It’s a new year – new intentions, but also an openness to new experiences. This is the year to step out of your comfort zone and try new things… starting with wine alternatives to the previously familiar standards.
Champagne is a great place to start. While the negociant houses (a.k.a. NM) make tried and true bubbles that are consistent and can be delicious, recoltant (a.k.a., grower or RM) houses are the way forward.
Negociant Champagnes are wines that are made with grapes purchased from dozens to hundreds of different grape growers from throughout the region. Veuve Cliquot, Mumm, Taittinger, etc. are popular negociant names with which most people are familiar. They produce millions of cases of wine each year from fruit grown by mostly other smaller growers across the Champagne region.
Recoltant Champagnes, on the other hand, grow their own grapes and make wines exclusively from their own vineyards. Grower Champagnes are typically made by small family producers and can produce a couple of thousand to a couple hundred thousand cases in total annual production, depending upon the grower. This generally means that the wines from growers are made to reflect the character of a particular plot of land; thus, even the most entry-level of these wines tend to give you a more specific wine you would normally only find in the prestige cuvee version from many of the larger NM houses.
Both make enjoyable bubbles, but as a fun and delicious alternative to the usual suspects, check out at least two RM Champagnes:
1. Bérêche et Fils ‘Les Beaux Regards’ Blanc de Blancs (Vintage Base 2008)
Even though this is technically a non-vintage wine, the base wines are predominantly from 2008. And, while the majority of the grapes are from the single vineyard Beaux Regards in Ludes (selection massale from vines planted in 1902), there is some fruit from Mareuil-le-Port. Intense raciness and minerality, focused, penetrating texture, bright yellow fruit, pear and candied ginger, with fantastic finesse.
2. Chartogne-Taillet ‘Les Orizeaux’ Blanc de Noirs (Vintage Base 2008)
Vinified and aged in oak barrels, disgorged in 2013. Structured, mineral texture, creamy, white florals, mandarin and lemon citrus and red fruits, delicate balance. Complex and delightful.
Let’s move to white wines. It’s still cold for a lot of people, so I won’t spend too much time on this – but look to the spring for an alternative to the ubiquitous Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Grigios. Check out Vinho Verde – light, zesty, with floral, lime tree, peach, tropical and grapefruit notes that won’t break the bank. And, moderate alcohol levels, so it’s also an elevated style of porch wine.
3. 2013 Quinta de Saolheiro Alvarinho Saolheiro
The Cedira family has been making single-varietal Alvarinho since 1982 (the first in the region), and all the grapes are hand-harvested. This is a fresh white with intense tropical and mineral notes. Lively and elegant.
Since it’s still red wine weather for many people, a couple of good alternatives to the usual suspects, are in order:
4. 2011 A Tribute To Grace ‘Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard’ Grenache
One of the “New California Wine” stars, all the wines from Grace are single-vineyard sourced to maintain authenticity and remain 100% Grenache. The vineyard is 33 miles inland and 3,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean in a high-desert vineyard that provides the balance of heat and light. Rosewater, underbrush, ripe strawberry. Bright, delicate and balanced.
5. 2010 Sadie Family Wines Columella
Eben Sadie is one of the most dynamic young winemakers (now in the Southern Hemisphere, previously in Spain). Produced from a base of Syrah, with Mouvendre, from old vines from eight different vineyard sights in the Swartland, this wine is fresh, spicy, with fresh red fruit, an undertone of earthiness, and floral notes of violet. Balanced and approachable.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with the usual suspects – I enjoy them often myself – but this new year presents an opportunity to branch out. Happy tasting!
As a career sommelier, Kimberley Drake has overseen some of the finest wine programs and operations in America and Asia. Her accomplishments range from working as a sommelier at Jean Georges in NYC to opening Hong Kong’s Café Gray Deluxe as their chef sommelier. She can be reached at Kimberley@NewsWhistle.com.
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