French Holiday Wines with Sparkle…

Laurent Perrier DR

Twelve Bubbly Days of Christmas

Holidays are times to uncork a bottle of bubbly and make a toast. Although France’s champagne is the world’s most famous celebratory drink there are others that merit tasting. Since there are twelve days of Christmas here are a dozen bubblies to get you in the spirit this season.

Champagne is the name for sparkling wine from the famous eponymous region of France associated with it. By law, no other effervescent beverage may be called champagne! This process begins with taking various still wines and blending them to make a cuvée that represents the style of a winery or champagne house.  A complex cuvée can consist of as many as 30 to 40 different wines. The percentage of sugar in the shipping dosage added at the end determines the degree of sweetness in the final wine. From most dry to sweetest, sparkling wines are classified as BRUT, EXTRA DRY (or extra-sec), SEC, DEMI-SEC, or DOUX

Day 1 Starting light. Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut is not only Ultra Dry but also ultra-light with only 65 calories per glass! It is champagne in its purest form, without the final addition of sugar that is made to all other champagnes just before the bottle leaves the cellars. Its delicate finish and honeysuckle nose make it a good match if you are serving seafood to your guests, especially caviar and oysters. This champagne is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which come exclusively from grapes from very ripe harvests.

Day 2 Sparkling wines from France’s Alsace region must be aged for a minimum of 9 months. The grapes allowed in these wines include auxerrois blanc, pinot blanc, pinot gris, pinot noir and riesling. The quality of the Crémant d’Alsace wines, which are made using the méthode champenoise, is generally quite good, although they’re a bit more expensive than some of the other non-champagne alternatives.

Day 3 The appellation Crémant de Bourgogne is the generic term for sparkling wines of all colors from the Burgundy region.  Every grape variety grown in Burgundy is allowed in the crémant, although Gamay may not constitute more than 20% of the blend. A dry and elegant example with vanilla biscuit aromas is L.Vitteaut-Alberti Brut. Blanc de Blancs (chardonnay).

Day 4 The Blanquette de Limoux is the world’s oldest sparkling wine, and while the good-quality blanquette was appreciated by the winemakers of the local coopérative Sieur d’Arques, they wanted to make a sparkling wine that rivaled champagne. The result is their excellent Crémant de Limoux. The large portion of chardonnay grapes and Chenin grapes gives finesse to the crémant. This one is traditionally bottle fermented and is produced from the vines of chardonnay (20%), chenin (20% max.) and Mauzac.

Day 5 Ring in the 5th day of Christmas drinking, with French organic wine La Taille aux Loups. The sensual experience of this wine begins with the label.  It’s black, velvety-to-the-touch with yellow and mauve writing.  Petillant naturel non dosé refers to the fact that the wine was made with the méthode champenoise but without sugar or dosage added. The bubbles were formed naturally with their own sugars. The yeasts in this wine were not added but rather are naturally occurring in the skins. The wine is from the appellation Mont Louis in the Loire Region where the soils contain clay, limestone, and sand. The minerality of this 100% chenin wine makes for a refreshing aperitif that pairs wonderfully with seafood hors d’œuvres.

Day 6 Just like the gifts under your tree, sometimes the packaging is half the joy!  Crack open a cold one with “Fun en bulles,” it has a beer cap rather than a cork with wire. The label informs you that this wine was harvested in “thongs” by winemaker Didier Beauger, a man described in the wine industry as an extra-terrestrial. He calls his effervescent wine “vin turbulent”!  For his “Fun en bulles,” he uses the cépage (varietal) clairette.

Day 7 Not seven swans a-swimming but an effervescent wine from the Rhône valley. With the designation Vin de Table de France, Gramenon Tout en bulle is made in the most northern sector of the southern Rhône with the clairette grape by producer Michèle Aubéry-Laurent, known for achieving wines of extreme purity and fruitiness as a result of a totally organic approach.

Day 8 Eight turtledoves can fly us to Italy for some Muscato d’Asti La Spinetta, 2004. My personal Italian favorite, a sweet sparkling white that is low in alcohol (5.5%) and makes a great aperitif or accompaniment to a fruit dessert. From the region of Asti; the winemaker is the famous Georgio Riveti, and it’s made with 100% moscato d’asti grapes.

Day 9 Lambrusco is not an Italian Sports car, though it is red. It’s the perfect wine for an afternoon gathering – light, flavorful, zesty, and low in alcohol, about 11%.  Its aromatic bouquet can vary from fruity with pleasant vinous to floral overtones, plus hints of violet and heather. One important thing to keep in mind is that Lambrusco can be either dry or sweet. Secco means dry, while Amabile means sweet.

 Day 10 Prosecco, the very word hints at the dryness in this sparkling wine that is a refreshing accompaniment to sliced meats, and hard cheeses. Prosecco is a variety of white grape grown in the Veneto region of Italy, and also gives its name to the sparkling wine made from the grape (grown in the Conegliano and Valdobbiadene wine-growing regions north of Venice). Its late ripening has led to its use in dry sparkling (spumante) and semi-sparkling (frizzante) wines, with their characteristic bitter aftertaste, which calls for food pairing.

Day 11 Olé! Off to Spain’s Catalonia for some Cava, which is a famous sparkling wine from this much-visited wine region. The grapes Xarel-lo and Parellada are Spain’s native varieties. Well adapted to producing acidic wines despite the hot weather, these grapes make Cava fresh and well-balanced. Because Cava is dry, it can be enjoyed before, during and after the meal.

Day 12 Surprise your guests with a new world bubbly! Krone Borealis from South Africa is a sparkling wine named after the constellation of stars. Grapes are handpicked under the stars in the cool of the night to retain flavor and aroma. A little poetic license might be used to describe this sparkling wine, which is full of “stars.”  Krone Borealis Brut MCC is a bottle-fermented sparkling blend featuring 50-50 chardonnay and pinot noir with no added preservatives. The Krone Borealis viticultural estate boasts the first underground sparkling wine cellar in Africa.