Sparklers high and low
With the possible exception of a warm, slightly bibulous rendition of "Auld Lang Syne," there's hardly a sound more symbolic of New Year's Eve than the festive pop of a Champagne cork.
By tradition and, in much of the world, by law, the word "Champagne" is strictly reserved for the sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region of France. Champagne's naming rights were written into international law during the 1920s, but the U.S. was under Prohibition in those days and the sale of all alcoholic beverages was forbidden, so the U.S. didn't participate in the treaty. After Repeal, major U.S. wine makers lobbied Congress to keep hands off so they could legally continue to use the name on domestic sparkling wine.
Only in the past few years has the U.S. finally joined the international agreement, so the C-word will now disappear from new lines of bubbly. But older labels are "grandfathered," so familiar labels like Gallo's André and Brown-Forman's Korbel will continue to bear "Champagne" on the label.
Most other countries have long since given up the fight and use alternative terms such as "Sekt" in Germany, "Cava" in Spain, "Spumante" in Italy and just-plain "sparkling wine" in English-speaking nations.
For your New Year's enjoyment (or, for that matter, for your enjoyment at any time), we thought it would be fun to present side-by-side tasting reports on two sparkling wines at significantly different price points: A true Champagne, a small-batch, artisanal all-Pinot Noir bubbly from France that cost over $50; and a decent Spanish "cava" that offers good drinking - if not the stunning quality of the $50-plus Champagne - for less than one-third that price. My tasting notes are below.
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Marques de Gelida 2001 Cava Brut Exclusive Reserva ($15)
This Spanish cava shows a clear pale brass color in the glass, with a decent stream of rather large and slow-moving bubbles. Its aromas are fresh and attractive, evoking apples and toast. Tart apple flavors carry over in its crisp and creamy mouthfeel, with a gentle hint of sweetness in the background. It's a decent sparkler, easy to enjoy, without the off flavors or tangy sweet-sour character that afflicts too many low-end bubblies. U.S. importer: Cutting Edge Selections Inc., Fairfax, Ohio.; Jorge Ordoñez Selections. (Dec. 16, 2006)
WEB LINK: The parent company, El Cep Vins, has a fact sheet on Marques de Gelida cavas here:
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Champagne H. Billiot Fils NV Brut Rosé ($52)
This "grower" Champagne comes from a small producer in Ambonnay, one of the top villages of the Champagne region. It's made 100 percent from black Pinot Noir grapes, which impart a pale salmon color with just a hint of rosy hue. Multiple streams of lasting pinpoint bubbles loft subtle and complex aromas that mingle apple and strawberry and a distinct hint of cocoa. Rich and rather full-bodied, crisp and tart flavors follow the nose. It finishes fresh and clean, with a lasting aftertaste of fresh apples and a citric snap. U.S. importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y.; A Terry Theise Estate Selection. (Dec. 16, 2006)
WEB LINK: Here's an importer's fact sheet on H. Billiot Fils:
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Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2006