Almost half of the sparkling wine sold in the US says champagne on the label. The only catch: that’s “California champagne,” usually with the “California” in 2-point font and the “Champagne” in 36-point bold.
So says the Champagne Bureau USA, the DC-based arm of the CIVC, the Champagne trade association. Although the term is banned in Mexico and Australia for domestic sparkling wine, and Canada will phase out the use of any domestic use of “Champagne” in 2014, the US–the third largest market for Champagne after France and the UK–has no such sunset. Six years ago, the EU and US agreed to allow no new labels to use the term thus limiting the term to existing labels (about 16 comprise almost all the volume). Sam Heitner, director of the Champagne Bureau, thinks it’s time to tighten the laws and ban “California Champagne” on labels.
“US law agrees with protecting communal names such as Napa Valley,” he says. “Yet it permits duplicity with Champagne.” Read more…
In the ongoing debate about whether champagnes should have disgorgement dates on the labels, discussion has mostly been in favor of the practice. Some critics refuse to review a nonvintage wine without a disgorgement date. (What is disgorgement?)
At the portfolio tasting of Pas Mal Selections in New York last month, Peter Wasserman expressed hesitations about the sole focus on disgorgement dates. Peter works for Becky Wasserman Selection aka Le Serbet (his business card reds “head of anti-marketing and sales prevention”), the Burgundy-based exporter that represents almost 20 Champagnes. He said that the disgorgement date alone doesn’t reveal anything about the base wine, which vintage it is or how long the wine has been on the lees. Nor does it say whether the wine has been aged in the bottle with a cork closure or a bottle cap. He estimates some of his growers disgorge 20 times per wine, so if a critic reviewed only one disgorgement date and consumers sought out only that one, he would be at a “commercial disadvantage.” Thus he has invited critics interested in including disgorgement dates to review a wine from each disgorgement date. “They do it for Jacques Selosse,” he says.
For nonvintage cuvées, Wasserman favors the vintage of the base wine as the most important information for consumers. Thus the champagnes of Le Serbet will have the base wine and the year of disgorgement on the label (though not all of his US distributors were on board with this at the time we spoke). More information will be available about each wine on the Le Serbet web site, a good move to engage the tiny percentage of consumers who care to find out more.
While he prefers more information on the label, he feels that the focus on disgorgement dates can lead consumers to seek out the freshest. That’s unfortunate, since, in his view, many retailers have excellent storage and nonvintage cuvées are complex, often tasting better with one or two years on the cork.
Forget the debates over terroir, dosage and disgorgement dates–Champagne Lanson is advertising their “white label” Champagne as going great with lemon. (photo thanks to David Lebovitz.)
Well, at least they don’t put the lemon in the drink for you: Courvoisier took the inconvenience out of mixing cognac and Moscato blending 18% abv “Courvoisier Gold” (I’ll take a pass on that Courvoisier, thanks).
Oh, and if you do want to talk about dosage, the “White Label” has 32g of residual sugar. Might want more than a lemon peel to cut that sweetness…
A couple of weeks ago, a 7′ 1″ 325(+)-lb. graduate donned a cap and gown: Shaquille O’Neal earned a doctorate in education. The former NBA star, who left LSU early but finished his bachelor’s degree nearly a decade later because he wanted to make his mom proud, just completed four and a half years of courses and study at Barry University. His thesis studied the role of humor in the workplace and leadership.
Dr. Vino gives a doff of the academic cap to Dr. Shaq Diesel. Now all I have to do to keep up is score 28,596 points in the NBA. Well, what the heck: I raise a glass of wine in his honor and I’ll rate the 28,596 points! To Dr. Shaqtus, Dr. Shamroq, here’s a glass of grower Champagne from Bereche et Fils, their Beaux Regards, a stony, zero-dosage all-chardonnay bubbly. It’s laser-like, which is the kind of focus you need to do a doctorate while also playing in the NBA, doing commercials, offering commentary on TNT, serving as a reserve police officer, being a dad five times over. Nice going Big Daddy! Read more…
Ack–I winced with each strike!
Lifehacker ran a piece that urged readers to buy wine after Thanksgiving and during the first two weeks of December to “lock in pre-holiday bargains.” Really? Perhaps I live under a rock but I hadn’t noticed seasonal discounting that disappears as the holidays approach. Have you? Instead, I see a parade of deal-of-the-day web sites and closeout offers from wine shops–constant sales, rather than seasonal. Or the old “mark it up to mark it down” type of “sales,” which also never go out of season.
Lifehacker attributes their seasonal nugget to Food & Wine editor Ray Isle. Queried via Twitter, Ray pointed me to this original story from whence this wisdom came. He asked Jeremy Noye of Zachys for some suggestions for deals and his seasonal sale advice was limited to Champagne, not wine in general as Lifehacker stated. I have noticed some of this Champagne discounting, but it is generally later in the month, *closer* to the holidays, when stores might sell well-known brands just above cost simply to get people in the store. Anyway, if you do see Champagne on sale that you like, plug it in to wine-seracher.com and pull the trigger if it is a real deal. (Especially, eegad, what if there are shortages next year?)
I do find that it is a good time of year to buy wine accessories and stemware, as retailers smell the competition and reduce prices. I still like my Schott Zwiesel “impact resistant” glasses ($60 for a 6 pack on Amazon) and, in fact, need to reload after some met the maximum threshold of their resistance. Well, it had been a few years…
During the recent, week-long power outage, we sought refuge in an undisclosed location that may or may not have been the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We found a bottle of “brut nature” cava German Gilabert (about $15; find this wine) at a local wine shop and got some lobstah rolls. This is hipster cava with a secondary fermentation in the bottle, six bar of pressure, no dosage and overall a very solid match!
Interestingly, a little of the cava remained in the bottle and I left it on the counter. A couple of days later, I poured it in a glass and was surprised it was bubbly! I tasted it and it showed no signs of deterioration.
I asked the wine’s importer, Jose Pastor, via email for his thoughts on why this bottle held up so well. He was puzzled by the persistence of the bubbles, pointing out that he likes to decant many (grower) Champagnes and that reduces the fizz. As to the lack deterioration, he said that many of the (natural) wines from his portfolio often actually show better after being open a couple of days.
As several small producers in Champagne are making their bubbly more wine-like with less fizz, perhaps giving sparkling wines some air and serving in wine glasses will be a good way to go. What have you found in your experiments in giving bubbly some air?
When you’re shopping for bubbly between now until New Year’s Eve, how will you know how long that nonvintage bottle has been on the shelf? If there were a disgorgement date on the label, you would have a better clue.
Over the weekend, Jancis Robinson tasted two Krug Grande Cuvée wines and commented on Twitter how different they were. Antonio Galloni of Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate replied to her that the WA has not reviewed Champagne without a disgorgement date since 2009. (See exchange below.) Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle wondered how many writers it might take to adopt the same policy to force the producers’ hand in the region. It’s a stick approach.
Here’s a carrot for the producers: disgorgement dates will engage the most interested consumers. These are the ones that should be of particular interest to producers since they would look up further information on the producer web site and alert their world to their experience (good or bad) via social media.
Disgorgement dates are important. After the jump, check out Champagne writer Peter Liem, who is pro-disgorgement labeling, giving his reasons why they are important. I’m in favor of Champagne producers putting some sort of legible, comprehensible form of disgorgement dates on the (back) label. If you are too, hit the comments! Read more…