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Out with a bang
Sparkling wines with fizz

As he lay dying, the British economist Lord John Maynard Keynes uttered these words: " I wish I’d drunk more Champagne. "

The irony is that Keynes, like many well-to-do Brits, drank Champagne nearly every day of his life, at practically any time of the day. The rest of us, on the other hand, do not all have the wherewithal to imbibe the precious liquid in such quantity. Happily, though, there are plenty of other sparkling wines to help us avoid regrets like Keynes’s. After all, the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine is simply that the former is produced in the French region of the same name. So be it resolved: henceforth, to help keep you from dying unsatisfied, I shall write an article each year about sparkling wines.

Sparkling wines come in all tastes, but my favorites tend to be crisp — even sharp — rather than sweet. I like the way sharp flavors cut through whatever might be in your mouth, with a smack of acidity and a pucker of sugars. Sparkling wines make your mouth sit up and take notice. And when they’re served refreshingly cold, as they should be, it’s a whole new bubblegame.

That said, what most folks notice when they drink sparkling wine is the texture. As far as wine pros are concerned, all wines have texture, and we speak glibly about delicate and velvety mouthfeel, as opposed to coarser sensations. But texture comes boldly to the fore when bubbles are in play: they remind people that the pleasure of wine lies not just in its taste, but in how nice it feels in your mouth. (And, if you drink just the right amount, it feels pretty nice in your body and your head, too.) Real Champagne has the most delicate bubbles; ordinarily, the more you spend, the more elegant the texture will be, owing to the quality of the fruit and the time-consuming care that goes into making fine wine. But in our modern era, many other sparkling wines also have delightful texture.

Every country that makes wine, for the most part, also makes sparkling wine. Italian proseccos, once the barely noticed bastard children of the sparkling-wine world, are now enfants terribles in Manhattan. Hundreds of cocktails are being created by infusing them with various fruits, herbs, and liqueurs: we’re way beyond Harry’s renowned Bellinis here, with everything from cherry and lavender to elderflower and peach to rhubarb and ginger thrown in. On the drier side, Spanish cavas have a rough-and-readiness that makes them perfect accompaniments to shellfish. Me? I love the opulent red color and refreshing taste of sparkling shirazes from Australia.

The other night I had the pleasure of imbibing a 1996 Highfield Estate Elstree Marlborough Cuvée from New Zealand: it was delicate and graceful, racy yet balanced, with a wonderful weight on the tongue. After a few sips, I thought: you put this in a blind tasting with real Champagne, and my guess is a lot of people would prefer the Kiwi sparkler. In a similar vein, the best sparkling-wine value in the world right now (I can’t say ever, but perhaps in my lifetime) is Roederer Estate from California’s Anderson Valley: the regular is outrageously good, but the rosé is absolutely stunning. At around $22 a bottle, it’s still a bit of a splurge, but well worth every penny. The color of pale strawberries, it’s got the kick, the delicate elegance, the X-factor that makes your eyes open wide as you think, What is this?! It shows how far the world beyond Champagne has come. Although I never look a gift Champagne in the mouth, so to speak, when I order out or buy sparkling wines for myself, I always look elsewhere.

In the United States, excellent sparkling wines are being made in, of all places, Massachusetts. Westport Rivers makes a 1990 MAX Maximilian Cuvée that sells for an exorbitant $86 a (literal) pop, but in blind tastings it has beaten the likes of Dom Pérignon. This is how you get a wine region on the map. Westport also makes an Imperial Sec Riesling that is unique, easy to find, and worth the $28 price. You have great sparklers in Long Island, Washington, Oregon, California, and even New Mexico, where Gruet makes a very affordable (around $12) blanc de noirs (meaning the wine is made from pinot noir grapes). In Argentina, in South Africa — all around the world, in fact — sparkling wines are popping up and making people’s eyes pop.

So to paraphrase Lord Keynes, though I hope these aren’t my dying words, I wish you would all drink more sparkling wine — this summer, this fall, whenever. To life!

David Marglin can be reached at wine[a]


Issue Date: July 19-26, 2001

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