Champagne and Oyster Celebration this Sunday, December 10
Pearl will shuck oysters, put out some of their delectable small plates, and serve Champagne-friendly cheeses.
The event takes place this Sunday, December 10, 2006, 2:00-4:30 PM at Pearl Oyster Bar & Restaurant, 5634 College Avenue, Oakland, California (just across College Avenue from Paul Marcus Wines and the Market Hall). Tickets cost $40 and are available at Paul Marcus Wines. Come by the store or call us to purchase tickets. You also can purchase tickets on-line from the markethallfoods.com Web site.
Bubbly Personalities at PMW
By Mark Middlebrook
Holiday meals call to mind jovial people crowded around big tables groaning with plates of food and bottles of wine - in a word, celebration. And when you're celebrating, you want bubbles. Something about those millions of tiny, dancing bubbles can't help but put everyone and everything - including your palate - in a celebratory mood.
The most famous form of bubbles, of course, is Champagne itself - sparkling wine grown and produced in the Champagne region of France, just east of Paris. Champagne is wine made from some combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes and subjected to a secondary fermentation in the bottle. It's that fermentation - a winemaking method called méthode champenoise or méthode traditionelle - that gives Champagne its bubbles as well as its yeasty, brioche-y richness. But what really distinguishes Champagne from other sparkling wines is the cool, northern climate and the chalky soil in which the grapes are grown. These qualities produce tart, minerally grapes that give Champagne its unparalleled raciness and verve.
The Champagnes we drink most often are non-vintage Bruts - wines blended from grapes harvested in different years and fermented to less than 1.5% residual sugar (that is, very dry).
The majority of Champagne is produced by a few large producers who buy grapes, or sometimes finished wines, from many small growers. These so-called negoçiant-manipulants (look for a tiny NM on the label) blend the production from many small growers to create a house style that they can make in large quantities. Negoçiant Champagnes can be perfectly good, especially the best bottlings from the famous houses. Krug is an excellent example that we sell at Paul Marcus Wines.
However, most wine-lovers would agree that the most exciting Champagnes come from small growers who bottle and sell their own wines. These small houses are called récoltant-manipulants in French (look for a tiny RM on the label) and grower-producers, or simply growers, in English. Grower Champagnes tend to show more distinctive personalities and more specific terroirs (as the wines from small producers in Burgundy, Barolo, and Germany do). In many cases, they also offer better quality for less money than the large brands. When you buy a grower's Champagne, you're paying for quality grapes and artisanal winemaking, not glossy ads in luxury magazines!
Grower Champagnes are one of our specialties at PMW, and we always have several dozen different bottlings in the store. As with all our other wines, we taste and drink them regularly so that we can help you select the best wines for your event and budget. This Sunday afternoon, December 10, 2006, you can taste two wines each from five our favorite Champagne grower-producers: Agrapart & Fils, Henri Billiot, Gaston-Chiquet, René Geoffroy, and Marc Hébrart. The retail costs of the bottles range from $31 to $60-some. We'll be offering a special discount to those who attend the Sunday celebration.
Crémant, Prosecco, and Cava Plenty of places other than Champagne make delicious bubbles. Crémant is wine made in France by the same method as Champagne (i.e., secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle), but outside the Champagne region. We currently have a pair of wonderful, organically farmed Crémants de Loire from Domaine Fouet. Both the regular Fouet Crémant de Loire (80% Chenin Blanc and 20% Cabernet Franc; $19) and the Crémant de Loire Rosé (100% cabernet franc, $20) work as less-expensive alternatives to Champagne, as well as having plenty of their own personality.
Northern Italy also makes some pretty captivating bubbles. Prosecco is the name of a grape and a sparkling wine made from that grape in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy. Prosecco is a little more rustic than Champagne and a little fruitier - think ripe pears. It's the perfect wine for a brunch or casual dinner. We have five in stock right now, of which my current favorites are Drusian (lighter and quite dry for Prosecco, $13.99) and Sorelle Bronca (richer and more aromatic, $16).
Northern Spain produces perhaps the best Brut-dry budget bubbles, in the form of Cava. Most Cava comes from the Penedès region of Cataluña, not far from Barcelona. It's a blend of the indigenous grape varieties Parellada, Xarel-lo, Macabeo, and sometimes some chardonnay, made in the same way as Champagne. I regularly and enthusiastically drink both of the Cavas that we currently carry: Pere Ventura Cava Brut Natur 'Tresor' (extremely dry and pure, $13.99) and Colet 'A Priori' (creamier and more floral, $16).
Champagne is wine!
While the holiday season always invites us to break out the bubbles, the other ten months of the year offer many equally good opportunities to enjoy sparkling wines. "Champagne is wine!" serves as one of our mantras at Paul Marcus Wines. In other words, bubbles of all kinds are delicious, food-friendly beverages that deserve a year-round place at your table. I kick off just about every dinner party with some bubbles, and frequently work them into the initial courses. Champagne is a splendid match with rich cheeses (for example, Explorateur) and most fish - especially oysters, sushi, and smoked fish. It's also an excellent partner to many main courses, including pork, chicken, and game birds.
So, yes, we're eager to help you choose some great sparkling wines for your holiday parties. But we also aim to welcome you into the ranks of the "Champagne is wine!" enthusiasts. The next time you're planning a dinner party, come in and ask us to help you include some bubbles in the fun.
Madame Elf's Holiday Wine Report
For the fat cats who have a larger budget, good on 'ya. You're going to make a ginormous impression. But for those of you with wee capital, you can still make people very happy indeed.
FAT CAT SELECTIONS
Guaranteed Rock Star Status
Magnums are sexy. Period. And if you walk into a party with a magnum of this stupendously delicious, 100% Chardonnay sparkler, there is no doubt in my mind that you will get laid. Oh wait, can I say that?
Pierre Peters NV Champagne, Brut Blanc de Blancs, Cuvée de Réserve, Le Mesnil, Oger, France, 1.5 liters ($95)
Older Vintages of Barolo or "How to secure that promotion"
You know the scene well. This person knows a lot about wine. Very hard to impress, and you were rewarded with the sole word "interesting" when you last gave them wine. There's little like aged Barolo that will fix this situation, and fix it good. Eyebrows will go up, a pleased grin will appear and you will hear those beautiful words: "Heyyyy, where did you get this?"
Elio Altare 1998 Barolo ($85)
Mauro Molino 1998 Barolo ($45)
There's some elegant wine up in that valley. That's right, you heard me. Cathy Corison makes wine that quietly does everything it's supposed to: it tastes good, goes with food and smells of the place that grew it. So there.
Corison 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($60)