By Celia Strong
Hopefully, no one will be surprised if we start our holiday wine lessons this week. Yes, it’s still only October, but if you count the weeks left until Thanksgiving, we only have seven weeks to go, and 11 weeks to Christmas.
First things first, though.
Just remember, despite the fact you’re not really ready to buy your holiday dinner wines, all the wines we learn about between now and then will be ready and waiting for you.
Our first holiday wine is a French sparkling. Right away, we know it has bubbles, and that it’s not as expensive as a champagne. Holiday afternoons and evening always seem to start better with a few bubbles … the days before and the days after, too.
If you go to a friend’s house, bubbles are a perfect gift as you go in their door. (FYI, chilled gifts get opened sooner!)
Back to our wine lesson, though.
Sparkling wines are made all over France: different grapes, different styles, different “bubble-making” processes.
With any given set of specifics, they can all be good and appropriate in some time and some place. Our job is to know the better ones so we can choose the best for each of our times and places.
Fontainbleu is a palace in the Fontainbleu commune in southeast metropolitan Paris. (The palace has more than 1,500 rooms and its roof covers 5 acres.) The vineyards around this area have similar soils to the Loire Valley. A huge supply of good quality sparkling wines come from the Loire.
Veuve Devienne, our wine, comes from near the Fontainbleu area. That means, like sparklers from the Loire Valley, it is also based on chenin blanc. Chenin blanc is not a variety that most of us are overly familiar with, but now’s our chance.
Unlike most other white grapes, chenin is more versatile in the different styles of wines it can make. It can be very dry, partially dry, partially sweet, very sweet and sparkling. Most wine-producing countries around the world make wines from this variety. (South Africa makes the most.)
Chenin is well-suited for making sparkling wines because of its range of flavors and its natural acidity. Aromas and flavors in chenin wines include apples, baked apples, passion fruit, pineapple, peaches, pears, nectarines, apricots, tangerines, mandarin oranges, kumquats, oranges, lemons, honeydew melons, honey, ginger, orange blossoms, jasmine, perfume and caramel. Plus, winemakers can oak age or not, as they choose.
A list of food pairings for chenin wines is just as long: veal, trout, poultry – especially turkey – halibut, smoked salmon, pâtés, mild cheeses, aged cheddar, oysters and more.
Sparkling wines based on chenin blanc, like our Devienne Brut, are happy with all of these.
Devienne is a family name, given by the widow (veuve) to these wines.
But, they did make wines, sparkling wines, and, with enough scratching in old books and websites, they do seem to have a connection with the Fontainbleu area.
This brut is made predominantly with chenin blanc, blended with lesser amounts of arbois, chardonnay and ugni blanc. The grapes are hand-selected and fermented separately. After blending, the wine rests and goes through a slow second fermentation so it has many tiny bubbles. It is bottled after it has bubbles, so it is called a “vin mousseux.”
Veuve Devienne Brut is pale yellow, with hints of green, and shows fresh, delicate fruit aromas and flavors: apples, pears, Meyer lemons, kumquats, melons. Beyond the fruits, it has ginger, floral notes, hints of green grass and a lively minerality.
Besides being a perfect glass for your holiday cooking and welcoming friends, Veuve Devienne will be well paired with holiday dinners. For $10.99. But why wait? Enjoy it sooner. And for the holidays.