The sound of popping corks is music to the bubbly wine lover. It’s the cue to celebrate, especially during the holidays. The sublime flavors of true champagne might be your first choice. But the sparkling wine made exclusively in France’s Champagne region carries a high price tag—at least $30 for non-vintage releases. Here are some reasonably priced selections from other regions.
California’s cool micro-climates are well-suited for bubbly wines. Producers blend the same grape varieties, making their sparkling wine in the same fashion-—by méthode champenoise, where the fermentation that causes the bubbles takes place inside each bottle. There are good values ($20 a bottle or even less) among non-vintage releases from wineries owned by venerable Champagne houses. One is the Brut Classic from Domaine Chandon in Napa Valley (about $15). The winery was founded by Moët Chandon. Domaine Mumm in Napa, started by Champagne Mums, puts out a creamy style sparkler under their Brut Prestige label ($20). The owners of the Freixenet label founded the Sonoma winery Gloria Ferrer; their brut has a crisp, zesty style, and their blanc de noir (mostly pinot noir) is fruitier and lush with a slight rosé hue (Between $18 and $20).
There are other quality domestic sparkling wines made the same way as French champagne. The sparklers from Argyle in Oregon’s Willamette Valley are superb. Some selections are slightly more than $20, but well worth it. Good values come from Gruet Winery, based in a less known wine region: New Mexico. The winery is run by a family who own the French champagne house, Gruet et Fils. They make a variety of non-vintage selections by méthode champenoise. A toasty brut, a rich blanc de noir, and a demi-sec all sell for about $15 to $18 a bottle.
From Spain comes Cava, where the best are produced in the Penedès region. The sparklers are effervescent and toasty, labeled brut or brut nature. There are also many tasty rosés, like vintage dated Cavas ($13 to $20.) Freixenet, Cordoníu and Segura Viudas are the most known, but there are many interesting Cavas that are worth seeking out, like Juvé y Camps ($15) and Roger Goulart ($19).
Light, fresh, and trendy, Prosecco, produced in Italy’s Veneto region, is the perfect bubbly. Some of the best are from the Conegliano-Valdobbiaden area. Their quality has improved over the years. Excellent bottles can be found for $12 to $18. Look for producers Zardetto ($14) and Rustico Nino Franco ($18).
So raise a glass to bubbly wines that have good value and can still get a party started!
Gift suggestions to wow your favorite oenophile
- The Wine List, Hyannis: Que Syrah Shiraz Gift Basket: Five-pack sampling of four red wines and one sparkling wine made from the grape with two names. A bottle each of a Washington State Syrah, Australian Shiraz, Australian Sparkling Shiraz, French Syrah and South African Shiraz. $7
- East Harwich Liquors, Harwich: Three bottles for a dessert wine aficionado: 2009 Elio Perrone ‘Bigaro’, non-vintage Still River Winery ‘apfeleis,’ non-vintage Vinedo de Los Vientos ‘Alcyone.’ $85
- Jim’s Package Store & Island Market, Martha’s Vineyard: For a California chardonnay lover: A bowed basket with bottles of 2007 Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay and 2008 La Crema Chardonnay, two Riedel O Stemless wine glasses, wedges of Vermont brie and Grafton cheddar, and a box of sesame crackers. $110.
When it’s time to bring the sweaters out of storage, we’re ready to relinquish the crisp, light wines of summer. As groceries and farmers markets stock up on the season’s bounty, the heartier dishes of fall are often best paired with red wines. Yet some of us still want to stick with whites. And why shouldn’t we? Mouth-filling, meatier whites can satisfy, too, as we segue into the new season.
So what wines do you pick, and when? The scores of bottles on retailers’ shelves can make your head spin, so discerning palates need helpful advice. Here are some tips on selecting fall wines from Cape and Islands restaurateurs who have sampled a dizzying array of wines to assemble their wine lists this season.
The creamy, buttery flavors and richer bodies of chardonnays make them a good match for heartier foods, says Florence Lowell, owner of the Naked Oyster restaurant in Hyannis, which moved to a great new location on Main Street, right beside Puritan Cape Cod recently. Lowell loves French wines—a natural predilection, since she was born in France—especially the chardonnay-based wines from Burgundy. The top wines from this region, like those from Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet, are some of the most expensive, but those from Pouilly Fuisse and Chablis are more reasonably priced and wonderful accompaniments to heavier fishes and creamy cheeses. Lowell’s loyalty to French vintages wanes though when it comes to some California chardonnays, like the lush chardonnay from the Napa Valley winery, Far Niente. “It’s a very complex wine,” Lowell says. “When you drink it, you discover different layers.”
Rick Angelini, manager of the elegant new Starfish Restaurant in Mashpee, says pinot gris vintages from Oregon are among his favorites, especially those from King Estates. The grape is grown in various wine regions, and the ones from Oregon can be creamy and richly fruited. “With a blackened fish, either salmon or swordfish or halibut, it’s beautiful,” says Angelini.
Peter Hyde, the chef and owner of the ever-popular Blue Moon Bistro in Dennis, was bowled over when he tasted a pinot gris from Luxembourg, of all places, where wines are made near the Moselle River bordering Germany. Hyde has traveled through Europe and once worked at a hotel in Switzerland. He was intrigued when a customer, who just returned from Brussels, suggested Hyde seek out this Luxembourg pinot gris. Hyde did some research and discovered the wine, 2007 Clos Des Rochers, Grand Premier Cru, was available. “It was so amazing how nice it tasted,” says Hyde. “It has fruit—but its not too fruity—and finishes off with a buttery palate.”
This wine comes from the Friuli region in northeast Italy, close to Austria and Germany and can be lush with spicy, smoky, and mineral flavors. Felis Barreiro, the wine-savvy owner of Alberto’s Ristorante in Hyannis, says a Friulian tocai can stand up to the garlic and olive oil and big flavors of his southern Italian dishes. “The wines have a little more weight and are a little bossy,” says Barreiro, whose Main Street restaurant has long been known for its extensive wine list. Try one from producers Livio Felluga or Abbazia Di Rosazzo.
This Spanish wine, also the name of the grape, is made in the small region of Rias Baixas in the country’s northwest just above Portugal. The best wines from Spain are red, but very good whites come from the Iberian region as well. Some are lean and crisp and better suited to summer, but others are plumper, heftier with flavors of almonds and peaches, and pair well with bolder autumn foods. John Reed, co-owner of the Chapoquoit Grill in West Falmouth, has tried a lot of wine over the 30 years he has been in the restaurant business. Albariños, he says, are so versatile and stand up to the herbs and spices of his restaurant’s Mediterranean dishes. “An albariño can go with a good spectrum of foods,” says Reed. Look for one from Vina Nora.
The best white wines coming from the Rhône Valley in southeast France can be quite expensive. The white Côtes-du-Rhônes, made from blending three or four grape varieties like viognier, roussanne, and marsanne, are the most affordable, readily available, and delicious. The blend gives the wines good body and earthiness. “They make excellent fall wines,” says Matthew Hayes, wine director at 21 Federal on Nantucket. “They pair well with chicken and veal.” Hayes recommends the producer M. Chapoutier. And he would know: Hayes is a certified sommelier and is working towards the distinction of advanced sommelier.
While hens prance around outside, the tasting room at the Cape Cod Winery in Falmouth is abuzz. Customers swirl, sipping pinot grigio and other wines made from blends of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot, all varietals that originated in Europe. Who would think these vinifera grapes could flourish on Cape Cod?
Yes, it’s true: some grapes thrive in the maritime weather and sandy soil of the Cape, says Kristina Lazzari, owner of the winery as well as the viticulturist and winemaker. Certain varieties ripen in our short growing season and are suited for the soil, which can produce a concentrated and flavorful grape, perfect for making wine. “We can only grow certain varieties that will ripen between May to October before we get frost. We choose grapes that are adaptable to this climate,” Lazzari says. “Some wine grapes prefer a drier soil. If there’s too much moisture in the soil the grapes become large and watery and it doesn’t make a flavorful wine.”
Lazzari and her husband, Tony, bought the 10-acre plot 15 years ago and have gradually cultivated a vineyard of not only European grape varieties but several French-American hybrids, like seyval blanc and vidal blanc. She studied biochemistry—and learned about fermentation—at Cornell and at Boston University. With knowledge of science and agriculture, she developed a zeal for organic grape growing and discovered viticulture and winemaking. Her passion is producing organic wine: Last year, the winery bottled 2,000 cases of wine made from grapes grown without insecticides.
Although the Cape and Islands isn’t a familiar wine-producing region, wineries have cropped up across the landscape. (Some have closed, like Chicama on Martha’s Vineyard, which produced wines for more than three decades.) Nantucket Vineyards puts out a variety of red and white wines and blends made with grapes from Washington State. In an adjacent building, owners Dean and Melissa Long run Cisco Brewers and Triple Eight Distillery.
On the outer Cape at Truro Vineyards, where clusters of purple cabernet franc and chardonnay grapes grow near the road and blue-tinged merlot grapes on a slope, you might feel as if you’re in wine country. A Chinese mulberry tree sits in front of the vineyards and bears fruit in early summer. It was brought over by a sea captain in 1850 and is said to be the largest mulberry tree in the state. Dave Roberts and his family bought the farm and winery in March 2007 from the horticulturists who first planted the vines. The Roberts family also buys grapes from other vineyards in California and New York’s Finger Lake region and make a selection of six different wines that have increased in popularity with the help of some of Cape Cod’s restaurants, like the Red Inn in Provincetown and Scargo Café in Dennis and retailers, like Orleans Wine & Spirits, who stock the selections on shelves.
“A lot of times you have to twist a person’s arm a bit to try our local wine. People expect it’s not going to be very good,” says Kristen Roberts of Truro Vineyards. But the taste is a testimony to the fruits of their labor.
Cape Cod Winery, 681 Sandwich Rd., East Falmouth,
(508) 457-5592; www.capecodwinery.com
Truro Vineyards, 11 Shore Rd., Rt. 6A, North Truro,
(508) 487-6200;. www.trurovineyardsofcapecod.com
Nantucket Vineyards, 5 Bartlett Farm Rd., Nantucket,
(508) 228-9235; www.ciscobrewers.com