This time of year there's a lot of catching up to do (in every sense). So here's a nice selection of our favourite bubbles (and one new one) with which to raise your glass.
1. AR Lenoble Cuvée Intense NV
In 2013 A.R. Lenoble was ranked 14th out of the 50 Best Champagne Houses by La Revue du Vin de France (there are over 300 international houses). “A must discover!” they exclaimed, putting Lenoble ahead of big names such as Veuve Clicquot and Taittinger.
Lenoble’s vineyards are managed without the use of chemical sprays and the house was the second (after Bollinger) to receive the High Environmental Value Certification.
They are the only house in Champagne able to use Grand Cru Chardonnay in all of their wines, even the entry level Cuvée Intense NV. The latest release of Cuvée Intense NV is again 40% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Meunier. The dosage is about 6g/L (sugar), making it a dry style.
Wine Spectator rates the Cuvée Intense NV 91 points. “Lightly floral and fresh, with a firm backbone of acidity and a fine-grained texture structuring the tightly knit flavours of crunchy white peach, pear, pickled ginger and biscuit.” March 2014.
Tyson Stelzer’s Champagne Guide 2014-2015, which was awarded ‘Best Wine Book’ by the Wine Communicators of Australia in 2014, rates the Cuvée Intense NV 94 points,putting it ahead of Moët NV (88 points) and Veuve NV (91 points). “An impeccably crafted wine from noble fruit sources, offering sensational value for money. A delightful bouquet is filled with lifted lemon blossom, red berries of all kinds and stone fruit depth. The palate is honed and focused, structured around the taut lemon and grapefruit of Chardonnay and understated generosity of white peach, pear and red berries of pinots. A bright finish is scented with tense energy and an undercurrent of salty Chouilly chalk minerality.”
Domaine A.R. Lenoble avoids the limelight, but there’s no doubt this understated producer will take its place among the best.
I can offer it for $65 a bottle.
2. Thiénot Brut Non-Vintage
This exclusive, family owned house is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Official supplier of Champagne to The Oscars in 2013 and 2014 see our previous feature, the Academy chose it for it’s premium quality and extremely selective distribution.
Prior to the establishment of his own house, Alain Thiénot was the major grape broker in Champagne, from 1968-1985. Buying and selling grapes is big business and Alain’s position gave him a deep understanding of Champagne, its best sites, the best growers and an unrivalled network of connections, all of which put him in a unique position to start his own house.
This is a blend of 45% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier and of this 20% is reserve (ie. older wines). The wine has a minimum of 3 years ageing before release and with a dosage of around 10g/L it’s Brut (dry), the most common style.
“An exotic sparkler, displaying rich, caramelised smoke and brioche notes, balanced with citrussy acidity and flavours of ripe apple, candied pineapple, lemon meringue and crystalised honey. Mouthwatering finish.”91 Points, Wine Spectator.
“Pale yellow. Lemon curd, quince, white flowers, honey and vanilla on the fragrant nose. Taut, refreshingly bitter citrus pith and toasty lees flavours give way to richer melon and peach with air, with honeysuckle and ginger notes adding complexity. A pungent, waxy note carries through the smoky expansive finish.”Josh Raynolds in Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar.
This has exactly what you’re looking for in an aperitif-style Champagne. It’s cleansing and zesty, offering hints of citrus and lemon blossom. I love the creaminess of the mousse (foaminess in the mouth) and the slight toasty, brioche notes on the finish.
The small scale of this house ensures its exclusivity.
I can offer it for $75 a bottle. Click here to order.
3. Domaine J.Laurens ‘Moulin’ Blanquette de Limoux Brut NV
Unique to this region, records show that Benedictine monks at the Saint Hilaire Abbey in the appellation of Limoux, southwest France, were producing this wine as far back as the 1530s. It’s regarded as the oldest sparkling wine in the world, appearing about 150 years before Champagne. It’s made in the same way as Champagne (ie. secondary fermentation in the bottle) and local folklore has it that famous monk, Dom Perignon, visited Limoux and took the technique back to Champagne where he popularised it.
Domaine J. Laurens is an esteemed Blanquette de Limoux producer featuring regularly with critics and was one of only 2 Blanquette producers recommended in an article on Limoux by international winehead Jancis Robinson MW.
As with previous releases, it’s a lively blend of 90% Mauzac, 5% Chardonnay and 5% Chenin Blanc. It’s light gold in colour and is a fresh, crisp mouthful of green apples and yeastiness. It has a fine bead and with 10 g/L of residual sugar, it’s at the dry end of the spectrum. It even has a ‘Champagney’ toastiness and body to it, which comes as a pleasant surprise. I found it more substantial than I expected and at this price I reckon it's great value fizz.
Yet to be discovered, you won’t find this wine around town, so try something fresh this summer.
I can offer it for $29 a bottle. Click here to order.
4. Rinaldini Osé Lambrusco Rosé NV
Azienda Agricola Moro di Rinaldini is a traditional producer in the region of Emilia-Romagna, Italy. This area near Bologna is rich in food and commerce, home to parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar as well as Lamborghini, Ferrari and Ducati.
If Lambrusco has been derided in Australia before now, it’s because we haven’t seen the likes of this. A wine just made for summer afternoons - you’ll find it musky, clean, refreshing and dry (yes, dry) and at only 11%, very easy to enjoy. Lightly sparkling, it has a lovely rosey colour and is a blend of Salamino and Lambrusco Marani.
“One of my favorite ‘keep your cool’ reds is Lambrusco... rewards a brief dive into an ice bucket better than almost any other red. And, I might note, few red wines poured cool serve the cause of grilled meats better, especially fatty, like sausages. What’s more, we are now starting to see (finally!) some of the more artisanal Lambruscos, that for too long were confined to the wine’s native Emilia region.”Matt Kramer, Wine Spectator.
“The bouquet is quite fresh, with brambly raspberry fruit supported by slight greenish accents and underlying ripe cherries and berry fruit. Pleasant and zesty. On the palate it’s fairly light and bright, with lively sour cherry fruit supported by brambly raspberry acidity and by the sparkle... clean savoury finish with underlying sour berry fruit.”Kyle Phillip’s Italian Wine Review.
Delicious lunchtime drinking. Serve well chilled.
I can offer it for $29 a bottle. SOLD OUT
5. Canella Prosecco Superiore di Conegliano Valdobbiadene 2013 DOCG
Prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine made from the Prosecco grape in the region of Veneto, in the northeastern corner of Italy, the capital of which is Venice.
Prosecco’s schtick is to be light and fresh and, for Italians, Prosecco is an anytime wine not just for celebrations. Not only is it an aperitif, it’s a wine served with dinner, an after dinner digestive or mixed as part of a cocktail.
Top notch producer, Canella, was established in 1947, and is still run by the Canella family. The estate is located in the Conegliano Valdobbiadene sub-region, considered the best in Prosecco and which was promoted to DOCG status (highest appellation) in 2009. Prosecco from this area may be labelled as Superiore.
The wine is elegant, aromatic and light at just 11% alcohol, it has however, just that a little more weight and complexity than the average Prosecco.
“The wine is a brilliant straw yellow with fine, persistent perlage and fruity aromas of peach, apple, pear and citrus fruit. The palate gracefully balances zingy acidity and a subtle hint of sweetness, richness and silky-smooth texture. It is ideal as an aperitif, but also perfect with seafood.”Michael Trembarth.
I can offer it for $28 a bottle. Click here to order.
6. Daosa Blanc de Blanc 2010
The second release from Xavier Bizot and Lucy Croser. These two were born into winemaking: Xavier’s father was Bollinger patriarch and chairman Christian Bizot and Lucy’s is Brian Croser of Petaluma fame.
Xavier makes this wine using the traditional Méthode Champenoise and as it’s Blanc de Blanc, it’s 100% Chardonnay, with the fruit coming from the Adelaide Hills. The wine spent a total of 51 months on lees, 8 months in barrel and 43 months in bottle. It has a dosage of about 8g/L, making it dry.
Xavier’s fastidious winemaking results in wonderfully balanced wines. In traditional Champagne blends, Chardonnay provides freshness and elegance, and you'll find both in this wine. It’s structured, lively and delicate, has a fine and gentle bead (bubbles), attractive toasty and tart green apple characters. Dry and light, it finishes with a lovely minerally acidity. Beautiful.
“Toasty with floral perfume, pie apple, citrus, mint and crackers. Fine. Full flavoured. Complex. Vinous. Almost silky. Then dry with lemon soda, brine and toast to close. Lovely wine. Super Australian sparkling.”93 Points, Gary Walsh, The Wine Front 2014.
“This is a step up from the 2009 vintage. There are more pronounced toasted aromas from longer ageing on yeast, with bright floral and apple nuances on the nose. The characteristic floral flavours come through on the palate and it finishes long with a great balance between acid and dosage. Typical floral and apple flavours linger on the palate.” Xavier’s notes.
Single vineyard Blanc de Blanc is a rarity in both Champagne and Australia (only 2,000 bottles of this are made), so this is something special.
I can offer it for $45 a bottle. Click here to order.
7. Landron Brut Atmosphere NV
Jo Landron took the reins at Domain de la Louvetrie 1990 and made big changes: slashing yields, adopting manual farming methods, organic certification by 1999 and biodynamic by 2008. His adherence to strict biodynamic methods sets him apart in the otherwise high-yielding and commercially oriented region of Muscadet, near the mouth of the Loire. In the winery he uses wild yeasts, runs cool ferments and ages his wines in glass lined, temperature controlled concrete vats. This sort of winemaking, combined with his obsessive desire to express the terroir, results in wines that are fresh and alive, but also minerally and textural.
‘Jo Landron remains one of his region’s most conspicuous over-achievers and his name on the label a virtual guarantor of fine quality.’David Schildknecht for Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate #190. See our previous feature on Jo.
He uses a blend of Folle Blanche (around 80%), with Pinot Noir and a little Chardonnay. Vine ages vary between 18 and 30 years, and yields are far lower than in Champagne. The dosage is a low 5g/l, so it’s dry and the wine spends 24 months on lees. This regime sounds more like that of big name Champagnes than a Muscadet producer - but that’s Jo Landron for you.
Given the level of care, it’s no surprise this wine has impressive structure, clarity and depth. You'll love the racy citrus and fresh peachy fruit flavours that meld with earthy complexity and delicious breadiness. The finish is fresh and super-crisp.
“The aromatics are just lovely, delicate, floral, with a white stone and white peach character. A very gentle palate follows, showing some lightly honeyed fruit cast against a minerally background and a fine pétillance too. A very attractive wine, a delicately poised style, but with plenty of acid and grip to give it form.”16.5/20 points, Chris Kissack, winedoctordotcom.
A low profile wine with a high profile taste.
I can offer it for $35 a bottle. Click here to order.
8. Bellavista ‘Alma’ Cuvée Brut NV (Franciacorta DOCG)
It’s only a matter of time before Italy’s best sparkling wine, Franciacorta, starts getting the attention it deserves. Make the most of it in the meantime!
Similar to Champagne, strict regulations are in place here to ensure quality. There are controls over vineyard location, vine density, yields and methods of production. Méthode traditionelle (Champagne), or metodo classico as it is known in Italy, is used. Non-vintage Franciacorta must not be released for 25 months after harvest, 18 of which must be on lees (Champagne must see 15 months). Vintage Franciacorta must not be released for at least 37 months after harvest, 30 of which must be on lees (similar to Champagne), and the amounts of sugar added immediately after disgorgement, but before corking) are also similar to those used in Champagne - Extra Brut, 0-6/gl, Brut 6-15g/l.
Bellavista was founded by Vittorio Moretti in 1977 and under daughter Francesca’s guidance, it continues to be recognised as one of the world’s finest producers of sparking wine. See our previous feature on Bellavista here.
The winery is a dazzling affair - a cutting edge, computer controlled facility, with kilometres of underground ageing cellars. This remarkable operation is overseen by Mattia Vezzola, Italy’s 2008 Oenologist of the Year, who manages despite the scale, to bring an artisanal-like attention to detail. Even with the abundance of technology, harvesting, pressing, tank fermentation, bottling, corking, remuage and dégorgement are all still carried out by hand.
Each year Gambero Rosso, the bible of Italian wine, awards its highest and most coveted award ‘Tre Bicchieri’ (3 Glasses). Bellavista has received an amazing 22 Tre Bicchieri, their range described as “wines of incredible elegance and finesse.”
I remember the first time I tried this wine back in the 1990s. Naïvely, I was stunned that such good fizz could come out of Italy. I should have read this from Robert Parker:
“I have been tasting wines since 1968, first as a serious amateur, and then, since 1978, as a professional critic. I can unequivocally state that this is one of the finest Italian sparkling wines I have ever had. It establishes a new reference point for this category in Italy. It would unquestionably hold its own in a blind tasting against the finest French Champagne... something I always thought to be impossible. In short, it blew me away. The non-vintage Brut is an amazing sparkling wine exhibiting gorgeously precise, persistent pinpoint bubbles, as well as a creamy, superbly concentrated texture, a terrific, complex bouquet of bread dough and ripe fruit, and a long, pure finish. Although it looks like French Champagne, smells like French Champagne, and tastes like French Champagne... it's Italian!”Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate #130, Aug 2000.
80% Chardonnay, 19% Pinot Nero and 1% Pinot Bianco, the key to the exceptional quality of this wine is the breadth of available blending stock. The blend is made from around 60 different micro crus selected from about 120. An amount of aged, or reserve wine is also added. Finally, the wine was left to mature in bottle, in those amazing cellars, until at least 4 years from time of harvest - almost twice as long as required by DOCG laws.
“The sparkler just oozes freshness and vitality with pear, white flower and nectarine. The medium finish ends with toasted nut and honey. It is hard to beat this good value.”Drink: 2014-2017. Dec 2013, Monica Larner, The Wine Advocate #210.
I can offer it for $70 a bottle. Click here to order.
9. Poiré Granit 2014
This pear cider (perry) is pure artistry. Made by French wine superstar, Eric Bordelet in Normandy, using organic and biodynamically farmed heirloom fruit, this is his ‘Grand Cru’ so to speak.
The trees that produce the pears for Poiré Granit are estimated to be at least 300 years old. The orchard is dry farmed so the fruit is tiny but has concentrated flavour and they are picked by hand.
This tipple is seriously good. Delicate, crisp and refreshing, aromatic pears are offset by a rich champaney breadiness. Its creamy textured mousse rounds to a lovely dry finish. And the balance of acid to sugar is masterful. Best of all, it’s only 3.5-4% alc/vol, the perfect aperitif or afternoon celebration.
“Eric Bordelet produces some of the finest French ciders imported into the U.S. The most complex of his wines is his wonderful Poiré Granit. It exhibits an enthralling nose of pure, refined pear and spice aromas. On the palate, it has exceptional length, balance and definition. Light to medium-bodied, this pear cider has the depth, complexity and length of a top-flight wine.” High praise indeed from Robert Parker.
Revue de Vins de France describes Eric Bordelet as ‘hors classe’ without peer. When you taste this you’ll understand why.
I can offer it for $45 a bottle. Click here to order new vintage.