Let It Pour

Sparkling wines are having their moment

February 15, 2014 


Amber Nimocks.

NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO — newsobserver.com

Reach back into the dank wine cellar of your memory, and somewhere between a distinct recollection of Orson Welles’ hoary-faced promise to “Sell No Wine Before Its Time” and a vague remembrance of hordes of Blue Nun lovers streaming over a hill, you’ll come across a frothy little ditty that went “Riunite it tastes so fine, Riunite pure and natural wine. Riunite on ice, Riunite so nice ...”

It was a 1980s TV spot for Lambrusco, and if you’re like me, it was the last time you gave a moment’s thought to sparkling red wine. For most of my life, sparkling red has seemed about as hip as Members Only jackets. But it turns out that the category is experiencing something of a renaissance. American wine drinkers are beginning to embrace sparkling reds, to the point that some industry observers are hinting it will be the next big thing, or maybe just a thing.

Lambruscos, a group of Italian varietals from the Emilia Romagna region, are certainly among the varietals getting attention. After treating these grapes like soda pop ingredients for decades, Italian winemakers have rediscovered their complexity and appeal. But they’re not the only sparkling reds making a splash.

In Australia, sparkling reds have long enjoyed popularity and respectability. Winemakers down under most often use Shiraz for their sparklers. Unlike whites, the red sparkling wines offer real aroma and a deep sense of the grape they’re made from. It’s almost like getting a twofer. You get the pop and the fizz, the excitement of bubbly, but also the depth of character of a good red. And they’re served chilled, which evens out the American tendency to serve red wines at march warmer temperatures than is good for them. A couple of Australian-owned vineyards in Sonoma County, Wattle Creek and Geyser Peak, make sparkling Shiraz that have gained high marks from critics here.

It’s easy to see yourself as silly when you pour a glass of sparkling red for the first time. You feel a bit like you’re playing tea party with your mother’s good dishes. But any sheepishness at the outset will be rewarded by the totality of the experience. And if you have a friend who swears by sweet reds or light whites, a sparkling Shiraz could be the door that opens up a world of dryer, deeper reds. Or, it could be the common wine ground you’ve been looking for.

Postscript: Last month, Raffaldini Vineyards held its first salon tasting to get some feedback on its 2011 Montepulciano Riserva, a wine that vineyard owner Jay Raffaldini hopes will boost his label into a bigger league. I wrote here last month about attending one of the tastings and loving the Montepulciano, but I was curious to know how the rest of the tasters felt.

The blind tastings were done in four sessions, on consecutive Saturdays last month, with 94 tasters total. After my column was published, Raffaldini released the total results of all four sessions. The most preferred wine was Raffaldini Montepulciano Riserva, with 35 votes; Stags Leap Napa Cabernet came in second with 33 votes; Octagon of Barboursville, Va., got 18 and the Camigliano Brunello di Montalcino got 8.

Among the questions we answered was what we would expect to pay for each wine we tasted. When the votes were tallied, most tasters said they’d price the Raffaldini Montepulciano Riserva at $55 when it actually sells for $29. And though Raffaldini joked the price would be going up after the tasting, it’s still selling for $29 per bottle online.

Sip Tip: If you want to give sparkling red a try, Seaboard Wine has an fascinating pick on its shelves that’s worth paying a little extra for: Steininger Pinot Noir Sekt 2009 from Austria ($28.99). The bubbles are lush and round, and it has beautiful ruby hue that recalls homemade cherry jam. The cherry is there in the nose as well, along with spice and a touch of minerality. It’s an excellent example of how the combination of bubbles and depth makes sparkling red a chance worth taking.

Reach Amber Nimocks via her website, amberwrites.com.

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