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Today's Wine Tasting Note

© Copyright 1998 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.


Four assorted sparklers
In the odd seasonal shift that is part of a magazine writer's natural habitat, I'm tasting Champagnes and other sparkling wines now for a column to run in early winter to hail the arrival of the New Year. For that purpose, I thought it would be fun to compare and contrast bubblies of varying price and origin, including a budget-level Spanish cava, a quality California sparkler, a genuine Champagne (but not a tête de cuvée, my story budget doesn't extend to that), and a relative oddity, a sparkler from France but not from Champagne, a sparkling Vouvray from the well-reputed Gaston Huet.

It turned out to be a pretty good quartet, as all of them, even the cheap Spanish fizzy, proved satisfying. The fancy Champagne certainly showed its breeding in its elegance and balance. But the Vouvray turned out to be the one that kept us coming back for more.

Also for the article, I made it a point to test the theory that sparkling wines go well with all foods, pairing each with more-or-less oddball food matches ranging from rare steaks to Chinese stir-fry. Here are my notes, in order of preference.

Huet Huet non-vintage Vouvray Brut ($18.99)
Pale gold. Foams up and falls back, but a fountain of pinpoint bubbles lasts. Delicious bread-dough and fresh, earthy, "forest-floor" scents add considerable interest to the full, perfumed aroma. Very full-bodied and aromatic, earthy flavors follow the nose, remaining clean and fresh in a very long finish. Who needs Champagne? Huet distinguishes himself with a fine, moderately priced bubbly. No importer's label on the bottle. (Oct. 4, 1998)

FOOD MATCH: Checking out another off-the-wall match, I served it with a shepherd's pie made with leftover lamb and a cross-cultural topping of Mexican queso blanco that added an earthy touch to match the wine. A surprisingly fetching pair!

Pol Roger Champagne Pol Roger non-vintage Brut ($24.99)
Clear light brass color with a frothy mousse and a lasting stream of tiny bubbles. Toasty and "biscuity" notes, characteristic of fine Champagne, over ripe and appetizing apple aromas with a subtle, intriguing whiff of dark chocolate. Full and rich, complex flavors consistent with the nose. Complex and balanced, improves as its complexity increased with warming in the glass. Importer: Frederick Wildman & Sons Ltd., NYC. (Oct. 3, 1998)

FOOD MATCH: Putting the "Champagne goes with everything" theorem to the ultimate test, we served it with rare pan-grilled Black Angus strip steaks. I can't say it didn't work -- the flavors didn't clash, and it quenched thirst -- but the steaks really cried out for a big and tannic red.

Paul Cheneau Paul Cheneau (Spain) non-vintage Brut Blanc de Blancs ($7.99)
Clear, pale greenish-gold, with a frothy mousse that dissipates fast. Clean, fresh apple and yeast aromas and a foamy mouthfeel with light fruit flavors, dry and crisp. It remains dry and tart as it warms in the glass, without the cloying sweetness that afflicts many cheap sparklers in this price range. U.S. importer: "21" Brands, NYC. (Oct. 2, 1998)

FOOD MATCH: Makes a surprisingly happy marriage with Cantonese-style shrimp with "lobster" sauce, aromatic with black beans and garlic.

Roederer Estate Roederer Estate non-vintage Anderson Valley (California) Brut ($17.99)
Very pale straw color. Frothy white foam fills the glass and persists. Simple, pleasant scent of fresh apples and yeast, with a tropical whiff of something like papaya. Foamy mouthfeel, otherwise crisp and tart. Light and a little short. Not at all unpleasant, but fails to justify its price differential over the Spanish wine. (Oct. 5, 1998)

FOOD MATCH: Works well with a down-to-earth dinner of chicken fricaseed with onions and green bell peppers.

Have you tasted these wines?
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and I'll consider adding them to this page.

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All my wine-tasting reports are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores.

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