Saturday, October 28, 2017

Naked Vine Double Barrel – A Couple of Cava

While we’re in Bubbles Mode, let’s look at Spain’s answer to inexpensive sparkling wine – and a longtime go-to staple around these parts…Cava.

Cava, which translates from Catalan Spanish as “Cave,” refers to the underground spaces in which the sparkling wine was aged. Most of this wine is produced in the Penedes region of Spain due west of Barcelona. Made primarily from the grapes Parellada, Xarel’lo, and Macabeu, Sparkling wine was produced in the region 1851, but the Cava industry truly launched after a major Catalan wine producer, Josep Raventós, traveled through France and decided to produce a sparkling wine in the style of Champagne. The first Cava was bottled in 1872.

Cava is produced in the same method, known as Methode Champenoise, as Champagne. In this method, the wine is carbonated from secondary fermentation in the bottle. The fermentation is caused by the addition of a small amount of sugar and yeast, known as liqueur de tirage, before the bottles are capped. Carbon dioxide produced by the fermentation is forced back into the liquid. The dead yeast is removed from the bottle through a process called riddling, and the wines are then corked for sale.

The sweetness level of cava is indicated by a designation on the bottle. Brut Nature is the driest version, followed by Brut, Extra Seco (sometimes labeled “Extra Dry”), Seco, and Dulce (sweet). Cava is a traditional accompaniment for tapas, so it can pair with a broad spectrum of foods.

I’ve long sung the praises of cava as an inexpensive sparkler, especially in the holiday season. Here are a pair of these Spanish darlings that I’ve come across recently:

Anna de Codorníu (NV) Blanc de Blanc Brut Reserva Cava – Emblazoned with a profile of Anna de Cororníu, the heiress whose family’s history in Spanish wine can be traced back to 1551, her Blanc de Blanc is an interesting twist on traditional Cava., which takes a big step towards its French cousins. 75% of the wine is made from Chardonnay, which is a rarity, at least for my experience. The result is a Cava that tastes a great deal like Champagne, with a toasty, nutty nose from the Chardonnay, which is followed by lemon and pear flavors and a crisp, zingy finish. There’s a little bit of residual sugar at the end – and that mild sweetness makes it a very flexible food wine. Whether with a shellfish or soup course, or with something more fatty like cheese or fried chicken, this is a surprisingly well-balanced wine for $15. A solid offering.

Freixenet 2013 Vintage Cava Brut Nature – Longtime Vine favorite Freixenet (of black bottle fame) has rolled out a new series of sparklers – this time a vintage cava series. I haven’t seen a lot of vintage Cava, especially in this price range, so I was curious to give it a go. I thought, all in all, it’s quite good for a reasonably inexpensive sparkler. There’s It’s a few dollars more expensive than the “black bottle” Freixenet that I’m used to. Lemons and apples on the nose, with a delicate lemony flavor and zingy, lasting finish. The carbonation is quite sharp, and the finish is very clean. It’s very dry – as you might expect. “Brut Nature” means that it’s even drier than a standard Brut. It would be a great match for anything fatty – from cheeses to KFC. It’s a few dollars more expensive than the “black bottle” Freixenet that you see most commonly – the bottle I found ran around $16. If you like your sparkling wines on the delicate side, those might be dollars well spent. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Naked Vine Double Barrel – A Pair of Prosecco

Prosecco is enjoying some unprecedented boom times at the moment. In 2016, for the first time in history, the sparkling Italian wine surpassed Champagne for the first time in history.

Honestly, I’m not surprised. Champagne has grown more and more expensive over the last several years – partly because of demand, but also because the effects of climate change have taken a toll. This year’s harvest, because of weather, may be one of the lowest-yielding on record.

Prosecco, long a favorite at the world’s brunch tables, has ridden its flexible, fruity nature into the world of mixology in the new world of Millennial drinking. With its lower price point, bartenders have turned to Prosecco not only as an aperitif, but as the backbone of many cocktails. Good Prosecco can also be had for about half the price of grower Champagne, so that adds to the appeal.

As background, Prosecco refers to the region of northeast Italy just north of Venice. Prosecco is a subregion of the larger Veneto district. Prosecco also used to be the name of the primary grape that comprises the wine. In 2009, the grape’s name was changed – or more accurately, changed back – to its original Slovenian name, Glera. The name change was to prevent the region’s growers from making wine from other varietals and marketing it under the “Prosecco” umbrella.

Prosecco also differs from Champagne in that it is carbonated in a different manner. This method, called Metodo Italiano or the “Charmat Method,” is a less expensive, less time-consuming carbonation method than the tried-and-true Methode Champenoise. In the Charmat Method, rather than being carbonated in bottles, the wine undergoes this secondary fermentation in steel tanks, which are sometimes coated in enamel. The wine is bottled under pressure in a continuous process.

Prosecco is an incredibly flexible food wine, and is an excellent choice for many holiday events – be they social gatherings or dinner parties. I sampled a couple of Prosecco from the town of Treviso recently. My thoughts:

Ruggeri (NV) Prosecco Treviso Brut – To be honest, I didn’t get much of a nose to speak of from this sparkler initially, but the flavors kick in once you get a mouthful. Golden apple and peach flavors are quite pronounced. A nice tight perlage (WineSpeak for “quality of bubbles”) that crisply sparkle through a finish of peach nectar and lemon rind. Very refreshing. Would cut through a lot of rich foods, whether cheeses or white sauces. Would be lovely also with shellfish. $16-20.

Santome (NV) Prosecco Treviso Extra Dry – Peaches again, this time backed with tart apples. The undertone of sweetness associated with an Extra Dry designation is certainly in effect here, but that sweetness fades quickly into an aftertaste that I honestly found a little unpleasant. I thought it was quite sharp, and that flavor masked the slight crisp sweetness that was there in the background. I didn’t much care for it on its own. With food, however, it was certainly acceptable. I had it with a roasted red pepper soup and chicken sandwich combo that I put together, and it was a decent accompaniment. $14-16.