Sparkling wines–staff training at DK Steakhouse

(photo–by Rick Lilley)

Last night was a real fun get together with some of our restaurant teammates to discuss & taste some interesting sparkling wines from around the world. Hopefully participants walked away with some further insight & information on the category.

The 3 most commonly used ways to produce sparkling wine–

1) Carbonation. Yup, that’s right….just stick in the hose and turn on the C02. While the process is certainly more complicated than that, it is about carbonating a beverage.  Usually this means larger bubbles which dissipate quicker in the resulting wine.

2)  Bulk or Charmat method.  Working in a restaurant, we see sparkling wines more frequently using this method of production where the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation under pressure in large stainless steel tanks.

3)  Methode Champenoise.  The wine usually undergoes extended lees contact & secondary fermentation in a bottle.

As I mentioned to the gang last night although the “methode Champenoise” is deemed as producing more “serious”, often quite complex wine by most wine aficionados,  I don’t think it necessarily makes for better wines.

As is the case with all wines, when, what & how to consume/ enjoy a wine is affected by many different considerations….such as the weather, the temperature, who you’re with, for what occassion, etc, etc.  On a scorching, hot, humid day, I would much rather gulp a glass of ice cold Italian Moscato d’Asti or a well chilled Cremant de Loire (which are both normally produced using the Charmat process)  than a Grand Cru Champagne, which has been on the lees for 8 years.  They would be much lighter, ethereal, delicious & thirst-quenching….PLUS are at least 1/4 of the cost of the Grand Cru.  Just one person’s perspective.

We therefore divided the 8 wines into 2 categories–easy drinking & those considered more serious drinking.

We started off with the–

Ruggeri Prosecco “Gold Label”

We had originally searched out Ruggeri’s Prosecco back in 2003 when we were looking to open our VINO concept.  Why?  Because it really is so light, refreshing & wonderfully delicious.  I have in fact yet to find a suitable potential replacement, especially in the delicious department.  The grapes come from steep, rocky rolling hills of Valdobbiadene up in northeast Italy…& is produced using the Charmat process.  Hard to beat!

Roederer Estate Brut

This French Champagne firm decided to expand their operation to the U.S. & finally settled in  California’s Anderson Valley in 1982.  If you don’t know the Anderson Valley….it is part of Mendocino & is roughly an 1 1/2 hour drive north of Sonoma.  The area is currently really bustling with new plantings & wine activity as more & more people realize the vast potential this valley has for producing top caliber Chardonnay & Pinot Noir.  So… you have wonderfully cool growing conditions & French winemaking expertise….& that is what has made this winery standout.  They use only their estate grown Pinot & Chardonnay in production to better control quality….then age the wine for at least 2 years, in addition to blending in some reserve wine.  The wine typically is toasty on the nose & somewhat creamy on the palate.

Baumard Cremant de Loire

is the very kind of bubbly to sip well chilled on a super hot Summer day.  This is Chenin Blanc grown in mainly limestone soils in France’s Loire Valley.  it is these soils which help foster the wine’s delightful minerally, ethereal edge which buttresses the wine’s refreshing personality.  This wine also works well with shellfish dishes using shrimp, lobster & crab.

Raventos I Blanc L’Hereu Reserva Brut

A stellar example of the vast potential Spain has for producing interesting, incredibly food friendly, completely refreshing sparking wines.  This cuvee is produced from THREE indigenous Spanish grape varieties–Xarel-lo, Parellada & Macabeo….grown in limestone & produced via the methode Champenoise.  This family has been doing this for 19 generations!!!  You will be amazed at how fresh, vibrant, ethereal & lemony it is….like a laser beam.

Simmonet Febvre Cremant de Bourgogne

is a sparkling produced from Chardonnay grapes grown in the Burgundy appellation.  We chose to show this particular one because it hails from Chablis which interestingly has similar soils & cold, northerly growing condition as found in Champagne.  The added bonus is at 1/4th the cost.  How can one not absolutely love the purity, vitality, remarkable lightness of this wine!

Jose Dhondt Blanc de Blancs “Grand Cru”

We then moved on to French Champagne, and specifically “grower” Champagne.  In case you are not familiar with the “grower” category (RM), the stipulations include, owning you rown vineyards & making your wine   While that is not necessarily a determinate of quality, it certainly says something about being artisanal & hand crafted.  This cuvee is 100% Chardonnay from Oger & is therefore Grand Cru…..pure, riveting, elegant & classy.

Paul Bara Brut “Grand Cru”

It seems only right to end the tasting with one of our all time favorites.  Yes, another “grower” Champagne (way before that was fashionable)  from Bouzy…totally artisanal & handcrafted….80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay….all Grand Cru ….this is the way it should be.  I am glad somethings never change.


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