey flavors that round out the wine. Quite a nice presentation, and really only lacking in its shortish finish.