With the holiday season comes not only "Jingle Bells" but also a chorus of corks popping. There are a bevy of choices when it comes to this style of wine — traditional and modern and sometimes even a little of both. Yes, bubbly can be expensive, but when chosen wisely, it is worth every single penny. Whether it's dry, sweet, or in between, there are quality offerings in every category and some that do more than surprise.
Gosset was founded in France's Ay region of Champagne by Pierre Gosset in 1584. He immediately established the level of quality and maniacal attention to detail that is still carried out in the winery today. Only juice from the first pressing of grapes is used, and fermentation is carried out in small oak barrels (or barriques). In addition, Gosset wines do not undergo malolactic fermentation. Bypassing this process gives a heightened level of acidity to the wine and ensures that it can age beautifully. Their Champagnes are powerful, full-bodied, rich, and simply astonishing. We are thankfully now able to experience their wines in Memphis.
Other newcomers on the Memphis wine scene are the "Grower" Champagnes. These producers nurture their own vines, unlike large-scale houses such as Veuve Clicquot or Moët & Chandon, which buy their grapes. A. Margaine, Chartogne-Taillet, and Gaston Chiquet are Champagne houses that grow their own grapes, which they then craft into some of the most stunning bubbly on the planet. There is something so honest, expressive, and luscious about the "Grower" wines that seems to be missing from some of the larger houses' Champagnes.
A. Margaine's "Cuvée Traditionelle" Multi-Vintage is a blend of 90 percent Chardonnay and 10 percent Pinot Noir. This Champagne expresses aromas such as violet and hyacinth with flavors of cherries and apples and has a long finish. Chartogne-Taillet's house style is earthy, rustic, and savory. Their blend is almost 50/50 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Occasionally, the chef de caves (winemaker) will season that blend with a little Pinot Meunier. This house's "Cuvée Saint Anne" bottling exudes rich aromas of earthy mushrooms, braised beef, and baked apple. The palate is silky with a racy acidity, creamy texture, and a long, expressive finish.
There are exceptional sparkling wines made outside of France, most notably in California and Italy. Napa Valley's Schramsberg Vineyards & Winery first began producing wine in the late 1800s under founder Jacob Schram. Today, the Davies family continues the legacy of purity and quality at Schramsberg. Their 2003 Blanc de Noirs was awarded 92 points by Wine Spectator and the number 66 spot on their list of the Top 100 Wines of 2007. It is rich and luscious, with aromas of cinnamon, cherry, vanilla, and apple. There is a vibrant acidity and minerality on the palate that makes this bubbly a perfect companion for the foods on the holiday table. This particular vintage is still available in Memphis but act fast. The 2004 vintage is already popping up on local store shelves.
Prosecco is Italy's sparkling wine. Lucky for consumers, it is also some of the most inexpensive bubbly on the market. Nino Franco produces a delicious sparkling wine for under $20. Their "Rustico" bottling is perfect for holiday brunches or as an aperitif at cocktail parties. This wine is clean and fresh with crisp acidity and flavors of pear. It is a perfect match for light appetizers (such as goat cheese in puff pastry), salads, or simply by itself. By implementing temperature control during the fermentation process, the winemaker ensures the wine remains vibrant, refreshing, and lively.
Gosset "Grand Reserve" Brut Non-Vintage, Ay, France $74.99
A. Margaine "Cuvée Traditionelle" Multi-Vintage, France $52.99
Chartogne-Taillet "Cuvée Saint Anne" Non-Vintage, France $52.99
Gaston Chiquet Brut "Tradition" Non-Vintage, France $52.99
Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 2003, Napa Valley $35.99
Nino Franco "Rustico" Non-Vintage Prosecco, Italy $17.99