Wine Notes – Kissing the Frogs
A Quest for the Best Affordable Champagne
When I look back on 2020, I think to myself: “Life is short, eat dessert first.” The year forced changes in our attitude, behavior, politics and personal economics. I’m sure everyone learned a lot about themselves and the people around them, so it’s important that we all consider what changes need to be made in 2021. I suggest that we celebrate life and all of the little things that bring us joy. Moving forward, we should be positive and share that attitude with everyone we meet. My New Year’s resolution is that every event in 2021 will be a celebration, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to drink Champagne, frequently.
Champagne is a place in France that has brilliantly marketed its agricultural product worldwide. Other fine sparkling wines are produced around the globe, but the real stuff must come from the official region of Champagne, which is located about two hours east of Paris. It is made under strict rules of aging, using primary and secondary fermentation with chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes.
The process of changing sugar to alcohol produces carbon dioxide that is allowed to dissipate during primary fermentation. To create the bubbles, more sugar and yeast is added to the bottles, and, under pressure, the carbon dioxide dissolves into the wine to produce carbonation. You’ll notice that Champagne bottles are much thicker than regular wine bottles for this reason. It was rather dangerous to work in a Champagne cellar before glass bottles were produced that could sustain the pressure. Due to this explosive nature, it was nicknamed “The Devil’s Wine.”
It is said that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince, so for about two weeks this winter all I served was Champagne — during my sister-in-law’s 60th birthday celebration we opened five bottles, and everyone asked, “What are we celebrating?” The best part of opening Champagne is that it is always a celebration. I enjoyed the wine, but the reaction of my guests made it worth the expense.
One of the restrictions I placed upon myself during this period was that all of the bottles I purchased needed to be reasonably priced — the lower the better. It’s very easy to spend $250 for a bottle of Cristal and say you found the best, but navigating the frogs to find a great reasonably priced bottle was the task at hand. Admittedly, I didn’t enjoy some bottles that were over $50, but I managed to find a few that everyone loved and I can recommend.
One exceptional bottle we enjoyed was Aubert et Fils Brut. This wine is a blend of 60% pinot noir, 30% pinot meunier and 10% chardonnay. At less than $30 a bottle, it offered a complex finish and smaller bubbles on the tongue. Some of the wines we tried seemed to have bubbles so large that they were almost difficult to drink. One friend, sipping reluctantly at first, said, “I generally don’t like Champagne, but this is delicious.” Look for this at Wine Connextion in North Andover.
When you find a winery that makes exceptional products, you’ll generally find their lower-end products to be noteworthy, too. So it was no surprise that the winery that makes Cristal was also a winner. Louis Roederer Brut Premier, a blend of 40% pinot noir, 40% chardonnay and 20% pinot meunier, offered a crisp, nicely balanced taste. Roederer also has a winery in the Anderson Valley of California that produces affordable sparkling wine for about half the price of Brut Premier. I was thinking that their California cousin might be a great bargain, but instead it served as another example of how important geography is to wine making.
The most exciting Champagne we discovered was the Ultradition Brut made by the Laherte Freres estate. This is a blend of 60% pinot meunier, 30% chardonnay and 10% pinot noir. The bubbles were fine, and it offered a complex flavor of berry, citrus and honey. This was the best of the bargain Champagnes we tasted, and it has the added distinction of being imported by Merrimack Valley’s own Oz Wine Co. in Haverhill. You’ll find Laherte Freres at Andover Classic Wines and Louis Roederer just about everywhere.
When guests arrive at your home, don’t ask them what they want to drink. Just open a bottle of Champagne and let the celebration begin. Life is short — drink Champagne first. Salute!
Andover Classic Wines
North Andover, Mass.