By Rick Riozza
I sure hope that all of you wine enthusiasts in the crowd didn’t think that we were done with Champagne, sparkling wines & bubbly just because the holidays are over! The super Day of Love and All Valentines Week are just right down the road; and, popping corks is what we expect to hear and feel (“feel” as in exuberance—not as getting hit in the face with a high-flying missile!)
Just yesterday, as I was working in the “chalk caves”, aka—the Champagne aisle in my wine department, I overheard a young lady customer telling her fiance that she just hates Chardonnay. I couldn’t resist and butted-in saying, “Are you part of the ABC clan, the Anything-But-Chardonnay group?”
She smiled and nodded, “Yeah—but I didn’t know that was a real thing!”
“Oh please!” I added, “There are more folks in that group than the entire population of Montana!”
“What I really like though is Champagne!” she reassured me. And then we continued to wax heavy on our favorite bubbly.
I don’t why it took me so long to blurt out, but as the couple were walking away, I said, “By the way, generally speaking, you know that Champagne is half Chardonnay—they blend it with Pinot Noir grapes.”
“You’re kidding me!” she replied as though I had just delivered some unwanted news. But then we all laughed it off. “Who knew”, they both exclaimed!
But lots of ABC haters fail to understand that lots of Chardonnay fill the flutes of their favorite bubbly.
And that brings us to discussing, the specific, Blanc de Blancs Champagnes, sparkling wines & bubblies, which are made entirely of Chardonnay!!—no Pinot Noir in the mix, ever!
Literally translating to “white of whites,” the term traditionally refers to Champagnes made exclusively from white grapes; Chardonnay being the dominant, and most of the time, it’s indeed 100% Chard.
So what do you think we expect from a blanc de blancs in terms of taste? You got it! This bubbly is characterized by white flower aromas and clean & crisp flavors of green apple and citrus, with appealingly acidic notes, subtle minerality, and, in some cases, especially in France, a bready and yeasty backbone developed through fermentation, which gives the sparkler some gravitas.
The blanc de blancs bubblies are zesty, lively, and can be paired with salads, seafood dishes, and desserts like lemon sorbet. Oh, by the way—it is one of the best aperitifs to start a party and to begin a meal. And while you’re at it, keep it around throughout the dining.
And now—some of our favorite blanc de blancs to grab:
Two California blanc de blancs come to mind that are always welcomed & celebrated and never disappoint:
Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, ($32).
A Napa Valley winery renowned for its sparkling wines (many of which are regularly served at official State dinners, a tradition dating back to the Nixon era), Schramsberg makes an appealing Blanc that drinks like a true Champagne and fits a sophisticated palate. Lots of tiny bubbles, crisp and dry, with notes of citrus — this makes a perfect pairing for aged cheeses, delicate white fish, and oysters.
Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blancs NV($23)
Opens up with an enticing orange blossom bouquet, lively bubble trails and light & airy mousse. On the palate, the wine is creamy, clean and refreshing. Flavors of Granny Smith apples, lemongrass, brioche and vanilla crème resolve with lively mineral notes into a well-balanced finish. A wonderful aperitif. This sparkling wine pairs well with seared scallops, baked halibut, fresh oysters, sushi, and roasted chicken. For cheese, pair alongside a rich Brie or soft goat cheese.
Now when it comes to French Champagne, probably the best deal—the bang for your buck, if you will, is the Henriot’s NV Blanc de Blancs. ($69) This column has recommended this French bubbly often, for Thanksgiving tables to Springtime primavera. It’s the deal and the taste for the entire year!
The winemaker notes are right on: “Sparkling, crystalline pale gold with slight green highlights. Abundant effervescence, with fine, delicate bubbles. Pure, concentrated and expressive, with floral (honeysuckle, orange flower, linden), fruity (lemon, dried apricot, almond) and pastry aromas, followed by spicy notes. The attack is dynamic, full and powerful, with aromas of lightly toasted brioche, quince jelly, and acacia honey. The clean, delicious finish develops on a light menthol note and shows excellent length.
“Lovely as an aperitif or as an accompaniment to dishes such as foie gras terrine, roasted chicken, lobster rolls, smoked salmon or sushi.”
Wine Spectator scores the bubby in the 90s stating, “A finely integrated Champagne, with flavors of ripe apricot and yellow pear fruit enriched by subtle notes of toasted brioche and lemon-infused pastry cream set on a cashmerelike mousse. Reveals hints of oyster shell, spices and white blossoms on the mouthwatering finish.” Cheers!
Rick is your friendly neighborhood wine steward & somm-about-town currently sampling over 100 sparkling wines and Champagnes for an up-coming tasting event in our valley. Stay tuned for details. He can be reached at email@example.com.