No, I'm not any more excited than most of you are about seeing Santa Claus and reindeer and decorated trees in the shopping malls at Halloween.
After all, as I've often observed, Champagne and other sparkling wines aren't just for New Year's, weddings and Super Bowl champions any more. A glass of bubbly is appropriate not only for festive occasions but for almost any occasion; and a quality sparkling wine doesn't have to be reserved for toasting: It makes a fine match with many a dish on your dinner table.
Although Madame Lily Bollinger, of the Champagne house that bears her family name, had an obvious commercial interest in promoting the stuff, she still pretty much wrapped it up with this often-quoted hymn of praise:
"I drink it when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and I drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it, unless I'm thirsty."
I can't quibble with the assertion that Champagne, the real deal from the French region of that name, is hard to beat for quality. The folks there invented the stuff some 300 years ago. But real Champagne is expensive, rarely available at less than $25 or so for the most basic bottlings and easily rising into the triple digits. (I recently spotted Roederer Cristal, beloved of hip-hop stars and the casually affluent, at a local discount shop for a cool $229.)
So, now and then over coming weeks I'll offer reports on a random selection of non-Champagne bubblies that offer good quality for a few dollars, Euros or pounds sterling less. Today's featured wine is one of my favorite alternative sparklers: It's a Vouvray Petillant, a rich, nearly dry Chenin Blanc from the Loire, a full-fledged Vouvray that just happens to come in a sparkling-wine bottle with a full complement of bubbles.
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François Pinon NV Vouvray Petillant Brut ($16.99)
This clear, light-gold wine opens with a pop of its Champagne-type cork and pours with a frothy mousse that falls back fast. Good Chenin Blanc aromas of apples and honeydew melon add a touch of "woolly" minerality and just a hint of pumpkin-pie spice. Fresh and bright white-fruit flavors follow the nose, with barely perceptible sweetness cloaked by mouth-watering acidity. Crisp appley fruit and a touch of snappy citrus lingers in a long, clean finish. U.S. importer: LDM Wines Inc., Louis/Dressner Selections. (Nov. 3, 2006)
FOOD MATCH: Its crisp acidity, prickly carbonation and fresh white-fruit flavors make it a natural with seafood and fish. It was very fine with a seafood risotto packed with shrimp, scallops and scrod.
VALUE: At this mid-teens price point, it's half the price of bottom-end Champagne, and is frankly a more complex and refined sparkling wine than most non-vintage Champagne house cuvees.
WHEN TO DRINK: There's no reason not to enjoy it now, although the combination of quality Chenin Blanc and well-made sparkling wine suggest that it could gain richness and complexity with several years under excellent cellar conditions.
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This week on WineLoversPage.com
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Second-hand blind tasting
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Red wine frenzy (Nov. 3, 2006)
Sunrise, Sunset ... (Nov. 1, 2006)
Another look at Portugal (Oct. 30, 2006)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Ragù (Nov. 2, 2006)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Nov. 6, 2006