Late shoppers still can find good wines before the new year
I have only myself to blame. Instead of following the time-tested wisdom of shopping early for year-end sparkling wines, I waited — with predictable results.
Depleted selection, a crowded store and harried clerks awaited me at the nearest PLCB Premium Collection store. One clerk even chastised me, rather than offering to assist, when I tried to help myself by using an in-store computer terminal to check available inventory.
Ah, the pleasures of shopping for wine in a government-controlled monopoly. Will 2013 be the year when the governor and legislature finally plunge a stake into the sclerotic heart of this antiquated bête noire?
Don't bet on it.
Meanwhile, despair not if you share my procrastinating ways. Steel yourself for last-minute shopping, and try the following excellent wines while supplies last:
N.V. Terres Dorée FRV100 de Jean-Paul Brun, Vin Mousseaux Aromatique de Qualité, France (Luxury 3106; $17.99): Talented, iconoclastic winegrower Jean-Paul Brun uses Gamay, the traditional Beaujolais grape, with the “méthode ancestral” to craft this fun rosé.
As the name implies, the “méthode ancestral” was the original, ancient way to create sparkling wines, albeit, spontaneously. Residual yeast remaining in the bottle after initial fermentation in the fall causes a secondary fermentation when temperatures rise in the spring.
This results in more subtle beads of bubbles, a condition in French known as pétillant naturel. Brun's wine delights the senses with light, yet persistent, froth. With only 7.5 percent alcohol, the wine allows for easy drinking.
The vibrant pink color unfolds bright cherry and strawberry aromas with toasty, yeasty notes. Fruity red-berry flavors with pleasant creamy notes balance with bright acidity carrying through the soft, fruity finish. Highly recommended.
N.V. Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut, Anderson Valley, Calif. (7933; on sale: $21.49): Nestled in northern California's gorgeous Anderson Valley, this French-owned winery uses only grapes grown on carefully tended vines in its estate vineyards. Without fail, the domain produces one of California's most-delightful and delicious sparkling wines.
After hand-harvesting and gentle pressing, only about 70 percent of the juice goes into fermentation. Roederer also blends portions of well-aged “reserve” wines in the “cuvée” prior to initial bottling to ensure consistency, finesse and quality.
The wine's light-straw color shows fine beads of frothy bubbles. Pleasant citrus and yeasty aromas open to round fruit flavors layered in refreshing, mellow acidity. An elegantly crisp, yet creamy, texture carries through the dry, well-balanced finish. Highly recommended.
N.V. Clotilde Davenne, Crémant de Bourgogne Rosé, Brut Extra, France (Luxury 39707; $24.99): Winegrower Clotilde Davenne works in northern Burgundy near Chablis where limestone soils prevail. The soils, combined with the cooler climate, present a challenge in ripening the fruit, but also, they allow the grapes to retain superb acidity for freshness.
This lovely wine relies exclusively on hand-harvested pinot noir grapes. Limited contact of the skins after crush create the wine's seductive rosé color.
And, as in Champagne, Davenne adds yeast in the bottle for a carefully controlled, secondary fermentation. This accounts for the wine's profusion of fine, frothy bubbles to delight the eye and tickle the nose.
Light-berry aromas with earthy nuances jump from the glass. Elegant berry and citrus flavors unfold on the palate as fresh acidity balances the dry, yet fruity, finish. Recommended.
NV Jean-Noël Haton Champagne Brut Classic, France (Luxury 33122; Chairman's Selection on sale: $27.99): If all PLCB employees performed as consistently as Chairman's Selection wine-buyer Steve Pollack, the current system's problems would be few. Pollack selected this delightful, terrific steal on authentic, well-made Champagne for less than $30.
The wine's producer, the Haton family, uses only black-skinned grapes — pinot meunier and pinot noir. Gentle pressing immediately after harvest gives the wine only the faint hint of dusty color.
Eighteen months aging in the bottle create the wine's fine, yet persistent, beading bubbles. Spending the extended period on the lees, that is, spent yeast cells, also impart the wine's seductive creaminess.
Aromas of flowers and citrus emerge from the glass. Elegant, fruity citrus and apple flavors unfold, balanced with fresh acidity. The wine lingers on the palate pleasantly. Highly recommended.
Dave DeSimone is the wine columnist for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.