Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Naked Vine Double Bubble -- Mumm Napa and Biltmore Estates

OK, folks – we’re coming down the home stretch to New Year’s. Do you have your sparkling wine for your big end-of-year bash? If you’re planning to spray bubbly all over your fellow partygoers, feel free to load up on Korbel and Asti Spumante. However, if you’re looking for something with a little more complexity and style, you can still find perfectly good bubbly without shelling out fifty bucks for Taittinger or Veuve Cliquot.

Thanks to the good folks at Folsom, I had the chance to preview a spread of sparklers in the $20-30 range, which in my opinion, works just fine for an end-of-year celebration.

First off, a pair from one of my favorite California sparkling producers, Mumm Napa:

Mumm Napa (NV) “Cuvee M” Napa Valley Sparkling Wine – I would certainly recommend this as a classy aperitif. The Cuvee M is a soft, slightly sweet sparkler that explodes on the palate with a rush of pear and peach, followed by a nice zingy acidity. The peach blossom bouquet is quite pretty, and it holds up all the way to the creamy, fruity finish. All in all, just a very pleasant, friendly, subtle wine that brought a smile to my face. The smile broadened when I tried this with some paté. Sparkling wine is usually good once you’ve “got a little fat in your mouth,” and this was no exception. If you’re doing a swanky party with a spread of nice appetizers, you’d be well-served to pop a bottle of this alongside.

Mumm Napa (NV) Napa Valley Brut Prestige – If the Cuvee M is the greeter, then the Brut Prestige is the dignified hostess, making sure everyone’s glass is filled, needs are met, and that all are having a good old time. “Elegant” is one of the terms I put down for this, and I found drinking this to be a lovely experience. The nose is full of ripe melon and bread yeast scents, which leads to a very tight, persistent “bead” (WineSpeak for “those wonderful bubbles”). Once you take a swallow of this wine, you can feel the bubbles tingling as they make their way tummyward. The melon and peach flavors transition to an expansively dry citrusy finish that’s just delicious. One of our traditions around here is bubbly with homemade pizza – and we had a bit of an odd one to pair: prosciutto, artichoke, roasted tomato, and olive on a thin crust with pesto. Not to fear – it went together like it was made to do so. Thumbs up.

Both the Mumm wines retail for around $22. Money well spent.

As you know, I love doing experiments with wine. And did ever I get a good setup with this pair of wine from the Biltmore Estate winery, which I’ve written about on a couple of other occasions. I’ve never had the opportunity to try two wines from the same producer, made in the same fashion with the same grape – except that the grapes were grown on opposite sides of the country. To wit:
  • Biltmore Estate Blanc de Blancs 2009 Methode Champenoise Brut
  • Biltmore Estate Blanc de Blancs 2010 Chateau Reserve Methode Champenoise North Carolina Brut
Both these sparklers are 100% Chardonnay. They’re made in the traditional “Methode Champenoise” style, which to review, works like this: After a wine has barrel-aged for what a winemaker deems a proper length of time, the wine is bottled with a little extra sugar and yeast and capped. The additional yeast and sugar causes fermentation -- but since the CO2 cannot escape, the bubbles are forced back into the wine, carbonating it. However, as most wine drinkers prefer a clear product, after the carbonation is complete and the wine has "rested on the lees" for an appropriate length of time (usually at least a year, the wine is “riddled.”

During riddling, the bottles are racked with the neck pointing downward about 45º. The yeast settles into the neck of the bottle. The bottles are turned a quarter turn every day or more often and the downward angle is increased. After a month or two, we are ready for the removal of the yeast or "dégorgement." At this stage, the neck of the bottle is plunged into a sub-freezing liquid, and the settled yeast freezes into a plug. When the plug is fully formed, the cap is removed and the carbonation forces the plug from the bottle. The bottle is then quickly corked and "caged." There are, of course, less expensive methods of bottling, but méthode champenoise tends to create the best quality of carbonation (meaning the tiniest, longest lasting bubbles) and flavor.

The differences? Well, one you can guess. One bottle is made of chardonnay grapes from the Biltmore’s North Carolina vineyards, while the other is sources from the Russian River Valley in California. The other difference is in aging. The California wine is aged in the bottle for 24-30 months before dégorgement. The North Carolina version ages for 12-16 months. Oh, also – the California one retails for around $25. The North Carolina is about a $30 bottle.

Side-by-side tasting, you ask? Absolutely. We cracked these at the same time and gave them a try. First impression? I expected the NC bubbly, as with most whites I’ve had from North Carolina, to be a little sweeter. Not so! This was a brut that earns its stripes. This wine is bone dry. As a refresher, when it comes to sparkling wine, the classifications from sweet to dry go: Doux, Demi-Sec, Sec, Extra Dry, and Brut. There’s actually a dryness level beyond Brut called “Brut Sauvage” – and the NC wine reminded me of one of those. There’s pineapple and apple and a nuttiness to go with the tight sparkle. It’s very refreshing.

The California Blanc de Blancs is still “brut,” but there’s more of a roundness to it. There’s more of a creamy yeastiness, along with a basketful of Granny Smith apple flavor. The bubbles are tight and firm with this wine as well. It’s much more of an elegant wine than its Carolina-based cousin. Both wines are quite good. It just depends on the mood you’re in.

Though we opened both, we decided that we’d save most of one bottle and have the other later (and if you don’t have a sparkling wine stopper – run, don’t walk, and get one). We decided to start with the NC bubbly. We had this with a smorgasbord of appetizers – bacon-wrapped scallops, liver pate, and creamy cheese with crackers – and it was simply delicious. Get a little fat in your mouth with this one and you’re golden.

The California sparkler we saved for one of the Sweet Partner in Crime’s homemade pizzas. I stand by my notion that pizza is second only to KFC as a perfect sparkling wine accompaniment. The pizza – with roasted tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, lots of garlic, and shredded parmesan couldn’t have made a better match for this wine. Delicious.

If you’re looking for some wines that fall into the “classy” range but you don’t want to break the bank – any of these four will do you. I am interested in seeing if North Carolina can consistently create sparkling wine like this, though. If they don’t take advantage of what seems to be good terroir, they’re missing a big opportunity.

(Thanks much to Michaela and Kate at Folsom & Associates for the samples.)

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