Champagne can be a food wine, too

Bubbly is not just for toasting
November 6, 2017

I received a nice email from David Koretz, CEO of Plum Wine, in response to my recent column. He felt I was too dismissive of his wine storage unit. To clarify, it is a fine product. I downplayed it because it is quite an expensive "toy." Since you folks send me quite a bit of email, I am aware a large majority of readers don't normally cellar or buy in the "wine over $50” category. Those who do, or who love gadgets, or think "internet of things" is a necessary accoutrement for your wine enjoyment, may wish to consider a Plum wine dispenser. I see my job as education, recommendation and value shopping with a smattering of commentary and arcana. I am trying to widen your wine horizons to help you break out of the Chardonnay, Cabernet, White Zin, Pinot Grigio model many in the U.S. seem to follow. My primary reason is that while these products are often wonderful, the old saw teaches us, variety is the spice of life. Here's a question for you. How many types of wine grapes are there? You can find out by searching “ how many wine grapes.”

Check out the 88-point, $15-$16, North Coast California red blend The Culprit. This is a blend that shows the winemaker’s art. The wines blended vary to provide a consistent profile. If you enjoy the product, you won't be disappointed due to vagaries in the weather. The 2014 blend: 32 percent Syrah, 28 percent Zinfandel, 13 percent Petite Sirah, 9 percent Sangiovese, 7 percent Grenache, 5 percent Barbera, 3 percent Cabernet Franc, 2 percent Primitivo and 1 percent Merlot. It must have been great fun for the winemaker locating these products and being able to conceive the finished product coming together to taste the same as last vintage. I think of this as the ultimate wine cheffing, the mystery basket of wine creation. A relatively new product, The Culprit has maintained an 88-point McD score since 2009.

For those thinking of a truly extraordinary holiday present for the person who has everything, check out Raymond Vineyards' Winemaker for a Day. This costs $125/person. Of course, you need to travel there and visit the wine region. Once you have created your blend, you can buy some. This is the schizzle, as my young folks tell me. Go to

Recently, I've had several solicitations to buy Krug Brut 2002 for "only" $300. Longtimers may remember that high-quality, vintage Champagne greatly improves over time. Krug is an excellent Champagne house, and the 2002 is highly touted with an aggregate average score of 97. It came on in 2012 at $225, then fell like a rock to $115 in February 2014, then escalated again to $322 this August. It is a wonderful wine with a clear, effervescent, pale-gold color with fresh fruit, roast hazelnut and almond aromas. On the palate, an intense, lively, rich profile of pineapple, ginger and red currant. Great persistence with a touch of saline minerality and honey in the finish. This is a truly elegant Champagne. All that said, I'd be hard pressed to buy it.

Instead, buy J. Schram 2004 at $100, or Iron Horse Joy, which is a blend of vintages that have spent 10-15 years on lees, depending on vintage. This costs about $180/magnum and is only sold in magnums (1.5 ml). If you wish to go for the absolute bargain price, my best in show is the Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvée 2007. This is selling at $320/case. Many wine critics regard the Carneros Cuvée 2003 as GF’s best effort at around $60/bottle, but we prefer the Royal Cuvée. If you see sparkling wine the same way many regard other chardonnay, not just for special occasions but as a frequent wine with food or just because the bubbles tickle your nose, these are your best bet. Our local seafood truly lends itself to the bright citrusy, green apple, yeasty flavors of the best brut vintage sparkling wine. Those who wish to make the Dom Perignon or Louis Roederer Cristal statement should give the Krug a try.