There are few beverages that personify celebration like Champagne. We love the texure of fireworks on the palate and the tickle in the nose as the froth of bubbles overflows a fluted glass. And don’t you just love throwing down $230 (retail) for a bottle of Cristal? Erh… no. Or… not always. Some champagnes are meant for aging and do have a higher price point because they were crafted as a long term investment, not for pouring on the honeys in your rap video. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money to find some good fizz.
The first step is to look outside of the Champagne region. True Champagne can only come from the viticultural area known as Champagne, but the same process that gets those bulles in the bottle can be reproduced elsewhere, but with more leniency.
In 1811, Jean-Baptiste Ackerman founded the oldest continuously producing méthode traditionnel sparkling wine house of the Loire River Valley.
The cool Loire limestone is a perfect terrior for cabernet franc, chenin blanc, and chardonnay. Today, Ackerman’s co-operative vineyards are certified by the International Food Standard and are 100% traceable with a heavy concentration on bio-sustainability.
Ackerman Saumer 1811 Brut Rosé – Under 6€ / $9-18
Crafted from 100% Cabernet Franc (a red grape), this bubbly has a salmon pink color. The nose is yeast roll and peach. The palate is light with red berry notes and a medium fizz with a finish that lags a bit. I served this as an apéritif (no harm adding a few berries) with shrimp cocktail, but finished the bottle with grilled mackerel and curried Basmati.
2 1/2 Stars out of 5
Ackerman Saumer 1811 Blanc Demi-Sec – Under 6€ / $9-18
This is a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Demi-sec translates to “half-dry” and that means that this is a wine halfway between sweet and dry. I often suggest this type of wine to people that are looking to develop their palates beyond moscato. The color is a pale gold with green reflects. The nose is of apple blossom and honey and the palate is sweet mirabelle and honeydew melon. The finish has a fuji apple crisp acidity. The bubbles were tight and delicate. I had this with grilled salmon and green cauliflower.
The last glass of the bottle was
accompanied by honey citrus tarts with a speculoos crust and the apple acidity really refreshed the palate. I think this one would be excellent with a spicy tikka masala.
3 stars out of 5
Chateau Moncontour Vouvray Brut Under $15 (available at Spec’s)
Built by Charles VII in the 4th century, Chateau Moncontour has been admired for its views and its viticultural terroir.
Since 1994, the Feray Family have become masters of the chenin blanc variétal. Their focus has rested with the cremant style, Chateau Moncontour Magnum Brut Non vintage being the most widely distributed of their selections.
Once upon a time, I was hosting a crawfish boil which included some “I only drink beer, because I’m macho” types. I served them this wine in red Solo cups and waited until after they’d quenched the crab boil spiciness to tell them that they were enjoying sparkling wine (…and…gasp…French)! I got myself two new clients that day and one of them ended up drinking esoteric Rhone whites by the end of the year.
Ch Moncontour is a good beer substitute because the carbonation is tight. The body is medium, similar to a well-made blonde lager. The aromas and flavors remind me of fresh apricot kolaches with a green apple crisp on the finish.
It easily pairs with a wide range of cuisine
without being pretentious, making it one of my favorite ‘throw-downs’ for pizza night, take-out sushi, and most recently, Sunday’s left-over rotisserie chicken salad sandwiches.
4 stars out of 5
Variations of Loire Valley sparklers are available all over the States and cost a tad more than the swill they call “California Champagne,” but much higher quality. Remember these terms:
Brut = dry or more acid than sugar, leaving a clean finish
Demi-sec = half dry or balance between acid and sugar
Doux = sweet or a high residual sugar / low alcohol content.
So next time you’re organizing a rap video pool party, skip the Cristal and Dom Perignon and grab a bottle of Loire bubbles. Use the money you save for your Jesus chain instead. R.I.P. Biggie.