Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
additional bottle photos by the producers

Summer Delights

Champagne two glasses

It is spring already and new vintages are being presented to wine aficionados around the world.

Top of my list of spring and summer delights are sparkling wines, mostly from Europe. Whether it is called Champagne, Cava, Crémant, Sect, Franciacorta Spumante, Prosecco etc. these are wines varying from very dry as in Brut Nature Cava to a sweeter Demi-sec Champagne that delight the senses and make any occasion festive.

At recent tastings I had the chance to try a number of imports to the US that I thought should be on top of your list… as they are on top of my list, because of the quality they represent and the good price. I also opened bottles that I had kept in my cellar for a few years and thought it was time to enjoy them.

Lucien Albrecht Pour

From Alsace, the Lucien Albrecht sparklers, both white and pink are quite enchanting.

The Crémant d’ Alsace Rosé NV is made exclusively from free run juice of hand-picked Pinot Noir grape clusters. A pneumatic press is used in a long and soft pressing, resulting in the light pink salmon color. The secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle and the wine stays on its lees for at least 14 months prior to disgorging. Strawberry and wild cherry fruit on the palate along with some light floral notes on the nose are balanced by dry, crisp acidity and complimented with a creamy texture and long finish. Priced between $15 and $ 20, depending on location and retailer, it is inexpensive enough to delight any palate.

The Crémant d’ Alsace Brut is a white sparkler made from a blend of Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay, manually harvested at the start of the season. Distinguished by a fine and elegant bead, it has a beautiful gold color and a light, delicate palate. It has a clean, rather floral nose with hints of freshly baked bread. The understated long finish offers hints of apples and lemons. It was great sipping it on a very warm spring afternoon, watching the sailboats racing on the Long Island Sound.

Zitsa Horizontal Sparkling Wine

At a recent Wines of Greece tasting, I found a number of Zitsa wines that I had not seen before in the US market. Zitsa wines were much in demand in Greece while I was growing up, but the miniscule production at the time was not creating enough product to have them shipped to Athens, let alone exported to other parts of the world.

Zisa wines are light sparklers, what the Italians would call “frizzante,” produced in the Pindos mountainous area of Epirus, North West of the town of Ioannina. This region has minimal climatic influences from the Mediterranean; it is continental with very cold winters and snowfall in the pine tree covered mountains. Because it’s much cooler here than the rest of the Greek viticulture areas, Zitsa primarily focuses on white sparkling wines made from a delicate floral-and-citrusy indigenous white grape called “Debina”. The sparklers are 100% Debina. A few producers also make still blends of Debina and another local cultivar, Vlahiko (a red grape) that are highly aromatic and create nice rosé or blends of blanc de blanc and blanc de noir wines.

Catalonia 2016 Rexach Barqués Cavas

In Spanish Catalonia, the Rexach Barqués company was founded in 1910 when Pere Baqués Rafecas started construction of the cellar and underground cave where Rexach Baqués Cavas are stored and aged. The company is currently managed by Montse Rexach, the 4th generation Winemaker. The vineyards are located in Penedès, near Barcelona. The grape blend for all varieties, except the Brut Rosé which is created from 100% Pinot Noir (an international grape), is the classic 40% Parellada 30% Macabeo and 30% Xarel.lo, all indigenous Catalan cultivars.

All the white cavas have 11.5% alcohol and are produced in 30,000 to 40,000 bottles per year. The rosé is 12% ABV and produced as 5,000 bottles per year. Aging on the lees is 54 months for the Brut Nature Gran Reserva – with no dosage – 42 months for the award winning Brut Imperial Reserva, which is dry, but without pronounced acidity, and 36 months for the Gran Carta Brut Reserva.  The Brut Rosat is aged for a minimum of only 12 months to preserve acidity and the intense fruity aromas of cherry and strawberry. The white cavas have all a beautiful nose and delicate creaminess and, when it comes to price, they are much more affordable compared to equivalent quality French Champagne.

Vilarnau Gran Reserva Vintage

Vilarnau - Sant Sadurní d'Anoia in Catalonia: I’m one of those people who like to see the wine-making process up close and personal and the Cava producer Vilarnau, an affiliate of González Byass, is the perfect winery to see how excellent sparklers are created. The winery is state-of-the-art modern, they have their own vineyards plus purchase grapes from growers with whom they have a long-standing relationship. All these facts combine to ensure the quality of the wine in every one of their bottles. There is bright fruity complexity in those bottles, elegance and freshness.

There are 4 basic levels of the cavas: Vilarnau Cavas, a series of 6 wines starting with a demi-sec and ending with the extremely dry "Trencadís" edition; Els Capricis by Vilarnau made from only Xarel·lo grapes where the wine is fermented in 250 liter handmade barrels, using chestnut wood from the Montseny forests; organic cavas i.e. Brut Reserva Rosé, Demi-sec and Brut Nature Organic; and the Albert de Vilarnau that comes in two versions, Barel Fermented and Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend. 

Moët & Chandon Nectar Imperial Rose

Moët and Chandon Rosé Impérial

To my delight, 2 Moët & Chandon Rosé bottles were delivered to my doorstep; Rosé Impérial and Nectar Impérial.

As I’m getting older, I find that I start to prefer a sweeter style of sparkler, instead of something very dry and the Nectar Impérial fits that bill exactly. As far as I’m concerned, this seductive and elegant beauty has all the characteristics I’m looking for: a voluminous bright fruitiness, aromas of brioche, honeysuckle and ripe strawberries, tiny bubbles and a clean, crisp taste. It is very well made – but I would not expect anything less from this house. Did I say “seductive”? The Nectar is a blend of reserve wines (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and a touch of Chardonnay) and the percentages of each variety vary, so that consistent subtlety and intensity of aromas and mouthfeel is achieved.        

The Rosé Impérial, on the other hand, is a dry Champagne with an intense bouquet of wild strawberries, cherries and cassis. On the palate one can taste a blend of wild berries and, surprisingly, some peach. This is very food friendly, but would excel with lighter dishes such as a char-grilled branzini or red snapper; perhaps a not very oily ratatouille or a Macedonoise of wild berries – blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries – topped with whipped cream!    

Agustí Torelló Mata Kripta Horizontal

Finally, a sparkler that I brought back with me from my last Catalan trip and has been resting in my cellar for a few years. Agusti Torello Mata’s 2007 Kripta, it is the top of the line Brut Natura Gran Reserva of the winery. It ages in their extensive underground cellars for a minimum of 48 months, usually closer to 60 depending on the vintage, on the lees. It is another classic blend of Macabeo, Xarel.lo and Parellada from some of the oldest Penedés vines. A straw-hued wine with golden highlights, it is clean and crisp with a fine and persistent bead. This very interesting sparkler is quite creamy on the palate with a long and smoky finish, quite buttery with hints of vanilla, toast and black truffles. I paired it with Ossetra caviar and I was happy as can be. All things considered, the US price around $110 per bottle is on the inexpensive side, if one compares it to any of the French vintage equivalents.

To your health! 




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