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WineLine No. 14
Written and © copyright by Dave McIntyre
December 2001

Dear Friends:

This promises to be an unusual, perhaps even uncomfortable holiday season, with the economy still in a funk and the country dealing with the aftermath of Sept. 11. Some may feel it inappropriate to celebrate when thousands of families are mourning lost loved ones and the U.S. and its allies conduct war overseas. Others may be scaling back because of thinned-out portfolios and bank accounts.

This national apprehension should not, however, obscure the basic truth: We have much to celebrate as Americans - a great nation; steadfast friends overseas standing beside us when we need it most; and closer to home, families, friends and neighbors.

Besides, I'm tired of getting buzzed by F-16s flying combat air patrol over my house. I'd rather get buzzed by champagne.

Ah, but which bubbles can best put a spring back in our step this winter?

First off, if you still have some bubbly lying around because you stocked up expecting a millennium shortage, by all means drink it up. Now. If it seems a little stale, that's the price you pay for buying into the marketing hooey. Raise a glass to lessons learned.

If you're in a patriotic mood and only American bubbly will do, there are of course several options. In honor of New York and the World Trade Center, try Hermann J. Wiemer 2000 Millennium Cuvée (ouch, there's the hype again) or Wiemer's more delicate 1998 Blanc de Blancs. Also from the Finger Lakes, Chateau Frank, named after the region's pioneer, Konstantin Frank, produces a full line of worthy sparklers; in Long Island, Lenz produces small amounts of top-notch bubbly in a more robust style.

Keeping in the patriotic mood for the moment, I'll arbitrarily rule out the French-American hybrids from California and go for those with local ownership. Schramsberg would be at the top of my list anyway, for their expensive, full-bodied J. Schram down to their moderately-priced Brut and Blanc de Blancs, all of which deliver crisp, refreshing acidity and delicate flavors that pair as well with conversation as with food. Their

  • Cremant demi-sec is a delightful partner to fruit-based desserts.

    If, on the other hand, you're feeling international, why not salute one of our coalition partners? Sparkling Shiraz is still an oddity to me at this point, but I'll take the champagne-style 1998 Brut from Australia's Taltarni Vineyards any day. It combines a nice bead of bubbles with the exuberant citrus flavors of Aussie chardonnay, kept in line by a just-so note of yeast.

    All of the above, except the J. Schram, have the added virtue of being modestly priced in the mid-$20s or less. For a splurge, of course, we can always return to the Motherland of bubbles, Champagne.

    You know the usual suspects, and we all have our favorites. Some of the delightful finds are in the unknown labels, often small producers who are gaining a following thanks to careful importers who seek them out. One such importer is Terry Thiese, famous for his German and Austrian finds. Thiese has assembled a nice portfolio of "artisanal" champagnes, most of which market in the $30-40 range.

    And even France occasionally produces a bargain. The Charles Lafitte Grande Cuvée Brut NV, at $25, starred at a recent tasting at the French Embassy in Washington sponsored by Embassy Events and Schneider's of Capitol Hill, one of the city's top wine stores. The Lafitte was not only the least expensive wine poured that night, but it more than held its own against some têtes de cuvées ranging up to more than $200. Fruity and crisp with a long finish, it offered great value.

    I wish all of you a happy holiday season and thank you for reading Dave McIntyre's WineLine. Forgive me if, with my nose firmly in a glass of champagne, it sounds more like "blub blub blub ..." A vôtre santé!

    Dave McIntyre

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