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
So, I tasted a bunch of these at the KFWE in Miami and I spent my entire time there tasting through wines that made me cry. I mean they were so painful, all I could write was NO. Some I wrote nice and some I wrote good stuff. Overall, the Israeli wines were undrinkable and so painful that I had to go back to the French table just to clean my palate. It continues to make me sad to see such potential thrown out to meet the absolute lowest common denominator – fruity, loud, and brash wines.
Sadly, Cellar Capcanes continues its downward spiral. The 2018 Capcanes Peraj Petita is not very good at all. Far better than 2017 or 2016, but that is not saying much. So sad, to see such a storied franchise being thrown away for what I can only guess is the need for a new winemaker to make her mark.
Domaine Netofa continues to crush it and thank goodness it is selling well here in the USA, so that means I can stop schlepping Netofa from Israel! The 2015 Chateau Tour Seran was also lovely while the Chateau Rollan de By was OK, while the 2015 Chateau Haut Condissas showed far better than it did in France. The 2018 Pacifica Riesling, Evan’s Collection was nice but it was less of a WOW than the 2017 vintage, at least so far anyway.
At the tasting, the 2017 whites and 2018 roses were all dead, please stop buying them. Heck, even many of the simpler 2018 whites were painful.
So, here are my last notes before the year-end roundup and best of posts that I will hopefully post soon! These wines are a mix of wines I tasted at the KFWE Miami and other wines I tasted over the past month or so since my return from France. I wanted to keep this simple, so the wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
2018 Capcanes Peraj Petita – Score: 87
This wine is a blend of 50% Grenache, 20% Tempranillo, 15% Merlot, and 15% Syrah. This wine is ripe really ripe, with dark blackberry, with loads of dark brooding fruit, floral notes, and herb, and heather. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is sweet, ripe, and date-like, with dark cherry, sweet candied raspberry, smoke, candied black fruit, and sweet notes galore. The toast, earth, sweet fruit, and smoke finish long. Move on.
2018 Capcanes Peraj Petita – Score: 89 (Mevushal)
This wine is a blend of 50% Grenache, 20% Tempranillo, 15% Merlot, and 15% Syrah. This wine is far better than the not-Mevushal version. This wine is actually showing less ripe, with dark blackberry, with loads of red fruit, floral notes, and herb, and oak. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is much less sweet, with dark cherry, sweet raspberry, smoke, candied black fruit, with nice tannin, and good acidity. The finish is long, slightly green, smoky, and herbal, with toast and red fruit. Very interesting how the mevushal is less ripe, go figure. Drink now.
2018 Domaine Netofa Latour, White – Score: 92+ (Super QPR)
Wow, what a lovely wine, this wine is 100% Chenin Blanc aged 10 months in oak barrels. The nose on this wine is pure heaven, but it is slow to open, once it does, the wine is lovely with loads of floral notes, yellow flowers, orange blossom, rosehip, and lovely white fruit, pear, peach, and smoke/toast. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is lovely, with great acidity, clear and present, with layers of sweet and dry fruit, with candied and toasted almonds, hazelnuts, with hay and straw, followed by floral notes, tart melon, lemongrass, citrus galore, yellow apple, quince, baked apple, and dry grass and earth, lovely! The finish is long, dry, tart, and butterscotch-laden, with toast, smoke, ginger, and marzipan, Bravo!! Drink from 2021 until 2025.
2018 Pacifica Riesling, Evan’s Collection – Score: 90 (QPR)
This is a drier wine than the 2017 vintage but it lacks the petrol level and funk of 2017, still a nice wine.The nose on this wine is almost dry, with lovely notes of floral notes and loads of melon, sweet fruits, and stone fruit. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is nice with lovely pith, hints of saline, with hints of petrol, dry flowers, with lovely peach, guava, and loads of citrus and mineral. The finish is long, dry, with hints of sweet notes, funk, and pith that is fun. Nice. Drink by 2022. Read the rest of this entry
This past weekend I was hanging with EL and MT, those same two of Napa wine adventure fame. It was a true insane blast, and the wine intake was so intense that I had to name this post appropriately. The blueberry reference is an ode to the sheer number of wines we had that were seriously showing blue fruit.
When I think of hospitality so many names come to mind including ER, Mrs. L, Shaindy and Chaim, and now I am happy to add EL and MT to the wonderful list of people who think of others above themselves. I came this shabbos to NY to hang with family and go to two wine events. The two wine events sandwiched a Shabbos so I asked EL if he could handle a madman like me for a weekend! He graciously accepted and now the Shabbos is in the history books and may well go down in annals of mankind as one of the craziest Shabbos that I have had the opportunity to enjoy (though my first Benyo Shabbaton is up there too with the Shirah Boys).
The Friday started with me opening the bottle of Tavel, which while deeply aromatic was a slight letdown with a light and almost lifeless mouth. Still, it had the acid to keep up; this was all while we learned some Yoshua before heading to minyan. El lives in a large Jewish community and the number of synagogues within a square mile of his house, rival the number of museums in all of NY City! Still, we were blessedly spared the walks to those hallowed halls. Why? Think August in Las Vegas and add 90% humidity and you get the picture – AKA felt like walking through swap land – without the swamp!
So, where did we go, well that is the funny thing, if there are tons of options for free standing synagogues in this section of New York, there may well be more options of home bound synagogues! Indeed, people have synagogues in their basements, living rooms, and just about any section of their home that their wives can tolerate (more on that in a bit).
Friday night started in the library room of a beautiful home, 5 doors down from EL’s house. Mincha started at 8 PM and we were done with Mincha and Maariv at 8:45 PM. Heck, where I live, we could still be davening Mincha in 45 minutes! We went home, and even walking the length of 5 homes made you feel like you wanted to jump into a shower ASAP! What heat! Anyway, dinner started with a bottle of 2012 Lueria Gewurztraminer. A lovely wine that was cold and bracing, with enough residual sugar in it to make both EL and his wife happy! From there we moved to two Roses that accompanied a plethora of sushi! Awesome idea, really, clean tasting sushi is a great idea on a hot summer day! The sushi was solid as was CL’s SICK challah that was greatly enjoyed with dips and soup. The Tavel was OK, as said above but the Agur rocked it for me and it was mostly drunk by me as well.
After that we moved to the main course, which was roasted chicken and some incredible Rib Roast! EL begged me to taste some before Shabbos and I knew at that point that this chunk of meat was going to slay it on Shabbos! The roast has something for everyone, it was rare inside and medium rare on the edges. It was herbed to perfection and was so juicy that it screamed to be eaten some more – WOW what a real treat!
At this point I must point out that we had already decanted two wines for the dinner, the newly released 2011 Vignobles David Reserve GS wine and the 2012 Hajdu Cabernet Franc (will probably be blended – but a distinct barrel sample for now). It was at this point that the family bailed and left EL and I to slowly enjoy the two bottles/carafes of wine. That was until Mark came over with two more wines in tow. The wines were the famous 2007 Brobdignagian/Brobdingnagian Syrah – a blockbuster wine we have enjoyed twice, and a 1999 Hagafen Syrah! The wine is a richly layered, concentrated beast that has zero desire to calm down or back-off its no holds barred structure that makes one truly stand up and take notice. Some find it too much, but for me it is a wine created by an unbridled mad genius, with eyes wide open – what a wine! When I saw the hagafen Syrah at Mark’s house before Shabbos I thought there was no way that the wine was drinkable. It turns out that the Syrah was Hagafen’s first and a wine that has truly stood the test of time. Read the rest of this entry
As stated in the previous posting on this lovely event, there were many wines to taste and there was no way I could post all the wine notes in a single posting. Here is my follow-up posting on the wines tasted at the event, including the wines that I loved and did not love.
The wine notes are listed in the order that I tasted them:
2010 Domaine Netofa – White – Score: B++
The nose on this light gold colored wine shows clean and lovely nose of green apple, peach, grapefruit, kiwi, light quince, and rich/nice loamy dirt and mineral. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich and balanced with nice minerality, along with nice bright fruit that mingles well in the mouth. The finish is long and spicy with nice quince, tart green apple, grapefruit, and green tea.
2010 Binyamina Chardonnay, Reserve, Unoaked – Score: B
This wine did not show nearly as well as its 2009 sibling, the wine was flat without much to grab your attention. The nose on this straw colored wine has apple, lemon, nice mineral, bright acid, and melon. The mouth is somewhat plush and the finish has citrus to round out the wine.
2010 Binyamina Chardonnay, Reserve – Score: B+
This wine did not show nearly as well as its 2009 sibling, though not as bad as its unoaked twin. The nose on this dark straw colored wine has light oak, brioche, lemon, nice spice, light creme, and honey. The mouth is round with spice, summer fruit, and oak influence.
2011 Tulip White Tulip – Score: B++
This wine is a blend of 70% Gewurztraminer and 30% Sauvignon Blanc with the sweet and floral notes of the Gewurztraminer showing nicely with honey and guava, while the green apple and bright lemon notes from the Sauvignon Blanc blend together in a unique manner. The nose on this straw colored wine hits you with mineral, light honey, bright lemon, green apple, and guava. The mouth is nice and honeyed with light petrol, and citrus. The finish is long with both sweet lemon creme and bright lemon at the same time, along with fig, and tart notes. This is a great wine that would go well with fish or sushi.