Bubbly: The chilling dilemma

Many of us will open a sparkling wine over the holidays, and why not? Bubbly is fun. A popping cork may be the most festive sound around.

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But bubbly – a good one, anyway – brings a chilling dilemma: If you don’t chill it icy cold, you have to be very careful about opening it. A little shake, rattle and roll, and half of your good wine will spew on the floor, walls and ceiling like a boozy celebration. You don’t want to do this with pricey Champagne.

So, it’s a good idea to chill your sparkling wine until it’s ice cold to make it easy to open. I recommend keeping it in the fridge until the last minute before you pop the cork.

But drinking wine that’s ice cold is not recommended. Freezing temperatures will stun your taste buds and mute the good flavors in your wine. Again, if your bubbly is a good one – not even expensive, just good to drink – you’ll want to drink it at a more moderate temperature to fully enjoy its complex and delicious flavors.

This is actually not what we want to have happen.

This is actually not what we want to have happen.

The solution, happily, is simple: Take out the wine and pop the cork an hour before dinner. Then leave it sitting on the dining table, sideboard or kitchen counter for a while to let it warm up before you pour a few glasses and toast the holiday.

“But wait,” I can hear you saying. “Won’t it go flat?” Here’s the good news: When you open the cork, that first rush of pressure flying out with a pop leaves behind a wine that’s been made with substantial carbonation. As the bubbles continue to pop, they’ll fill the headspace in the open bottle with a protective blanket of carbon dioxide (CO2), and the wine will stay deliciously sparkly not only for a few hours but even for a day or two in the refrigerator. If you find this hard to believe, try it for yourself sometime with an everyday bottle. It will pour up with a fizz and a stream of bubbles even a few days later.

So: Chill the wine as cold as you can … open it safely without losing a drop … and then give it a little time to warm up to a better drinking temperature, perhaps 45F or even as warm as 55F, the natural temperature of underground caves and wine cellars.

Today, I’ll report on two excellent, affordable sparkling wines made in the Limoux region of Southwestern France near the ancient castle city, Carcassonne. You’ll find my tasting notes below on Blanquette de Limoux from Saint-Hilaire and Domaine J. Laurens.

And if you sample sparkling wines over Thanksgiving, save your notes and share them with us in December, when we’ll feature sparkling wines other than Champagne in Wine Focus, our popular monthly discussion topic on our WineLovers Discussion Group.


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Today’s Tasting Reports

Saint-Hilaire 2014 Blanquette de Limoux Brut ($14.99)


A blend of Mauzac (“Mo-zock,”) the historical regional grape, with Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, this Limoux sparkler foams up briefly, then falls back to a slight but persistent bubble stream. It shows a very light brass color, pale straw with a greenish hue. Its light, fresh-fruit aroma suggests a mix of delicate fruit and scents, hints of tangerine peel and kiwi fruit with a breath of acacia flower, an aroma reminiscent of wool. Creamy carbonation and fresh, brisk acidity come together on the palate, opening to citrus and floral notes that mirror the nose as the wine warms in the glass. U.S. importer: Jack Poust & Company Inc., NYC. (Nov. 22, 2016)

FOOD MATCH: Like Champagne, this bubbly wine goes with just about everything. We enjoyed it with a light dinner salad with a soft vinaigrette and dabs of mild Capriole goat cheese, and hot dinner rolls with butter.

WHEN TO DRINK: There’s no rush, but I’d drink this bubbly within a few years of the vintage, while it’s fresh.

My local price is pretty close to the $14 average U.S. retail listed by Wine-Searcher.com. It’s an excellent value in the middle teens, and I’d consider buying it as a Champagne alternative up to $20 or so.

Here’s a link to the importer’s fact sheet on both this Brut and Saint-Hilaire’s “Semi-Sweet” bubbly.

Look for vendors and compare prices for Saint-Hilaire 2014 Blanquette de Limoux Brut at Wine-Searcher.com.

Domaine J. Laurens “le Moulin” Blanquette de Limoux Brut ($14.99)

Domaine J. LaurensA blend of 90% Mauzac with Chardonnay, this is a clear, light straw-color sparkling wine, with a foamy mousse that falls back to leave multiple streams of lasting bubbles. Simple, pleasantly earthy note behind light scents of pears and green apples. Effervescent prickliness and tart acidity dominate a palate impression backed by simple white fruit and a touch of chalky minerality. The label claims a relatively gentle 12 percent alcohol by volume. It seems simple at first, but gains intriguing notes of Champagne-like “cocoa” and “biscuit” as it warms in the glass. U.S. importer: Vintner Select, Mason, Ohio; a écoltant Wines selection. (Nov. 20, 2016)

FOOD MATCH: Good anywhere an acidic white wine would go. It seems a particularly good companion with white-fleshed fish, shrimp, oysters or clams.

WHEN TO DRINK: It’s non-vintage, but probably best not held for long-term aging. There’s no open or coded bottling date, so check with a trustworthy retailer if you’re in doubt.

My local price is a few bucks above the $12 U.S. retail shown on Wine-Searcher.com. Even at the mid-teens, it’s a good value at a price substantially below the cheapest Champagne..

The estimable Jancis Robinson has a good article about Limoux’ little bargains, including a mention of J. Laurens and some of his wines.

Unfortunately, Wine-Searcher.com lists only a few European vendors for Domaine J. Laurens “le Moulin” Blanquette de Limoux Brut.

For a wider selection of Blanquette de Limoux and some information about the region and its wines, see this Wine-Searcher.com link.

You might also try checking in with U.S. importer Vintner Select to ask where the wine can be found at retail.


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