Enjoy Holiday Sparkling Wines from the Wine Exchange
by Susan Montgomery
Sparkling wines are so perfect for festive holiday meals, but choosing sparklers that please everyone is a challenge. Let’s look at our Thanksgiving dinner planning as an example. We will be having guests with a variety of wine tasting experiences. We have one astute wine drinker coming. You might even call her a “wine snob” in the best sense of the description because we appreciate her discriminating palate. She is very experienced and knowledgeable about wine and likes only the best. We also have some inexperienced wine drinkers coming. They don’t drink much wine and usually prefer beer, although they will definitely be open to trying some holiday bubbly. And then we have our Italian neighbors who love good wine (especially Italian of course) but aren’t too picky. Plus we have our own palates to consider and we are fairly discerning. (If we’re going to enjoy good food, we want good wine.) What champagnes or sparkling wines should we choose to please these diverse palates? And then there is our budget to consider.
Fortunately, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving we were invited to sample some great sparkling wines at the Wine Exchange in Santa Ana, California. The Wine Exchange is owned by personable partners, Kyle Meyer and Tristen Beamon, who together have spent more than 30 years in the wine merchandising business. The Wine Exchange is known for providing its customers with much more than a wine purchasing experience, as is reflected in its innovative website, educational videos on its YouTube channel, and a fascinating weekly blog. The company’s mission is to make wine approachable, understandable and enjoyable. A key to the Wine Exchange’s unique approach is that the owners go directly to wine producers all over Europe to choose the wines they sell. We knew we could get reliable recommendations at the Wine Exchange.
Meyer and Beamon pointed out that sparkling wines are an exciting category of wines right now. There is a global evolution of these wines taking place, especially as they pair with foods. And that’s what we need right now—wines that pair well with foods for our holiday celebrations.
We tasted five exceptional, reasonably priced sparkling wines and left with six bottles to share with the diverse palates at our Thanksgiving table. Here are the wines we tasted, along with our tasting notes and descriptions of how their production processes affect their quality and taste. We would like to recommend the following sparkling wines for your next few weeks of holiday entertaining:
Domaine Rosier Cuvee Jean Philippe Brut Blanquette di Limoux 2014
(90% Mauzac, 10% Chardonnay):
The name of this sparkler may be a handful, but the wine is simply very refreshing and tasty. This wine is from Limoux, in the Languedoc province of southwestern France, which has the longest history in the world of producing sparkling wines. Its distinguishing characteristic is that the region’s wine comes from the Mauzac grape that is only grown in this area. Mauzac is perfect for sparkling wines with its natural acidity, nice ripeness at lower alcohol levels, and high yields. This wine is aged for only nine months in stainless steel and the result is a fruity, balanced bubbly with light pear, apple and honey tastes that go well with almost any dishes but particularly with a rich holiday feast. We were astonished at the $10 per bottle price — an unbelievable buy for such an enjoyable sparkling wine.
Recaredo Brut Nature Gran Reserva Terrers 2009
(52% Xerel-lo, 32% Macabeu, 16% Parellada)
This is not your ordinary Cava from Spain. Recaredo is a small artisan, estate-bottled Cava house that uses a unique, rare process to produce its exceptional Cavas. This wine is first aged in a corked bottle for 65 months, with all the bottles being riddled (turned) by hand, and then disgorged (which means taking out the sediment) and then bottled under cork again. Also very uniquely, this house adds no sugar. All sugar is natural, making this an especially mellow and delicious wine. All production is biodynamic and organic. We loved the fine mousse (fizz), minerality and citrus flavors. This is another sparkling wine we could just imagine pairing so nicely with turkey and dressing. At $28, this wine is a bit higher priced than typical Cavas, but this is actually a good buy, considering the handcrafted approach to creating this delectable, multi-layered Cava.
Caraccioli Brut Cuvee 2009
(60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir)
Caraccioli Cellars is a small family winery that has created an exciting venture to produce distinctive California sparkling wines. They source their grapes from the northern part of the Santa Lucia Highlands where the temperatures are cooler, but the vineyards are protected by surrounding mountain ranges. In selecting a source for their grapes, this winery was looking for maximum ripeness in a cooler site to allow them less dosage (adding of sugar), which results in a more natural wine. They then brought in a French Chef de Cave (cellarmaster), Michel Salgues, to guide them in their production of fine French-style sparkling wines. The wine is 40 percent barrel fermented for four years, giving it rich, deep flavors and texture. This California bubbly has a vibrant effervescence with complex flavors of apricot, grapefruit, vanilla and lemon. At $40 a bottle, it is well worth the investment if you want to serve a truly exquisite sparkling wine at your holiday table.
Marie Hanze Eaux Belle Brut
(60% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Meunier, 10% Pinot Noir)
This is an excellent Champagne produced by a small grower, Nicolas Maillart, in the village of Chamery in northeastern France—the best location for growing the Pinot Meunier grape that gives this wine its brightness and spark. We loved the tart apple taste with hints of orange, yeast and lemon zest and floral overtones. We purchased some bottles of this lovely champagne and I’m sure it will be appreciated by the wine connoisseurs at our dinner table. Plus why not introduce our less experienced wine drinkers to a truly great Champagne. At $28, it is very affordable for its high quality.
Soucherie Cremant de Loire Rosé 2014
(90% Cabernet Franc, 10% Chenin Blanc)
We learned that this enchanting, brut-style, sparkling rosé from the Loire Valley sat 18 months “sur lie,” which means that it aged on the yeast particles that settle to the bottom of a wine barrel. This gives the wine richer texture and flavor. Minimal sugar has been added so the flavor is fresh and bright. The color is a glistening pale pink and we loved its rich red berry tastes and persistent fine bubbles. At $20 a bottle, this was another great buy so we also took some of this wine home. My plan is to serve it with appetizers before dinner to whet our guests’ palates for the bountiful dinner to come.
You can purchase all the wines listed here at the Wine Exchange located at 1544 East Warner Ave in Santa Ana, California, right off CA-55. Wines can also be ordered online at www.winex.com or by calling 714-979-1509.
Photos with this article taken by Todd Montgomery.