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Blackbird Vineyards, Napa Valley (California) “Paramour" 2017 ($135)
 Cabernet Franc character shows on an initial nosing, and it releases into a deep, layered aroma profile of cherry liqueur, soft vanilla, gentle bell pepper and subtle fall spice.  The palate shows a firm chalky grip up front, but it's not interfering with flavor transfer in any way.  Mixed dried herbs and oak toast that is starting to integrate serve to open things further.  Aaron Pott strikes again!  Contains 56% Cabernet Franc, 41% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Merlot.      
95 Rich Cook


Posted by Michael Franz on December 24, 2021 at 11:21 AM

The Sparkling Wine Hierarchy

Note:  2021 has been--at best--a challenging year for everyone, and those of us with Wine Review Online are no exceptions.  We lost our dear friends Robert Whitley and Paul Lukacs, but we haven't lost our sense of what they'd tell us to do, which is to pop a cork in remembrance of them, and with hopes for a better year ahead.  Here's a bubbly blog written by Robert not long ago, which may help you prepare for your own pop in remembrance and hope.  ~MF

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Admit it, you're one of those wine lovers who only thinks about bubbly between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve.  And if you're not, you certainly crave the fizz more around the holidays.  At least that's what the numbers indicate. The bulk of U.S. sparkling wine sales come in the final two months of the year — every year.

So, a refresher course in the world of sparkling wine may be in order.

First, you might have noticed that I've used the terms bubbly, fizz and sparkling wine, not Champagne.  It is all too easy — and lazy, the Champenoise would say — to lump all sparkling wine under the Champagne umbrella.  Wrongheaded, too.

Champagne is the pinnacle of sparkling wine, thus the very real urge to piggyback its history and prestige.  In fact, Champagne is a legally defined region about an hour northeast of Paris, and its vignerons don't take kindly to the adoption of Champagne as a generic term to describe Cava or Prosecco or any of the myriad other sparkling wines from throughout the world.

I will be the first to concede that Champagne deserves its lofty perch atop the world of sparkling wine.  A number of factors contribute to this.  First, the chalky soils of the region impart a structure and vital minerality found in Champagne that is difficult to replicate anywhere else on the planet.  A carefully cultivated hierarchy of vineyards (grand cru, premier cru, etc.) is another factor.

In the cellar, "reserve" wines from exceptional vintages are culled out and saved for multi-vintage blends that ensure a top Champagne house can maintain quality even through less-than-stellar vintages.  And the top wines of Champagne are aged extensively on the lees, building complexity with each passing year.  The lengthy aging contributes mightily to the high cost of special cuvée Champagnes.

Is the added expense of serving Champagne as opposed to another sparkling wine worth it?  That's up to the individual.  The important thing to remember is this: If someone offers you a glass of Dom Perignon or Roederer Cristal, don't turn it down.  It will surely be a unique and memorable experience. I can't even imagine another adult beverage more appropriate for a celebratory toast.

The list of Champagnes worthy of the higher prices is long, so I will contain myself with a handful of personal favorites: Bruno Paillard, Laurent-Perrier, Möet & Chandon, Dom Perignon, Roederer, Taittinger, A.R. Lenoble, Charles Heidsieck, Piper-Heidsieck, Henriot and Delamotte.  I could go on, but these Champagnes should set you up nicely for any and all special occasions.

Beyond Champagne, there are notable sparkling wines that have made tremendous strides over the past few decades and enjoy favorable comparisons with Champagne, specifically north central Italy, and the Napa and Sonoma regions of California.  The top wines from these areas are still quite expensive, but prices pale next to the finest Champagnes.

Italy's Franciacorta and Trento regions produce remarkable sparkling wine using the tried and true methods of Champagne, i.e. a second fermentation in the bottle and extensive aging on the lees.  Ca' del Bosco, Bellavista and Ferrari all produce world-class bubbly that could fool a Champagne aficionado in a blind tasting.

Ditto the likes of Domaine Carneros by Taittinger, Roederer Estate, Domaine Chandon, Schramsberg Vineyards, Mumm Napa Valley, J Vineyards and Iron Horse from California.  The primary differences to my palate are a more intense aroma of toasty brioche and a stronger thread of minerality that I find in Champagne.  That said, the finest sparkling wines from California and northern Italy are stunning in their own right.

Another rung down the price ladder you will find Cava, Prosecco and the various Cremant expressions of France, such as Crémant d'Alsace, Crémant de Loire and Crémant de Bourgogne.  These wines, with some exceptions, are not as complex or profound as Champagne and the top northern Italian and California sparklers, but they are delicious and easy on the budget, and so, not to be easily dismissed.

Many of these wines are made using the Charmat Method, where the wine undergoes fermentation in large stainless steel tanks, rather than individual bottles.  This more economical production method results in lower prices, which may better fit your party budget.

The one complaint I hear frequently about Prosecco is that it is sweet, and there is some truth to that.  A huge percentage of Prosecco production is in the extra-dry category, which can be noticeably sweeter than a Brut sparkler. These wines can be very tasty, but if you prefer a drier style, it is best to seek out Prosecco specifically labeled as Brut.

Of course, sparkling wines are also made in such far-flung places as Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and South Africa, and quality in general is very high, making these quite enjoyable options for experimentation….

Happy Holidays from everyone at WineReviewOnline.com

Dr. Michael
This Issue's Reviews
Under the Vines: A Look at Soil
Wayne Belding

Reference to soil is a constant when it comes to detailed discussions about vineyards. Wine marketers frequently refer to the limestone, granite, alluvial, glacial, or whatever soil type exists in the vineyard as giving the grapes distinctive and favorable characteristics. While there is no science that shows a human can taste limestone, granite, or any other rock type in wine, as students of wine we know that vines drawn from different soils smell and taste differently. We must logically conclude that it is not the taste of the rock, but something else that gives a resultant wine its distinction. Anyone who works in a vineyard knows that soils do make a difference in wine quality, but it likely has more to do with organic composition, pH, drainage and cation exchange capacity than rock type.
Do Sustainably Made Wines Taste Better?
Sandra Taylor

While there are several studies on wine perception, not a lot is known about sensory characteristics of wines deriving from sustainably-made vs conventional wines. The intrinsic sensory aspects of wine-notably taste and aroma - aren't the only components in the decision making of many contemporary consumers. In addition to a product that is enjoyable in all sensory aspects, these consumers expect wines to be healthful and produced in an environmentally sustainable manner. Today's wine consumers are increasingly concerned by the effects of conventional agricultural production practices on both human and environmental health and seek assurance that the industry is effectively protecting the environment and treating workers fairly, all while delivering quality wines.
Wine With
WINE WITH…Spicy Rice Bowl with Black Beans and Egg

Is there any food more comforting than a rice bowl? Probably not, and few dishes are as simple to pull together as this Asian-inspired treat that is centered on rice. It seems that every Asian culture has its own variation on the rice bowl theme including Japanese Donbury, and Bibimbap-Korea's take on the rice bowl. Asian rice bowls generally include vegetables and some kind of protein such as fish, chicken, tofu, or an egg or two. Moreover, the Asian world of food is filled with spicy sauces such as Gochujang, a funky fermented condiment that adds zing to a rice bowl. In many Asian countries rice bowls are commonly eaten for breakfast, which is something I've often enjoyed myself on a weekend morning accompanied by a cup of coffee and the Sunday paper. This time, however, my goal was to make a rice bowl designed for a simple supper, and a dish that might be especially tasty and versatile enough to go well with a variety of different wines.
On My Table
The Variety of Italy's Indigenous Grapes, as Seen in Two White Wines
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

Exploring Italy's indigenous grape varieties is an ideal pathway to expanding your knowledge of Italian wines. Many native varieties flourish in only one or two Italian regions, and produce wines with a regional signature as well as that of the variety. Both wines are white and unoaked, but they are markedly different in style - as well as being high quality and eminently affordable. The first is a Gavi di Gavi DOCG. Gavi is a wine zone in Piedmont, in northwestern Italy. Although the huge majority of Piedmontese wines are red, Gavi is white, made from the Cortese variety. Cortese produces wines with high acidity and fairly light aromas. The origins of the Gavi zone track back to Cortese's potential for sparkling wine - for which high acidity and neutral aromas and flavors can be desirable. Today, Gavi is a dry, medium-bodied, crisp white with lemony flavors and savory mineral notes. Large grape crops strip any character from Cortese, and the best wines are therefore those from serious producers and from the best sites in the zone. My second recommendation is Garofoli Verdiccio from the DOC Castelli di Jesi Classico area of the coastal Marche region in east central Italy. This particular selection is called 'Serra del Conte.' It is the most basic Verdicchio that Garofoli makes, and it sells for only $12. It's meant for early consumption.