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Here are two of our core Paul Marcus Wines propositions:

  • Sparkling wine is wine.
  • Wine is food.

Hence, the inescapable syllogistic conclusion:

Sparkling wine is food.

Yes, sparkling wine is a celebration and a toast and a font of joy and conviviality in this and all other holiday seasons. But it’s also a worthy addition to any meal, a paradise of food-pairing opportunities, and a subject worthy of terroir talk and aesthetic argument. Without further bubbly ado, here are seven of my current favorites available at Paul Marcus Wines.

Conceito Método Tradicional Grüner Veltliner Brut Nature $28

“Método Tradicional” is the Portuguese term for a sparkling wine made in the style of Champagne–in this case, from the unconventional (for Portugal) Austrian grape variety grüner veltliner, planted in the entirely unexpected Douro Valley (which is better known for rich, sweet Ports). “Brut Nature” means no dosage (sugar added to many Champagne-method sparkling wines to balance their acidity), so yes, it’s dry. This is an all-purpose sparkler, but one good pairing is with the crab cakes from our neighbors, Hapuku Fish Shop: The wine’s bone-dry raciness flatters the subtle flavors of crabmeat and highlights the lemony acidity, while a discrete herbal note plays well with the Old Bay seasoning.

Le Vigne di Alice 2012 Prosecco Brut ‘P.S.’ Metodo Integrale $26

This is grower Prosecco (grown and made by Cinzia Canzian and her family) and is unlike any Prosecco that you’ve had. It sees two fermentations, as Champagne does, with the secondary fermentation in the bottle to create the bubbles. But unlike Champagne, it isn’t disgorged, so the lees (spent yeast cells) remain in the wine. It’s full-on natural: There are no added yeasts, sulfites, dosage, or filtration. The wine has spent almost seven years with the lees, making it more savory and complex. It’s bone dry, umami-rich, and deliberately cloudy because of the lees. (You can clear much of the lees by performing a dégorgement à la volée, as the French call it, but then you’d be losing some of the distinctive, leesy personality.) You want to drink this wine with food, and don’t even think of making a spritz with it! A salumi or cheese antipasto mix would be great, as would stronger fish dishes and game birds. (Full disclosure: I work for the importer of this wine.)

Beaver Creek Sauvignon Blanc Pét-Nat, Horne Ranch, Lake County $23

How about a dry-farmed, certified-organic and biodynamic California Pét-Nat (short for Pétillant Naturel, a fizzy wine made with a single fermentation that finishes in the bottle) with no added sulfites? This is true farmer fizz, while still being clean and dry. Many people suggest white Burgundy or other chardonnay with crab, but I did a taste test and found that sauvignon blanc paired better. I’m going to guess that this would be a fun, natty partner to New Year’s cracked crab.

 

Forest-Marié Champagne ‘L’Absolu’ Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut $44

This all-chardonnay sparkler is an exceptional bargain in true grower Champagne (that is, Champagne grown and made by one family). There’s no dosage, so the wine is very dry, and yet not at all severe. It is creamy but focused, dry but not austere, with just a touch of spiciness, all of which creates a happy marriage with many foods, including paté and other charcuterie. I especially enjoy it with the rich, flavorful smoked trout paté from Hapuku.

 

 

André Clouet Champagne ‘No.3’ Grand Cru Brut Rosé $53

This is a pinot noir rosé in bubbly and elegant yet still hedonistic form. It is made from 90 percent pinot noir pressed immediately and made into a white sparkling wine (so-called “blanc de noirs”); 10 percent is pinot noir macerated with the skins and made into a regular, still wine. The Clouet family grows all of the grapes around the aptly named Champagne village of Bouzy. Use this as you would any light-to-medium-bodied still red wine, especially red Burgundy or domestic pinot noir. The earthiness of pinot noir is one of truffles’ best friends, but you can be just as happy with roast chicken, pork, vegetable stews, and a slew of other dishes that benefit from an earthy boost.

Huré Frères 2009 Champagne ‘Instantanée’ Brut $65

Here’s a chance to find out what aged, vintage Champagne is about without venturing into stratospheric pricing. This is the Huré brothers’ “instantanée,” or photograph, of the 2009 vintage, made from approximate thirds of the three main Champagne grapes (pinot noir, pinot meunier, and chardonnay). It’s aged almost a decade in bottle before disgorgement and has four grams per liter of residual sugar (so, technically, extra brut). It smells like an éclair perched on a rock (brioche, cream, minerals) and tastes like a slowly fermented dream. A wine this good can be a meal in itself, but you could splash it out with lobster or salty-savory caviar. Perhaps just grab some José Andrés potato chips and call it a (very good) day.

Ulysse Collin Champagne ‘Les Maillons’ Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut $108

Olivier (son of Ulysse) Collin is one of the new iconoclasts in Champagne. Since the mid-2000s, he has been growing and making single-parcel, highly vinous wines of great personality. They’re a bit lower in bubbly pressure than most Champagne, which makes them especially apt at the table. Les Maillons is all pinot noir grown in clay-rich soils, with the result being a richer wine that just so happens to have bubbles. I will cop the description from my friend and PMW colleague David Gibson: It’s weightless and yet full on the palate. It’s not distracting with sweetness or acid–simply a full, toasty caress. I’m thinking beef bourguignon; maybe duck or mushrooms.

This is just a small selection of the dozens of sparkling wines in our store this month. Stop in and ask us about some of the others, and help us help you pick out the best bottles of bubbles for your holiday celebration … and beyond.

If you’re looking for a primer on the various types of Champagne producers and styles, you’ll find it here in Mulan Chan-Randel’s articles from our October and November newsletters:

Regional Roundup: A Champagne Appreciation, Part I

Regional Roundup: A Champagne Appreciation, Part II

As the holidays approach, our thoughts often turn to bubbly, which makes Champagne appreciation a rather important topic this time of year. Last month, in Part I of our Champagne survey, we discussed how to recognize the three major categories of Champagne producers. In Part II, we will now consider the region’s distinct styles and flavor profiles.

Rosé Champagne

What would the world be like without rosé Champagne? In fact, pink champagne was produced in limited quantities until the late 1970s. However, since the 1980s, the demand for rosé Champagne has taken off, and thankfully, it appears there is no turning back. In addition to the gorgeous pink hue that such wines display, the inherently fruitier and more forward style combined with high acidity also make for very food-friendly offerings.

Although the practice of blending red and white wine to produce a “pink” wine is strictly prohibited under regulations elsewhere in France, in Champagne this method is not only allowed, it is the most commonly used method of rosé production. More specifically, winemakers will add somewhere in the range of 8 percent to 20 percent (usually around 15 percent) of a red still wine–often pinot noir from a well-reputed village such as Bouzy.

A second and less utilized method of production is known as saignée. In this case, a Champagne producer basically does what just about every other winemaker in the world does when making a rosé wine: leave the juice on the grape skins and macerate the fruit in order to extract color. After a period of skin contact and maceration, the wine is bled off (in French, the verb saigner means to bleed) and winemaking proceeds.

The resulting rosé wine often exhibits a darker hue, along with juicier, bolder flavors. Some argue that this style of rosé Champagne ages better than those made by adding red wine, because the flavor compounds are more effectively integrated.

Blanc de Blancs

The second style of champagne, referred to as Blanc de Blancs, is composed entirely of white-skinned grapes. In the case of Champagne, this is almost always chardonnay. And while chardonnay is grown throughout the region, some of the finest examples come from the Côte des Blancs.

The Côte des Blancs lies south of the Champagne capital of Épernay and stretches southward more than 20 kilometers. Here, chardonnay reigns supreme, where it is planted to predominantly east-facing vineyard sites. Over the centuries, each grand cru village in the Côte des Blancs has established a reputation or characteristic style: Cramant for its heightened aromatics and bouquet, Avize for its focus and delicacy, Oger for its fine bouquet and raciness, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger for its superior finesse and intensity, and Vertus for its inherent fruitiness and roundness.

In its youth, a Blanc de Blancs can sometimes seem a bit austere or one-dimensional. Fresh citrus, lemon curd, and biscuit are common descriptors. However, with several years of aging, wonderfully complex nuances can develop like toasted bread, grilled hazelnuts, dried flowers, and even salty-savory notes.

Blanc de Noirs

Blanc de Noirs is a (non-rosé) sparkling wine vinified using only red-skinned grapes, which, in the case of Champagne, means pinot meunier and pinot noir. Hardy pinot meunier buds later than chardonnay and pinot noir, and for this reason is most often planted in the more frost-prone areas of the Marne Valley. Meunier-based champagnes will often exhibit more earthy, nutty flavors, along with dried orchard fruits. They pair wonderfully with heartier fare like roasted meats, mushroom-based dishes, and pungent cow’s milk cheeses.

Pinot noir is the variety most often found in Blanc de Noirs. In Champagne, pinot noir generally ripens earlier than chardonnay and pinot meunier and is most often planted in the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Bar. Providing body, structure, and complexity, pinot noir-based Champagne reaches great heights in the grand cru villages of Bouzy, Ay, and Ambonnay.

A great example of a Blanc de Noirs from the villages of Bouzy and Ambonnay is André Clouet’s Brut Grande Réserve. Terrific shades of red fruits, roasted hazelnuts, and biscuits showcase the opulence and superb balance of this grand cru Champagne.

This delightful bottle (along with dozens of others, spanning every style) is available at Paul Marcus Wines. Come visit us at the shop to learn more about the wonders of Champagne.

Coteaux Champenois

Drinking Champagne on a regular basis is something that is regrettably not all that common for many of us. It has a biased reputation for festive or special occasions only. Certainly, price understandably plays a factor here. But the region of Champagne itself, at least in my opinion, should be considered more often, even if you don’t want bubbles in your glass! It was, after all, originally a still wine producing region–and those wines still exist today.

The Coteaux Champenois is an appellation within the region which extends over hundreds of communes and produces excellent still wines. Today, a handful of producers continue the tradition of making both still reds, whites, and roses. For many producers, still wines are made for blending purposes into their sparkling wines. However, some decide to bottle their still wines, as is. Many find the red examples to be most compelling.

So why don’t we see more of these wines available in shops from one of the arguably greatest terroirs on the planet? Limited quantities, low demand, and a lack of marketing generally contribute to this; meanwhile, most of what is produced is simply consumed within the region itself. If you do have the opportunity, seek out these wines and the following producers, such as: Pierre Paillard, Paul Bara, and Jacques Lassaigne — to name a few.

As far as taste, the wines are high in acidity and light in body. This is no surprise since Champagne is known for its typically cold weather. One red we found especially compelling at the shop is Pierre Paillard’s 2012 Les Mignottes Bouzy Rouge for $53. It contains all Pinot Noir from Bouzy’s deep sedimentary soils. Bouzy may be known for its hard chalk soils but small amounts of sedimentary soils do exist, and are ideal for the grape. The wine is highly mineral-driven, fine, and detailed with extremely fresh cherry fruit. This wine is a true standout that any Champagne or Burgundy Pinot Noir fan should consider!​