By Celia Strong
We all know it’s “that” time of the year. No matter how hard it is to believe how fast it’s coming again, no matter how hard we try to avoid it, it’s coming right at us. Personally, I figure we might just as well embrace it, pour ourselves a glass of something, and move on. My friends and I who get together once a month to taste wines met this week and worked our way through five different glasses of bubbles. All of the five wines were from the same basic company and it was really fun seeing the differences that various grape combinations and aging techniques could make in the flavors and textures of the final wines. And each of us had our favorite, or two, or three. So, for you, here are some notes.
All of our wines — bubbles to be precise — were from the Chandon company. Four were from the California branch, Chandon, and our last one was from the original French company, Moet and Chandon. The California Chandon, where most of us in our group had been able to visit at some point in the past, is located at the very southern tip of Napa Valley. Their French owners bought acreage in Carneros in the early 1970’s, built wine cellars and started making sparkling wines. You have to remember that any sparkling wines made from grapes grown anywhere outside the boundary lines of the “Champagne” region in France are sparkling wines. (Champagne is a sparkling wine but only Champagne is Champagne.)
But, on to our first wine, or “bubble” is my favorite term. Chandon Brut Classic ($14.99) is the basic wine of this California winery. It is crisp and clean, refreshing, and dry. This wine, like all the others to follow, is a specific blend of the three traditional Champagne grape varieties — Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. From batch to batch, and I say batch because these wines are also blends of grapes from multiple vintages, the exact “recipe” of grapes may change so that the winemaker can insure that each bottle of one of these wines that we open tastes the same as the last bottle. This was a wonderful glass of sparkling wine and all of us at our tasting got immediately into the spirit of the moment.
Our second wine was the Chandon Blanc de Noirs ($14.99. This wine has a very slight hint of pink to it because it is made from just the two dark grapes — Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. (Its name means white wine from black grapes so that makes sense!) Still dry and crisp, this wine was a tiny bit fuller bodied, but not so much that you’d notice it without tasting the Brut Classic first.
For our third wine, we bumped up quite a bit in both flavors and textures and in price. Of course, we all realize the flavors and textures only come at a price. Chandon Etoile ($24.99) is a special tier of sparkling wine from California that honors their parent company’s logo – a star. (Etoile is French for star.) This wine, again made from all three grape varieties, is known for its elegance. It is fuller bodied, and quite a bit more complex in its flavors, all due to longer aging on the wine’s lees. Its texture is more creamy for the same reason. Our discussion on this wine was that it would go with even red meats at dinner.
And, moving on, our fourth wine was the Chandon Etoile Rose ($29.99). And what a hit it was! Definitely a deep pink (rose) shade (two red grapes in this one, with a splash of red wine to intensify the color), even in the dimmed lights of our tasting location. Men and women loved this wine, which is not always the case with roses. I did hear part of a side conversation between several male cooks. One said he always keeps some rose in his house for ham and this wine would get added to his stash. Lucky him, especially since this wine got 92 points from the Wine Spectator last Christmas.
Finally, we come to our last taste — Champagne. In addition to already tasting four other wines, we all tend to forget that the bubbles can really get the alcohol from their wines into our systems faster than still wine. I promise, though, that we went lightly through the first four, partly so we could all get home, and partly so we had enough wine left in each bottle to go back and “re-visit” all of them a second time. The Moet and Chandon Imperial ($36.99) was wonderful! It was distinctly different from the others, due mostly to where the grapes were grown. But, not surprisingly because the styles of all our five wines were so different, this one was not everyone’s first favorite. We all could tell it was a great wine, it just got 91 points from the Wine Spectator, but like good tasters can and should do, we noticed the overall of each wine and not just the prices.
As you can imagine, we all had a great time. Not only did we get to see each other, but we got to share some wonderful wines. All sparkling, just like we were when we left. But we all got into the mood for the holidays. Maybe saving bubbles for the actual holiday is not the way to go. Maybe we should have them any night we like because they do make it better. My thinking is we should have them whenever the mood suits us. Holidays, hams, whatever. That’s my vote. Enjoy!