Sparkling wines not only set a party mood, they can set the dinner table, too. Though recent trends in glassware disfavor the flute for sparkling wines—some say it inhibits the ability to release aromas—no one ever questions the joy bubbly brings, no matter the vessel.
If you’re panicked about the large bill that can accompany large parties, consider greeting your guests with glasses of Domaines Paul Mas sparkling wine made with the method traditionelle, the same method as Champagne, but absent the Champagne price. (Only in the Champagne region may the proprietary term “method Champenoise” be used. Any other regions using the same secondary fermentation method must use the term “method traditionelle”).
Jean-Claude Mas is the fourth-generation grape grower and first-generation winemaker of Domaines Paul Mas in France’s Languedoc region. After taking the reins of the family business, he expanded the property to 12 estates, including one in Limoux, the source for its nonvintage Cremant de Limoux Brut and Rose wines.
The nonvintage Domaines Paul Mas, Cote Mas Cremant de Limoux Brut is a blend of 60% chardonnay, 20% chenin blanc, and 10% of each pinot noir and mauzac (the indigenous white grape of Limoux). After fermentation in stainless-steel tanks, the wine is bottled and a second fermentation in activated with the addition of sugar and yeast. This method creates the bubbles that rise in the glass.
The Cote Mas Cremant de Limoux is more floral-scented than brut Champagne and less acidic. Its white nectarine taste and pleasing fruit finish makes it an ideal aperitif. 88 points.
The nonvintage Domaines Paul Mas, Cote Mas Chardonnay Vin de France follows both the Champagne definition of Blanc de Blancs (100% chardonnay) and the winemaking method. The chardonnay is sourced from various Paul Mas estates and growers in the Languedoc region.
Its pleasing pear and apple aromas and flavors are carried on a stream of mild acidity that will partner with hummus dip and pretzel crisps, mushroom bruschetta, and spicy bass crudo. 87 points.
Earlier this year, I reviewed the nonvintage Domaines Paul Mas, Cote Mas Cremant de Limoux Rose’. See Paul Mas Lets the Sunshine In.
These three Domaines Paul Mas sparkling wines retail from $11 to $19, allowing a generous display of bottles for your party without breaking the bank.
Gruner veltliner is not a grape I associate with sparkling wine, and one that many consumers do not know at all. In the late 1990s, and through the first decade of this century, gruner veltliner—the still wine—was all the rage with young sommeliers and retailers in New York and other major cities.
My curiosity spiked before removing the cork. I wondered what the brothers Norbert and Peter Szigeti (ZIG-it-eye) who took over the family wine business in Burgenland, Austria in 1990, would achieve with a sparkling gruner veltliner.
Made using the methode traditionnelle,,the nonvintage Szigeti Gruner Veltliner Brut is bottle aged for 18 months, exceeding Champagne’s requirement of at least 15 months for the brut designation. Its white hue is as crystal clear as water from an Austrian Alpine mountain stream. The lime and lemon aromas and flavors appeared with bright acidity, making the wine ideal for a first course of scallops or shrimp with a mango salsa. 88 points. It’s a good-value selection at $16 to $21, but not competitive at the upper retail end of $26.
Franciacorta is Italy’s prestigious Lombardy appellation for sparkling wines made with the methode traditionnelle. Founded in 1870 by the noble Pizzini family, Barone Pizzini is one of the oldest wineries in the tiny high-elevation region.
Pizzini’s 25 vineyards are spread across 115 acres, of which two are the source for the nonvintage Barone Pizzini Animante Franciacorta Brut. A slight golden tint and a smoky, baked-bread aroma are pleasing introductions to this full-bodied wine. Made of nearly 80% chardonnay, the wine expresses apple and almond-like flavors that glide on a natural steam of acidity and minerality.
Winemaker Silvano Brescianini limited the dosage to just less than three grams of organic sugar, making the wine dry enough to qualify as extra brut, and ideal for accompanying hors d’oeuvres such as spring rolls, scallops, quiche and mini crab cakes. 89 points. Retail prices range from $24 to $50; with the best value coming in less than $30.
For smaller groups and elegant dinners, many wine drinkers reach for Champagne, and Pol Roger is an excellent selection.
Family-owned and directed since its founding by Pol Roger in 1849, it is now in the hands of the fourth and fifth generations. Its history is one of triumph over adversity: the collapse of its cellars in 1900, cessation of its business in both World Wars, shutting of American and Russian export markets during our Prohibition era and Russia’s Revolution, and the Great Depression. But through it all, the family found ways to make Champagne
Today it has a complete range: from nonvintage reserve to its prestige Cuvee Winston Churchill. It is at the nonvintage level that Champagne houses prove their worth.
The nonvintage Pol Roger Reserve Brut is equal parts chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier from 30 vineyards. Each is fermented separately by village, vineyard, grape variety and grower. After tasting the wines, a selection is made and two vintages of reserve wines are added (with the youngest being at least three years old), then the wine is bottled for the second fermentation and aged for four years in cold cellars 100 feet below ground.
Such exacting details bring a nonvintage Pol Roger reserve brut with refined bubbles pushing upward aromas of freshly baked croissant, white fruit and flowers. Its medium body is dressed with ginger, lemon-y panna cotta and cashew flavors tied together with mild acidity. It’s perfect for cheese Gougers, gravlax with salmon caviar, or fried celery root chip canapes. 91 points. Retail prices range from $38 to a ridiculous $87.
Last month, Herve Deschamps, Perrier-Jouet’s Chef de Caves, or head winemaker in the Champagne lexicon, presented the 2011 Perrier-Jouet Belle Époque Brut in the private dining room of New York’s acclaimed Eleven Madison Park restaurant. It was arguably one of only two Manhattan’s restaurants appropriate for the occasion (the other being Le Bernardin) of the most beautiful bottle in the wine world.
Created by artist Emile Galle in 1902, the iconic bottle is engraved with Japanese anemone petals, and represents the height of the artistry of the Belle Epoch era. Known as the “Flower Bottle Champagne,” it’s the wine to serve for your most elegant dinner, or special evening.
It is a refined blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and a touch of pinot meunier, the three grapes of Champagne. In its embryonic state, the 2011 Belle Époque brut displays a white flower and honey nose, with a full body built on pear and nectarine flavors and supported with mild acidity.
At this early stage, I think the 2011 will gain complexity and length during the next decade, but will need retasting around 2022, as 2011 was a difficult vintage in Champagne. 92 points.
The exquisite bottle comes in a stunning jewel-box presentation with two matching flower bottle glasses, making it a dramatic gift anytime of the year.
Expect to pay about $160 to $225.
Photos by John Foy