Bubbly for the people
November 30, 2007
This week, while watching the talking heads on one of the business channels, I was struck by a succinct sound bite that put the state of todays economy into perspective. They cant make Bentleys fast enough and they cant give Chevys away, the analyst said. Them thats got shall get, as the song goes.So what does this have to do with wine? Well, plenty, and especially with this weeks topic, Champagne. As we discussed last week, Champagne is a luxury item, one with prestige and a price tag to match. All of the upscale magazines this month are filled with tomes praising Vintage Champagnes, those rare and revered wines that come exclusively from the region, are made only in the very best of years, and are blended from only the very best grapes. Like Bentleys, they cant keep em on the shelves. And that despite the outrageous prices that have been exacerbated by the dollar-to-euro exchange rate.But that doesnt mean that us Chevy folk cant get good bubbles this Christmas. Rather than fork over, say $400 for the 1996 Dom Perignon Rose, or around $150 for the 1996 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc des Blancs, be creative, think American, and save big bucks.Wines made in America using the mthode champenoise, the traditional way in which Champagne is made, are called sparkling wines. They cannot use the name Champagne because of the oh-so-strict rules that govern its use. But that does not mean that a Sonoma or Napa wine using Sonoma and Napa grapes and the traditional method cant be great. So great that even good palates miss the difference.Lets start with that Dom Perignon ros. Just outside of downtown Yountville, Calif., is Domaine Chandon. They are a part of the Moet & Chandon family, a prestigious Champagne-based house that includes in its stable of thoroughbreds, you guessed it, Dom Perignon. For less than $50 you can buy a bottle of the Domaine Chandon Etoile Rose 2001. Youll get that seductive salmon shade in the glass, beautiful bubbles, a garden of fruit on the nose, and youll save roughly $350 dollars, or around 175 euros.If you are a fan of Taittinger, they, too, have an American outpost in the cool Carneros region of Napa and Sonoma, just a few miles from Domaine Chandon. Sitting high on the hill is the very beautiful and very French Domaine Carneros. There they make a blanc de blancs (a style made from chardonnay as opposed to blending with pinot noir) that is silky with the flavors of citrus and melon on the tip of your tongue. The 2000 Domaine Carneros Le Reve Blanc de Blancs will set you back around $85, but it will save you enough money that youll be able to buy something else that is silky for your favorite drinking companion.And you dont have to buy just from the American cellars of the French houses to get great sparklers. J Vineyards in Healdsburg, Calif., makes a wonderful assortment of champagne-style wines. Look for the 2002 J Vintage Brut for around $30. This wine is an excellent example of the brut style of Champagne, which is very dry.For the best value, however, I recommend a terrific house in ready for this? New Mexico. Outside of Albuquerque, sitting really high on a hill (4,300 feet) are the vineyards of the Gruet family. Gilbert Gruet, the proprietor of the Champagne house, Gruet et Fils in Bethon, France, took a chance in the mid-1980s and planted pinot noir and chardonnay vineyards in a very unlikely location. His family moved to New Mexico and began making sparkling wines in the mthode champenoise. Today their wines receive acclaim for being spot-on and affordable to boot. If you can find a bottle of the Gruet Methode Champenoise, Brut, non-Vintage, it will be well worth the $13.99 you spend on it.Great wines and great bubbles should not and are not the provenance of the rich. Thanks to passionate winemakers throughout the world, one need not have Bentley budget to drink well.Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.