Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Alright, Alright. If You Really Insist...

It's the time of the year when people start thinking about Champagne. Well, sparkling wine, really, but for most people that comes back to Champagne.

After all, it is the holidays, when most of the sparkling is consumed...which is just plain wrong, if you ask me, because if you like sparkling wine, you should have it frequently. But most folks still, for some reason, think of sparkling wine as only for celebratory occasions.

So I wasn't surprised when a friend called up and asked for my suggestions. I referred him to any number of articles, and particularly Eric Asimov in the NY Times, as perfectly sound sources, probably more so than I.

Nope. He wanted my personal picks. Rather than give him a list of lists, and get all pedantic on him, I decided to go for the short and sweet. Or, at least, the short and dry. If I was going to drink Champagne...if I was going to gift Champagne to someone with superb taste...or if I was going to take Champagne or sparkling wine where I cared about what people would be drinking, here's my short list.

(Note: You should know beforehand that I prefer what they call a "Pinot Heavy" Champagne. I don't care for all that many Blanc de Blancs, which are made from Chardonnay only. So if you like your Champagne tautly crisp and light, as opposed to rich and mouth-filling and boldly flavored, you might not like my picks. Fair warning.)
Like it or not, Champagne is in a category all its own. And the Champagne that I will select without hesitation is Bollinger
Mind you, there are any number of fine Champagnes I enjoy---Pol Roger, Henriot, Charles Hiedsieck, Pierre Peters, and a number of others. But the most reliable and most consitently pleasing, the most complex and satisfying in all its elements, is Bollinger.
You have three choices with Bollinger, each with its own charm, each with its own declarative statement of style (and each reflective in price of its quality). First, there's the "house style", the non-vintage Special Cuvee. If there's any Champagne worth having as a "house champagne", it's this one.

To step up a significant notch, go for the Grande Annee Vintage Dated. It has the Bollinger signature style, but is entirely reflective of the particular year of harvest.

And for that rare and special occasion when something truly distinctive is called for, there's the Bollinger RD (which stands for Recently Disgorged). If you like your Champagne big and bold and expressive, and at the same time infinitely complex and intriguing and delicate---as oxymoronic as that may sound---then you need to taste the Bollinger RD. I'd even go so far as to list it as one of the XXX number of things you need to experience before you die. And yes, I like it that much.


If you want to stay with an American sparkling wine, again there are many choices for you. But there's only one for me, if I'm looking for the best and most consistent: Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut. This is as good as it gets in California. Mind you, you can find more expensive sparkling wines. Doesn't matter: you won't find anything better. If you want to be more impressed with good wine than with big overstated price tags, go for the Roederer Estate.
Since I now live in the lovely Willamette Valley of Oregon, I have to give a nod to a local bubbly---but it's a local bubbly that can easily hold its own with anything at it's price point in the entire world. Argyle Willamette Valley Brut Sparkling Vintage is creamy and smooth and richly flavored, a perfect balance of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that showcases the best elements of both grapes in total harmony. And the sparkling is a definite labor of love for the winery, since they sell their Pinot Noir for significantly more than this blended sparkler can fetch in the market, so they're essentially sacrificing profit with every bottle they sell. How cool is that, huh?
So, those are the three: Bollinger for Champagne, Roederer Estate Anderson Valley for California, and Argyle Willamette Valley for Oregon. I promise you can't go wrong with any of these. They are as close to a sure thing as you can get with wine.

On the other hand, if it really doesn't matter, and you're just looking for a cheap bubbly that'll get you by, avoid the crap out there and do yourself and everybody else a favor: buy a bottle of Italian Prosecco. They don't cost much, they're light and lively and lemony-fresh and fun to drink. And they go great with potato chips.

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