Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wine Blogging Wednesday 74 - Budget Bubbles

Despite the fact that my regular postings still haven't caught up to January's entry for Wine Blogging Wednesday 73, here it is the third Wednesday of the month and it's time for a WBW74 contribution. This month's confab for wine bloggers is being hosted by Tim Elliott at Winecast. His chosen topic du jour beckons everyone to look to the growing trend of consumers taking a shine to all wines bubbly and sparkly. The public is speaking and we're no longer limiting our bubble consumption to celebrations at weddings, New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day.

As Tim points out, "sparkling wine is one of the most versatile at the table with styles to pair with nearly every dish. From bone dry to sweet, single variety to blend, sparkling wine is something we should all drink more of." Everyone has been asked to "pick a sparkling wine from any appellation, made from any grape but make sure it sells for $25 or less a bottle."

I don't think there's a wine that has branded itself as successfully as Champagne. When it comes to luxury and wine, not everyone will know what a First Growth Bordeaux is, but I'll bet you a bottle of Dom Perignon that almost everyone is aware of the allure of Champagne.

The thing is most people also understand that true Champagne generally costs a pretty penny. In the Vancouver market, Champagne seems to start at the $50-$60 mark. What those same people likely don't know is that, in order to be marketed as big "C" Champagne, a wine must be made in a traditional method and made in the small region of France that is actually called Champagne. The good news is that the world of bubble has expanded such that you can find sparkling wines, being made in both traditional and/or more mechanized and economical methods, from virtually all wine regions in the world.

And many of those wines can be as special as Champagne at a fraction of the price.

I have no doubt that WBW74's contributors will explore Spanish Cavas, French Crémants or Californian sparkling wines. I've even tried wines from South Africa and Hungary that use the méthode traditionelle - meaning that, after an initial period of ageing is complete, additional yeast is added and a secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle itself. That's how all those bubbles get in the bottle.

I'm going a slightly different route however. Neither of the bottles we popped the cork on were made in the traditional method. In fact, neither bottle actually even had a traditional cork. It just goes to show the variety of sparkling wines that are available nowadays.

1061. N.V. Evans & Tate - Zamphire (Margaret River - Australia)

Traditional Champagne must be made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier grapes. Margaret River is often touted as the be all and end all of Australian Chardonnay regions and Evans & Tate is one of the foremost producers in the region. Accordingly, I had great hopes for this bottle when I saw it on our local wine shelves. I didn't find a whole lot of information about the wine but I did see that it is a non-vintage blend of around 60% Chardonnay and 40% Chenin Blanc. While Chenin Blanc could never be used in making Champagne, it is commonly used to make sparkling wines in the Loire region of France and also in South Africa. So, once again, there's good reason to hope for good things to flow from the bottle.

1062. 2010 8th Generation - Confidence (VQA Okanagan Valley)

On the other hand - or should I say, in the other glass - given BC's Northern climes, the Okanagan Valley and the bracing acidity commonly associated with our fruit is well suited to the making of sparkling wines. Indeed, a few of the early stars in the province's new wave of wine producers were maybe best known, at first, for their sparkling wines. Summerhill, Sumac Ridge and Blue Mountain were - and are still - celebrated for their bubbles.

It would have been easy to grab a bottle from one of those producers - especially since all of them still produce a sparkling wine for under $25 - but I decided to give 8th Generation and its take on producing a Prosecco-styled frizzanté wine a try, particularly since I was lucky enough to get a bottle when there were only 480 cases produced. Besides, I'd rather intended to open this bottle as a treat for Valentine's Day anyhow.

Both bottles are attractively - and novelly - packaged, but other than that, there isn't too much in common between them. As already mentioned, the Zamphire is a Chardonnay/Chenin Blanc blanc wine; the Confidence is a bright rosé made from mostly Pinot Noir (85% - I couldn't find reference to the remaining varietals but 8th Generation does make a Pinot Meunier Rosé as well). Zamphire is completely dry orbrut - with a noticeable toastiness or yeastiness showing - while the Confidence is all about strawberries with a healthy hint of sweetness showing through.

Naturally, two hallmarks of sparkling wines are the effervescence captured in the bottle and glass and the mousse or explosion of bubbles in the mouth. Although neither winery advertised the fact, it appears that both wines utilized a charmant method of production. That's where the wine is primarily aged in stainless steel fermentation tanks that are pressurized and where the wine sees a method of carbon injection much in the way that soda pop is made fizzy. As such, neither wine was particularly exciting as far as long lasting bubbles or overwhelming mouthfeel. If I had to pick, I'd give a bit of an edge to the Confidence on that front but I'll take a full on explosion in my mouth any day and I missed that with both wines.

I did read one online comment about the Zamphire that referred to the fact that there was a great deal of discussion about the innovative Zork resealable cork that was being used and very little talk about the wine in the bottle. As much as I'm a fan of Margaret River wines and of Evans & Tate, I have to admit that I likely wouldn't be quick to grab another bottle at its $20+ price tag.

I might be a little more generous when it comes to the 8th Generation though - despite the fact it costs an extra couple of bucks. I doubt it would ever replace my enjoyment of a good méthode traditionelle wine, but I could see it being a crowd pleaser with all its fruitiness. Too bad I likely wouldn't be able to find any when I wanted to buy it.

Having thought my way through this entry, I realized just how much there is to the vast topic that is sparkling wine. I certainly know that I barely scratched the surface. I'm hoping for a good turn out for today's WBW and I'm quite excited to see the different approaches taken to multitude of wines that are out their for discussion. Falling in sync, as it did, with Valentine's Day, Budget Bubbles is entirely appropriate. There are definite brownie points to be garnered by applying the money saved on the wine on chocolates and/or flowers.

Thanks to Tim and Winecast for hosting Wine Blogging Wednesday 74. Great topic. Cheers until we, hopefully, meet again next month.

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