Champagne, Cabernet and Barolo for the triumphs of Fall

* A version of this column was first published in the on-line edition of Saturday’s Knoxville News Sentinel.

This fall, there is any number of reasons why you may find yourself seeking out an exceptional bottle of wine or champagne. Besides the inevitable holiday gift giving, opportunities like a new job, an unexpected victory or a little romance may present themselves. And having these recommendations tucked away, for just such a situation, will serve you well in that moment of selecting the right bottle.

Ferrari Lineup, Perle in the pole position.

Ferrari Lineup, Perle in the pole poition.

Toasting to any of life’s victories is special; doing so in style requires little other than a nice bottle of bubbly. But keep in mind that successes don’t always come easily and enjoying them, without skimping on quality, makes that instant all the more memorable.

Two of the traditional French champagne houses that never seem to fail in delivering both enjoyment and quality are Bollinger and Pol Roger. They manage to convey complexity without being overly bready or yeasty. You’ll know you’re enjoying something distinctive while sharing toasts and congratulations over a fine, foaming flute of either of these French bubblies.

And if you can shakedown your favorite wine-smith for a bottle of Ferrari Perle sparkling wine from Trentino in Northern Italy, your wallet as much as your palate will be just as thankful. Made from 100% Chardonnay grapes, this Italian version of French champagne may come in at half the price, but it does so while still delivering all the style and sophisticated deliciousness you would come to expect from its French colleague.

Similarly, romantic dinners or feast-like celebrations are accentuated with the mere presence of a prestigious, all-American wine. The 2010 Chateau Montelena is one of the best Cabernets that I’ve ever tasted from this award winning Napa Valley winery. It is remarkably accessible for being so young and has a flavorful fruit profile with heaps of currant and divine black cherry notes. If you’re the type that doesn’t want to have to wait for it to age, this is the one for you. Although with a little more patience, I can only imagine this baby growing up to be even more spectacular.

And if you’re looking this fall to give someone dear a little unexpected something, say for their most recent victory of a new job, new born, new union or new retirement, then offer them something that is both enjoyable on its own or with an extraordinary meal. For me that gift is a nice Barolo from the Italian region of Piedmont or more specifically, the Marziano Abbona Barolo Pressenda. Made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes, the Barolo is brickish in color and wonderfully aromatic with notes of wild flowers and flavors of dried cherries and polished pomegranate. A refined and reputable Barolo will blow them away!

Interested in buying an Italian Ferrari?

Revved up Rosé

Revved up Rosé

Seven years ago the Champagne house of Louis Roederer thought it made good business sense to insult African American rappers, many of who were some of the biggest vocal supporters of the winery’s flagship champagne, Cristal. If you’ve ever heard of Cristal or seen it on a retail shelf, then you know that IT AIN’T CHEAP!

So when the hip-hop community began a boycott of Cristal, distributors and retailers were left with a languishing number of bottles they couldn’t sell, at least not at the rate or price they were accustomed to. Many a headline of that time read something like, “Frenchman fills mouth with foot.” In the champagne world it was nearly on par to the shake up with foie gras and animal rights groups.

Throw in the fact that another recent and popular bottling of French Pinot Noir didn’t actually have any Pinot Noir in it, as well as the post “nina leven“ American boycott of all things French and it seems like the French gastronomical community hasn’t gotten a break in quite awhile.

WARNING: Here comes the flag for piling on!

I’ve always considered French Champagne to be waaaaaay too expensive. And unfortunately the domestic versions often fell short when it came to flavor and/or complexity. Of course there are always exceptions, but when a decent bottle of the French stuff usually means $60 and a like-minded sparkling rosé (at $90-100) can force a second mortgage, it’s time to look elsewhere.

Lucky for me, that moment of divine intervention came last week in the form of me – looking at a fresh sample of sparkling rosé from Italy. Enter the Ferrari Sparkling Rosé. A blend of mostly Pinot Noir (or Pinot Nero in Italian) along with Chardonnay, the Ferrari has aromas of wheatberry bread with supple strawberry notes.

The cap of the enclosure (seen above) offers a wonderful prelude to the salmon pink almost copper-ish color of the Ferrari Sparkling Rosé. And when it comes to descriptors of such wines, we’ve heard them all; finesse, elegance, etc. But how about the word “finally?”

Finally! Finally someone gets it. Great sparkling wine doesn’t have to require a lay away payment plan. In fact, the Ferrari Sparkling Rosé is almost a third the price of its French neighbors and delivers a consistently enjoyable flavor of strawberries and other wild berries with that unambiguous clean, dry finish. Your favorite shellfish dish is now summoning.

Picking a bubbly for toast not so hard with these tips

It can sometimes be difficult to remember the difference in terms on a label of French champagne or other sparkling wines. This column is dedicated to helping party goers and party-throwers know the terminology and offer some safe suggestions.

Essentially, for something to be labeled champagne it must come from the region in France known conveniently as Champagne. Yes, champagne is a sparkling wine, but the French quickly take exception to anyone else using their designations.

Often, French champagnes will have flavors that are bread-like or yeasty. Their stream of bubbles is usually fine and well beaded. Domestic champagne will often reveal citrus notes and create a bubbling effect that might be visualized as a lava lamp for adults.

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All that sparkles on New Year’s Eve

December 31st is right around the corner, and every New Year’s Eve consumers are confronted and perplexed about which Champagne or sparkling wine to ring in the new year with. Whatever you choose, just remember that it doesn’t have to read champagne on the label to be good, and you don’t have to pay a boatload to find a good one. These three sparkling wines are from California and reveal that great tasting holiday toasters are easily accessible. From Anderson Valley, Sonoma County and the Russian River Valley, these “bubblies” are proof that domestic “Champagnes” are on the rise.

n Scharffenberger Brut Non-Vintage ($17.99)

The name may be a mouthful, but once you’ve tried the Scharffenberger Brut, that’s exactly what you’ll want. From Anderson Valley California, Scharffenberger is an elegant, flavorful sparkling wine for under $20. A rare find in both quality and price, this non-vintage bubbly has a subtle apricot aroma and delightful sprig of citrus. Its prolonged finish and favorable avoidance of being overly dry or acidic makes this domestic version of French Champagne one of the best buys for New Year’s reveling.

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Ring in the New Year with new bubbly

Wine consumers and aficionados alike are left with one burning question at the end of December: What should I celebrate the new year with? Most likely, wine drinkers turn to their familiar standbys, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, if you’re looking for something that’s just as good but perhaps a little different, you’ll be excited to know that there is sparkling French wine that goes beyond Champagne and sparkling Italian wine that goes beyond Spumante.

This New Year’s Eve or anytime this month is an ideal moment to sample some new sparkling wines. The following selections are from Germany, France and Italy.

- Hansen Lauer Brut Riesling 2007 (Germany)

The 2007 Hansen-Lauer Brut Riesling is a unique bubbly that has similarities to both French Champagne and Italian Prosecco. The aromas display fine notes of wheat and crisp breadiness, which Champagne often demonstrates, while the flavors have enjoyable fruit notes of peach, lemon zest and grapefruit, that are typical for most Prosecco.

Made from 100% Riesling, this Brut bubbly is a solid performer whose light yeasty bouquet also intermingles with a powdery aroma of fresh cotton. It’s great for first time sparkling wine drinkers who want something refreshing as well as experienced admirers of bubbly who want something unique.

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