The Grapes of Froth
Here’s a quiz question for you. Which two grape varieties are most frequently
used to make sparkling wine? If you were to answer “Cabernet Sauvignon and
Merlot” I’d have to give you a poke with a pointed stick and send you to the
back of the class, because the answer is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Mind you, in
theory you could make sparkling wine - of sorts - from virtually any grape. In
Spain, they make sparking Cava from the obscure trio of Parellada, Xarel-lo and
Macabeo. In Australia they make sparkling Shiraz and in Italy, Asti is made from
the Moscato grape. It’s just that some grapes make better sparklers than others.
Sparkling wines are nearly always white or pink. Sparkling
red wines are rare. Wine-writer Hugh Johnson once remarked that “there is
something absurd about sparkling red wine. It’s like a fat old man dressed up as
a fairy.” Come to think of it, in this neck of the woods, it probably wouldn’t
be entirely out of place.
In the world of sparkling wine, Champagne sits at the top of
the tree. If your taste runs to genuine Champagne, then you’ll find nothing much
under three or four thousand baht around here. This is because the manufacturing
process, known as the M้thode Champenoise is complicated, long-winded and
expensive. A cheaper alternative is the Charmat Method and is now used widely to
produce light, delicate sparkling wines.
The pressure inside a bottle of sparkling wine is about the
same as that inside a bus tyre, so treat it with respect. On absolutely no
account shake the bottle in the vulgar manner of racing car drivers. And
incidentally, the cork should emerge with a gentle gasping “shlop” sound, not an
explosive bang. That horrid popping noise instantly lowers the tone of any
“Santa Julia” Sparkling Extra
Brut (white), Argentina (Central and Tops, Bt. 599)
Here’s a lovely transparent gold-coloured wine with the
tiniest hints of pink. From the distinguished Zuccardi family, it’s an
interesting blend of Chardonnay (35%), Viognier (10%) and Pinot Noir (55%) which
probably accounts for the subtle pinkish hue.
Made by the Charmat Method, it has a fresh, subtle floral
aroma that suggests green apples, apricots, white peaches and pineapples. There
are plenty of tiny bubbles in the glass, the fruit well forward and the wine
crisp and light-bodied. It’s extremely dry and refreshing with a good dash of
citric acidity which also comes through on the long dry finish. I even thought I
could detect a faint taste of honey too. This is a very attractive sprightly
wine which would be brilliant as a pre-dinner ap้ritif, because the crisp
freshness would set the taste-buds a-tingling.
By the way, the word “Brut” (BROOT) is used rather
confusingly on champagne and sparkling wine labels to mean wines that are dryer
than those labelled “extra dry”. Needless to say, “Extra Brut” denotes a wine
that is extremely or totally dry, very much like this one.
“Joy” Sparkling Brut 2011
(white), South Africa (Central and Tops, Bt. 499)
Here’s a lovely champagne-style wine that comes under the
“Joy” label from Central. It’s made from the Muscat d’ Alexandrie grape by the
well-known Bouma Company in Stellenbosch. With the purchase of every bottle, a
thirty baht donation will be made to Father Joe Maier’s Mercy Centre in Bangkok.
This wine appears much less dry than the Santa Julia (largely
due to lower acidity and the sweeter grapes) and has a soft mouth-feel, bags of
fruit on the taste and very gentle acidity. Also made by the Charmat Method, it
looks good too, especially if you serve it in a tall champagne flute. It’s
straw-coloured with a greenish tinge and a fabulous sweet rose-like floral
aroma, with raisins, pears and strawberries in the background and a long citrus
finish. It’s a young vibrant off-dry wine at around 13.5% alcohol content and it
should win many friends. Served very cold, it would make a delightful ap้ritif
or party-starter. If you put the bottle in an ice-bucket and cover it with a
tasteful white cloth, I bet some of your friends will think they’re drinking
champagne. But far be it from me to encourage dishonesty.