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New Year’s sparkling wine 2014

wineadvice

New Year's sparkling wine 2014The Wine Curmudgeon won’t be drinking Champagne on Wednesday night or Thursday; the Champagne trade association has taken wine lawsuit foolishness past the point where it’s silly, turning it into a free speech issue. This is the Champagne Jayne case, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago and which has made an Internet splash in the week or so leading up to New Year’s.

The trade group is suing Champagne Jayne, an Australian wine writer named Jayne Powell, because she also writes about other sparkling wine. Her name, says the group, violates the EU’s trade agreement with Australia and if she is going to write about cava or Prosecco, she can’t call herself Champagne Jayne. And the French wonder why they have so many public relations problems.

Fortunately, there’s little need to drink Champagne for New Year’s anymore, given the revolution in sparkling wine. Yes, it may be the best bubbly in the world, but it’s priced out of reach for most of us and the alternatives are better than ever. Hence this year’s recommendations, after the jump, focus on those affordable sparklers that don’t offend the First Amendment.

Lamberti Rose Spumante Extra Dry NV ($12, sample, 11.5%): Fresh and  floral, with red fruit and surprisingly bubbly, this pink Italian is not too sweet or too fizzy. It was a revelation, given how crummy so many cheap spumantes can be.

J Brut Rose NV ($38, sample, 12.5%): This is always one of my favorite California sparklers, and this edition is one of the best in years. There are layers of flavor, with yeastiness, strawberry fruit, and minerality. Given how overpriced so many $40 Champagnes are, this is a steal.

Mas Fi Brut Natura Reserva NV ($10, sample, 11.5%): This Spanish wine is more dry and more elegant than many cavas, thanks to a slightly different winemaking process. Look for more white fruits than apple flavors (a welcome change), and a very long finish. Yet another example of how far cava has come.

Trump Winery Sparkling Blanc de Blanc 2009 ($24, sample, 12%): The former Kluge winery in Virginia makes some of the best sparkling wine in the U.S., and it’s even available in states other than Virginia. This is a chardonnay-based wine, with crisp green apple fruit and more richness than I expected.

How serious am I about my Champagne boycott? I have a $150 sample of Champagne in the wine closet that I’m not going to drink.

More about New Year’s sparkling wine:
Wine terms: Champagne and sparkling wine
New Year’s sparkling wine 2013
New Year’s sparkling wine 2012
Wine of the week: Castillo Perelada Brut Reserva NV
Wine of the week: Adami Prosecco Brut Garbèl NV

Winebits 362: Wine sales, Cava, imported wine

winenews

u.s. wine salesMore wine: We’re continuing to drink more wine than ever in the U.S., up about 1 million cases in 2014 over the previous year, reports Shanken News Daily. The percentage increase isn’t much, just 0.3 percent. But that there is growth, despite the after-effects of the recession, shows that wine may have finally established itself in this country as something more than a niche product. As the Shanken story notes, “consumption has increased nearly 80 percent over the past two decades,” and per capita consumption has finally risen past its 1970s levels. 

Bring on the sparkling: Cava, the Spanish sparkling wine, has long been a Wine Curmudgeon favorite, but it faces intense competition from Prosecco, the similarly-priced bubbly from Italy. The latter is typically sweeter and fruitier, and the Italians have parlayed that into double-digit growth over the past several years. Freixenet, the biggest Spanish producer and the top imported sparkling in the U.S., saw sales fall four percent last year. Why does that matter? Because exports account for around two-thirds of global Cava sales. Hence concerns that competing with Prosecco on price alone could lead to what happened with Australian shiraz and Argentine malbec — lots of cheap wine of varying quality. I’m not sure that Freixenet’s plan to add more expensive wines to differentiate itself from Prosecco is any better, given that Cava quality is so good at $10 and $15 there is little reason to trade up.

Bring on the imports: How global has the the U.S. wine consumer become? Imports account for about one-third of the wine we drink, and that figure is expected to increase over the next two decades to as much as 45 percent. In the first half of 2014, though, we drank less imported wine than in the previous year (but the dollar value of the wine we drank increased by five percent). The biggest winner in those six months was New Zealand; the biggest loser was Australia. Sales from Italy and France, the top two exporters to the U.S. were mostly flat, though the dollar amount of what they did sell increased eight and six percent.

Wine of the week: Astoria Prosecco NV

wineofweek

Astoria ProseccoThe Wine Curmudgeon, slowly but surely, is understanding Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine. First, because I’m making an effort to appreciate it, and not to dismiss Prosecco because it doesn’t taste the way I want it to taste. Second, because Prosecco winemaking has improved, so the wines are not just sweet and fizzy; also, that it’s possible to find these better quality wines on store shelves because the wine has improved so much.

Case in point is the Astoria ($13, sample, 11%), one of the best Proseccos I’ve had in a long while. It wasn’t just sweet, which made it wine and not the product of a focus group. In fact, it was interesting, with all sorts of things going on, and that’s not something I usually get to write when I write about Prosecco.

Look for lemon and apple fruit, enough sweetness to make you wonder if it is sweet, and soft but long-lasting bubbles. Another problem with too many Proseccos is that the bubbles are sometimes like a flat soft drink. There is even a sort of minerally finish, which is again unexpected. Highly recommended, and the kind of wine to keep on hand as the holidays approach. This would pair well with Thanksgiving — light enough for a long meal, but well made enough so that it complements and doesn’t overwhelm the food.

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