What’s Bubbling Under the Surface?

What's Bubbling Under the Surface?

Champagne is the wine on everyone’s lips during the holiday season, and to mark the occasion, European Editor Roger Voss has written an article on Champagne that might surprise you—not an earth-shattering surprise, just a quiet one, suited to the season.

The article, focuses on food-friendly Champagnes. Quite recently, reports Voss, the major Champagne houses have begun crafting wines in addition to their regular cuvées that are more full-bodied. These are specifically designed to pair well with food, from the cocktail hour to the dessert course. The producers are making these wines very much within their house styles, to be sure. They are aging the wines longer in different types of wood, utilizing Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier rather than Chardonnay, and crafting the wines on the drier side.

But what’s wrong with this picture?

For years, Champagne and sparkling wine producers—not to mention writers and columnists in this very magazine—have been trying to convey the idea that sparklers are excellent food wines, just as versatile as any other type of wine, really. That has certainly been my experience. For example, I love sushi, and a good sparkling wine with sushi is a match made in the heavenly intersection of Asia and Europe. For people who enjoy richer fare, sparkling wines are not always the best choice—lighter Champagnes don’t stand up all that well to short ribs smothered in sauce, or a mound of pasta drenched in a zesty red sauce.

So is this just some smoke and mirrors from the sparkling wine region of France? Not at all. The winemakers are clearly using different techniques, and the wines are different to the discerning palate. My interpretation of this is that the French wine industry is evolving, and should not be counted out. French producers are willing to change with the times, keep an eye on the market, expand their horizons, broaden their portfolios—choose your own business cliché. No question, the wine industry in France is in crisis, but this is one small sign that they have the will to find a way out.

A prime example of looking to the future is found in Tasting Director Joe Czerwinski’s article on the Pinot Noirs being crafted in New Zealand. This is a country that is always looking to its future, even in plush times. Yes, Sauvignon Blanc is an international superstar, but with a long view that many other industries could learn from, the producers in NZ are already looking to their Next Big Thing: Since the climate is so friendly to Pinot Noir (as is the world market), they are increasing plantings. Czerwinski found many Pinots he could heartily stamp with a 90-plus point rating.

Janet Forman recommends some splendid hotels and resorts that offer spectacular programs for the year-end holidays, whether for families with young children or couples who want to get away from it all, including young children. Our idea for this story was based on a dream we all share: you drive up to the valet at one of these deluxe destinations, and never have to see your car again for a week or more—so beautiful is the setting (whether beach or snow-covered mountain), so great is the food, so varied are the programs, and so fabulous (this was requirement number one) is the wine list.

Michele Anna Jordan makes a strong case for lamb. America is not a lamb-eating nation, and there are many reasons for that, which she cites in the article. But it can be presented in any number of ways, from the simple grilled lamb to a component in a complex stew. We know we’re not going to be making any converts, but we bring lamb to your attention because this is a meat that just begs you to go down to the cellar and pull some of your best red wines, from the brawny Cabs to the more sleek Pinots.

Stephen Beaumont takes a look at Bourbon, which, like so many other corners of the wine and spirits world, is undergoing interesting changes, so that the Bourbon-on-the-rocks crowd now share an interest with people who make Manhattans and martinis and other, more contemporary and daring cocktails, with names that stride the contemporary and country, like Sex in the Holler.

Whether it’s the French trying to expand the boundaries of a wine that’s been a classic for some 300 years, or Bourbon drinkers enjoying their favorite spirit in drinks with little umbrellas…the world of wine and spirits is an unpredictable one. You just never know.


Published on December 1, 2005