The Great Bruts | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

The Great Bruts

The Great Bruts

Chanukah prompted a review of the current crop of dry kosher bubblies. 

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In 1904, British and French diplomats signed a series of treaties known as the Entente Cordiale. The result of years of negotiations, the pacts were meant to bring those two countries — with a centuries-long history of enmity — together into a lasting friendship. They worked. Britain and France became, and have remained, the closest of allies.

Yet today, after nearly 11 decades, despite the best efforts of diplomats, a few old disputes linger. One of the oldest and bitterest of them always seems to rear its head this time of year: that age-old disagreement about how best to enjoy Champagne.

The French like their Champagne young and fresh, while the British prefer to drink it old. The French believe that Champagne is a truly versatile wine that can be a great accompaniment to virtually any dish; the Brits, however, generally think that Champagne is best when served sans food. The French like to drink it morning, noon and night, as often as they can afford it, while the British prefer to save the bubbly for special occasions, or as English novelist Evelyn Waugh once put it, Champagne “is a wine for (frequent) occasional use.”

The one point the British and French do agree on is that Champagne is a truly splendid wine. And they’re right.  Champagne is also a fantastic wine to serve during Chanukah —it’s the perfect accompaniment for latkes and other oil-fried foods.

While the chalky soil of the Champagne region of northern France indisputably produces the world’s best sparkling wines, the Champagne wine-making formula has been copied frequently, and good or even great Champagne-like wines are now available from all over the world. Some are even kosher.  

With Chanukah near, it seemed like a good time to review the current crop of brut (i.e., dry) kosher bubblies. All of the wines I tasted were good, and more than a few were excellent.      

True Champagnes:

There were three actual Champagnes in the tasting, and while all three were excellent, my top pick was Pommery’s Kosher Brut Royal Champagne. Recently reintroduced to the U.S. market, this non-vintage, dark-straw-colored blend of one-third Chardonnay, one-third Pinot Noir and one-third Pinot Meunier, has a full body and a rich mousse of large, active bubbles. The lush bouquet is redolent of peaches, cream and toasted challah, with a whiff of wildflowers in the background. Look for flavors of toast, peaches and cream in the front of the palate, straw and raspberries mid-palate, a long finish of Meyer lemons and a lovely layer of chalky-earthiness running throughout.

Score A. ($29.99. Available at Garnet Wines & Liquors, 929 Lexington Ave. [Manhattan], [212] 772-3212)

Also excellent is Drappier’s Brut Carte d’Or Champagne. It’s straw-colored with an abundance of large, nose-tickling bubbles, and that classic Champagne profile. Endowed with a crisp —almost bracing — acidity, this non-vintage Champagne has a fruity bouquet of apples and quince with notes of cream and honey.  Look for flavors of apples and quince on the front of the palate, moving towards notes of cantaloupe, gooseberries, citrus and cream, with a strong mineral note.

Score A/A-. ($48.95. Available at Skyview Wine & Spirits, 5681 Riverdale Ave. [Riverdale], [718] 548-3230)

Similar to the Carte d’Or is Drappier’s Brut Carte Blanche Champagne (the main difference being a bit more Chardonnay in the blend). Dark straw in color with an almost beer-like head, this lovely non-vintage Champagne has a nose of apples, lemons, pears, quince, honeydew, straw and butter, with an earthy background. Look for flavors of apples, pears, quince, honeydew, and nectarines, with a creamy/lemony finish. This wine is well structured with both bracing acidity and a goodly mineral element.  

Score A/A-. ($48.95. Available at Skyview Wine & Spirits, 5681 Riverdale Ave. [Riverdale], [718] 548-3230)

Domestic Bliss:

California’s Hagafen Cellars currently has two vintage bubblies on the market, both of which are excellent. The winery’s 2007 Napa Valley Cuvée de Noirs is a superb choice for those with a British approach to drinking sparkling wines; it’s a full-bodied, dark-peach-colored, Pinot Noir-based wine, which has a thick mousse of tiny bubbles. Look for flavors and aromas of pineapple, crème de pêche, fresh cream and heather, with a long creamy finish. Drink within the next year.

Score A/A-.  ($36.99. Available at Chateau de Vin, 544 Central Ave. [Cedarhurst], [516] 374-9463)

Hagafen’s 2012 Napa Valley Brut Cuvée is a full-bodied sparkler which has a bright peach color and an abundance of large bubbles.  Look for flavors and aromas of peaches, apples and cream, with a hint of treacle and a long citrusy finish. Crisp, well structured, and delicious, this wine should be able to cellar for another four years. 

Score A- ($36.99. Available at Best Buy Liquors, 1613 Neptune Ave. [Brooklyn], [718] 265-4350)

Manhattan’s City Winey has just released its first kosher sparkler, Cuvée Blanc de Blancs. Made from Long Island Chardonnay, this crisp, dry, non-vintage, straw-colored wine has flavors and aromas of apples, kiwifruit, hay and honey. Well made, and endowed with an abundance of tiny bubbles, this wine should cellar well for the next three years. 

Score B+. ($42.00.  Available directly from the winery: City Winery, 155 Varick St. [Manhattan], [212] 608-0555)

Bubbly on a Budget:

One good budget choice is Elvi’s Cava Brut, a light, elegant Spanish sparkling wine that has flavors and aromas of peaches, pears and cantaloupe, with hints of toasted bread and molasses.  Look for a note of lemon on the finish, and a light-but-still-pleasant mousse of tiny bubbles.

Score B+ $18.99. (Available at Beacon Wines & Spirits 2120 Broadway [Manhattan], [212] 877-0028)

Always a reliable choice, Bartenura Prosecco is both dry and refreshing. With a vigorous mousse, this straw-colored non-vintage Italian sparkler has flavors and aromas of apples, pears, nectarines and honey, hints of kiwifruit and spice, and a nice creamy yeastiness.

Score B/B+ ($13.95. Available at Skyview Wine & Spirits, 5681 Riverdale Ave. [Riverdale], [718] 548-3230)

Whole Foods Market’s new kosher Deccolio Prosecco is another good budget-friendly pick. Made by Shimshon Welner (who also makes a similar wine, Banero Prosecco, for Trader Joe’s stores) this light-straw-colored, light-to-medium-bodied non-vintage sparkler has flavors and aromas of apples, pears and honey, with a note of citrus, and a hint of earthiness. While pleasant, the wine is perhaps just a tad too sweet.

Score B. ($10.99. Available at Whole Foods Markets, various locations)

Whether you’re planning to spend $15 or $150 on a bottle of bubbly, there are a few points to keep in mind. First, most non-vintage sparkling wines have a shelf life of about three to five years (unless of course you are very British). So avoid selecting bottles that look like they have been sitting on the store’s shelves for years. Also, if you ever open a bottle of bubbly that’s not quite to your liking, consider using it to make Champagne cocktails. Put a sugar cube and a few dashes of Angostura Aromatic Bitters (available at almost any supermarket) in the bottom of a Champagne flute, let the glass sit for a few minutes, and then fill with sparkling wine. The sugar and bitters add delightful flavors and can mask many of the flaws that may be found in sparkling wines.   

And as for that age-old disagreement between the French and the British, well, as the French would say, vive la différence! 

Wines are scored on an ‘A’-‘F’ scale where ‘A’ is excellent, ‘B’ is good, ‘C’ is flawed, ‘D’ is very flawed, and ‘F’ is undrinkable.  Prices listed reflect the price at the retailer mentioned.

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