Bubbly Time!

This is the time of year when everyone is rolling out their favorite sparkling wine list.  Bubbly wines are synonymous with celebrations and there seems to be a lot of that going around at the moment.

The problem is, part of the whole mission statement of OddBallGrape.com is to avoid those cliches.  But, dang, for some reason, we’re stumbling across all these new and different bubblies.  More importantly, there are lots of lists, but nothing on what bubblies are and what all that stuff on the label means.

Let’s start with the whole Champagne, not Champagne thing.  What we’re actually talking about here are sparkling wines.  Yes, we know most people refer to any wine with bubbles in it as champagne, even if it did not come from Champagne, France.  Heck, even Anne does sometimes and she’s been known to be a real stickler for the designation.

But a sparkling wine is one that was intentionally made with bubbles in it.  You can goof and make a wine that has bubbles in it by accident.  And if a professional wine maker does, you can bet he or she will just bottle it as a sparkler and say it was intentional.  Most sparkling wine is made one of two ways.

There’s the famous Methode Champagnoise – the one that the monk Dom Perignon did (by accident), in which the fermented wine is bottled and a second dose of sugar is added and the bottle is allowed to start fermenting all over again.  However, because the bottle is sealed, there’s no place for the gases that are given off to go except into the wine and, voila, bubbles.

Then there’s Methode Charmat, better known as carbonated.  Carbon dioxide gas is pumped into the fermented wine in the same way that it’s pumped into soda water and sodas.  Seriously, that’s it.

Which do you want?  Well, that’s a matter of taste.  In a home winemaking experiment gone horribly wrong otherwise, a friend of ours made two batches of bubbly, one Methode Champagnoise and the other Charmat.  We generally liked the Methode Champagnoise better.  Charmat wines are generally younger and a little more in your face.  The extra sugar and age tend to give the Champagnoise wines a nice softness.

The next big bubbly controversy is the whole glass thing – as in what type of glass to drink it out of.  Sparkling wine used to be drunk out of wide, flat glasses until sometime in the 1980s.  Or was it the ‘90s?  Then tall, narrow glasses became the rage, whether flutes or tulip glasses.  But get this – we’ve recently been to a few tastings where the wine was poured into regular old wine glasses.

So what type of glass is best for bubbly?  Whatever one is clean and ready when the bottle is opened.

And, finally, some bubblies to look for.  Trader Joe’s has been stocking some red bubblies – but do be aware that they can be a little on the sweet side.  If you find a good Italian Lambrusco (besides Riunite, which tends to be over-sweet), those can be fun to try, especially with spicy Thai food.

Prosecco is an Italian sweet bubbly that Anne can generally do without, but Michael likes it a lot.  We recently tried the Stellina De Notte, from Spumante, Italy, and liked it for its clean, balanced flavor.  Probably good with breakfast.

Cavas are a Spanish bubbly – Freixinet is the best known brand and is generally pretty good.  We like the Cordon Negro Extra Dry.

Pink bubblies, or sparkling roses – all kinds from all over – they’re just wonderful and tasty.

If you can find one, a sparkling Vouvray.  Vouvray is a place name from France and made with chenin blanc grapes.  The still wine tends to be very light and rich.  The sparkler just that much better.

And if you can’t find the above wines, here are a few more terms to make sense of the labels on the bottles you do find:

Brut: Dry
Extra Dry: Medium dry
Sec: slightly sweet
Demi-Sec: Fairly sweet
Doux: sweet

So give the odd bubbly a try.  Share with us here what you drank.  And hold the orange juice, please.  This is a mimosa-free zone.

La Motte 2007 Shiraz

Type: Dry red
Made with: Syrah grapes, (aka shiraz)
Plays well with: Beef, beef and more beef.

Usually, when you put your nose in a glass of shiraz, it’s all fruit.  Shiraz, which is the Australian name for syrah, is often picked when the grapes are a lot riper than European syrahs, so you get more of that ripe smell and flavor in the wine.

Not so with this shiraz from South Africa’s La Motte (shiraz is also the preferred term for syrah in South Africa, as well).  In this case, the aroma of the fruit was faint or muted.  But there were some nice acids in the taste, which means this is definitely a food wine.  Frankly, the wine was as much about its texture in the mouth as it was its taste – with a slatey, mineral feel to it.  That’s not a bad thing – unless you really loathe mineral water.

Without getting into the whole debate about whether components in a given soil can actually be tasted in the wine (biologists say no, wine geeks say yes), there do seem to be some soils that have a lot of minerals in them that do seem to end up in the wine.  And this appears to be one of those situations.  The nice thing about the mineral taste in this wine is that it adds some extra layers to a wine that could be a little blah without it.

Given its relatively low alcohol of 13.9 percent, we’re guessing this was picked rather early in the harvest year, which makes sense.  Winemaker Edmund Terblanche did tell us that he is going after a more French/European sensibility in his wines.

Unfortunately, La Motte wines aren’t really available in the US, but are in Canada.  Or on the website, www.la-motte.com.

Dancing Coyote 2009 Verdelho

Type: Dry white
Made with: Verdelho
Plays well with: Cream sauces, sharp cheeses, non-oily fish

If folks know about verdelho, they know it  primarily as a blending grape in its native Chianti, Italy. But winemakers in Portugal have been making a pretty tasty white out of it for…  Well, a really long time.  And several California growing areas are starting to include it in their own blends or as a varietal of its own – including the nice folks at Dancing Coyote, in Acampo, California, part of the Clarksburg appellation.

The 2009 Verdelho has a nice floral nose. The taste is citrus and spicy with dry fruit flavors  – think fresh peaches instead of canned peaches in syrup. These are the kind of good acids that clean the palate and prepare the mouth for the next taste. It would be a shame not to enjoy it with food, like some nice sharp cheese, but it’s also very nice on its own. Alcohol is 14.5 percent, which is fairly moderate these days.

Be aware, it’s almost gone – so do make sure you skip over to the website, www.dancingcoyotewines.com,  sooner rather than later if you want some.

La Motte 2007 Shiraz/Viognier

Courtesy La Motte

Type: Dry red
Made With: syrah and viognier grapes
Plays Well With: Chili and other hearty fare

Shiraz.  Syrah.  It’s the same grape, just a different name.  The Australians made the shiraz term familiar to us in the U.S., and according to La Motte Winemaker Edmund Terblanche, the South Africans are just as likely to say shiraz as not.  Which means the following is going to get a little confusing unless we chose a name and stick with it.  And, by gum, we’re sticking with syrah, since we’ll be referring to the grape as it’s known in both France and South Africa.

So the La Motte 07 Shiraz/Viognier is made with only 9 percent viognier, a white grape known for its flowery nose and soft, fruity flavors.  It’s an old trick in France’s Rhone Valley to ferment syrah with either some skins from the viognier grape that have already been pressed and made into a white wine, or ferment with the actual viognier grapes.  We’re not sure which way Terblanche did it, just that the combination really made this wine come alive.

Usually, viognier smooths out some of the bad boy characteristics of syrah, which can get a little harsh and closed on its own, and in the La Motte wine, the viognier seems to have given the color a nice boost (from a white grape, go figure), not to mention the nose, which is still a little muted and could probably use some exposure to air.

Or, more likely, it could have used some more time in the bottle – since a muted nose can be a symptom of a too young wine.  Funny thing is, the tannins – that drying sensation that gives a wine some structure and ability to age – were a little on the light side, meaning it should probably be drunk sooner rather than later.

This should go really well with a nice, beefy chili that’s not too spicy, and a second glass after dinner should prove interesting, assuming the nose opens up.  With an easy 13.5 percent alcohol, an after-dinner glass of wine is just right.

La Motte – All the Way From South Africa

Edmund Terblanche of La Motte

One of the advantages of massive tastings like Hospice du Rhone is that you get to try wines that are harder to find and from places you don’t get to see every day.  Such as South Africa.

We met a couple of really interesting producers from there, including Edmund Terblanche, of La Motte, in the Franschhoek Valley in the Cape winelands.  It being Hospice du Rhone, Terblanche was pouring the winery’s shiraz wines.  Yes, shiraz is the Australian name for syrah, but apparently, it’s also the preferred term in South Africa, too.

“That’s the name that we’ve grown up with,” Terblanche said.  “But you’ll find in South Africa you have people using the syrah word, as well.  People probably want to express some style or something.  But you taste the whole line-up, the shiraz, the syrah, you can’t really taste the difference.”

So naturally, we had to ask what makes a South African syrah unique.  All lot of things, Terblanche said.

“There’s such a lot of influences here,” he said, explaining that people can imitate the rest of the world or they can make a more unique wine.  “With the influences from two oceans, with the altitude and some of the oldest soils in the world, we can definitely make something unique.”

Selling it to the rest of the world can be challenging.  Terblanche explained that because La Motte is one of the older wine brands in South Africa, having started in 1995, they do sell about 70 percent of their wine in South Africa.  However, they are trying to branch out – having had some success selling to the United Kingdom and Germany.  But they do want to reach the U.S. and are actively looking for the right representation to do just that.

La Motte vineyards

“It’s extremely difficult to introduce the category of South Africa,” Terblanche said.

But that was why he was at Hospice du Rhone.

Needless to say, getting wine from La Motte here in the States won’t be easy, but the wines are available in Canada.  And here’s the website, in case you happen to be in South Africa, www.la-motte.com.