Wine Column

Enjoy a little summer bubbly

You don't need champagne tastes to find a delightful sparkling wine


I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll say it again: sparkling wine isn't only for celebrations. You don't need to save it for New Year's Eve or weddings. It's perfectly acceptable--and enjoyable--to pop a bottle of bubbly on a random Thursday night. So why not start tonight?

The list of places to turn for delicious sparkling wine is nearly endless. Some of them you already know quite well. Of course, there's France, home of Champagne. (Remember, not all sparkling wine is Champagne. It can only be called Champagne--by law--if it is from that region.) Their vintners make exquisite wines with commensurately impressive price tags.

In Italy, we find prosecco, which can range in quality from the run-of-the-mill to the remarkable. Spain's cava can offer excellent value for money.

But today I want to look a little further afield. Because sparkling wines benefit from being made in a cool climate, places we don't often think of as wine regions produce some exceptionally good ones: places like Great Britain and Tasmania, for example. While, sadly, I wasn't able to track any of these down in Taos, there are still plenty of somewhat off-the-beaten-path sparkling wines to explore.

We'll start in the birthplace of sparkling wine--France--but not in Champagne, or even Limoux, where sparkling wine was "discovered." Rather, let's travel to the narrow sliver of land in between the Vosges mountains and the German border: Alsace.

Known predominantly for its glorious and food-friendly white wines, such as riesling, pinot gris, and gewürztraminer, sparkling wine makes up a small, but delicious, percentage of Alsatian wine.

As noted above, we cannot call this wine Champagne. Rather, it is crémant d'Alsace. However, it is made by the same method as Champagne, wherein the second fermentation of the wine, the one that creates the bubbles, takes place in the bottle in which the wine is sold. NV Pierre Sparr Crémant d'Alsace Brut Rosé ($22) is also made from a grape widely used in Champagne--pinot noir.

The wine is a dark salmon pink in the glass, with a fine, persistent bead of bubbles rising up the side of the flute. It smells of hibiscus and rose, bright candied red cherry and a rich note of freshly-baked biscuit. The flavors are ripe and fruity, but with a cleansing mineral edge. A beautiful aperitif.

We don't have to go far from the land of prosecco to find something a bit more unusual. Northwest of the Veneto region, where prosecco reigns supreme, we find ourselves in Trentino-Alto Adige. Here we find the wine appellation Trento, dedicated to producing high-quality sparkling wines made by the traditional method used in Champagne.

Prosecco is made by another method, which involves fermentation to produce bubbles in a tank, then bottling under pressure. Also unlike prosecco, which is made from a grape called glera. Trento sparkling wines use the traditional Champagne grapes: chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier (with the addition of pinot blanc).

NV Altemasi Brut Trento ($23) is a surprisingly deep lemon yellow hue when poured from the bottle, consistent with its rich aromas of vanilla shortbread, angel food cake and passion fruit. Lemon curd adorns the palate to give the richness a citrusy lift.

Leaving behind the European continent, we travel to South America for another unique sparkler, this one from Chile. While perhaps we're most familiar with Chile's good-value hearty reds, or maybe their vibrant sauvignon blanc, sparkling wine isn't new to Chile. They've been producing it for nearly 150 years. Still, it's a small proportion of the country's produce, and we're lucky to have access to a delicious and historic example: NV Valdivieso Brut ($14).

The Valdivieso family were one of the first to make sparkling wine in Chile back in the 19th century, and have carried their experience through to today. This blend of chardonnay and sémillon, a grape not often seen in sparkling wine, is redolent of nectarine and vanilla, fragrant with white flowers and buttery with brioche.

So don't wait for the next birthday or anniversary or holiday to roll around. Sparkling wine is too good, and too much fun, to save for only special occasions. There's little better than propping up your feet on a summer evening, cold glass of bubbly in hand. In fact, you can travel the world in a flight of sparkling wines this summer without ever leaving your deck chair.