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Woodford Times - Peoria, IL
  • Wine Talk: Three fab bubblies for Valentine’s Day

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  • There are a number of adult beverages that might impress as well as endear you to your valentine this week. But few, if any, can match the powerful allure of Champagne or world-class sparkling wine.
    The pop of the cork is music to the ears. The sparkle in the glass is a sight for sore eyes. The fizz on the palate is a feast for the senses. Taken altogether, bubbly on Valentine’s Day is a cliche that works.
    It is the rare person who won’t be soothed and charmed by a glass or two of elegant bubbly. I have chosen a trio of Valentine’s Day bubblies that have distinguished themselves this year in major international wine competitions.
    The first, Domaine Carneros by Taittinger Cuvee de la Pompadour ($36), is a sparkling rose that earned a platinum award from judges at the fifth annual Sommelier Challenge, where wines are evaluated exclusively by certified sommeliers with vast experience. Domaine Carneros is owned by the prominent Taittinger Champagne house, whose exacting standards are beautifully maintained by founding winemaker Eileen Crain.
    Cuvee de la Pompadour is, in my humble opinion, the finest rose sparkling wine made in America. It was hardly a surprise that a group of trained sommeliers would choose it as one of their favorite bubblies at the Sommelier Challenge.
    My second recommendation, Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve Champagne ($65), also is a personal favorite. Chef de Cave Regis Camus oversees this venerable Champagne house and maintains the rich style that has made this non-vintage brut one of the best values in Champagne year after year. It delivers toasty notes of brioche and ripe stone fruits, with palate weight that is more aligned with vintage Champagne than a typical non-vintage Champagne.
    Camus can pull this off because Charles Heidsieck maintains some of the finest reserve stocks in the Champagne district. At $65, Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve isn’t cheap, but it measures up in blind tastings to Champagne that retails at much higher price points. This bubbly was a platinum-award winner at the 10th annual Critics Challenge in June. You guessed it; the judges making the critical evaluations were all prominent wine critics.
    The third and final recommendation, Gloria Ferrer Va de Vi ($22), is a gold-medal winner from the recent Winemaker Challenge, judged exclusively by professional winemakers. Va de Vi is an outstanding California sparkling wine from perhaps that state’s most underrated producer. It is made in the extra dry style, meaning it is slightly sweeter than a brut (although that would seem counter-intuitive).
    That said, this is a beautifully balanced, delicious extra-dry bubbly that would be ideal for those who enjoy their sparkling wine with something slightly sweet. If that person is you, then Va de Vi is your ticket this Valentine’s Day.
    Page 2 of 3 - Best Value
    Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer’s enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
    Kenwood Vineyards 2011 Merlot, Sonoma County ($14) — This was an iffy vintage in Sonoma County, but that didn’t stop Kenwood from doing what it seems to excel at vintage after vintage: delivering quality and value with its basic Sonoma County line of wines. This merlot shows lovely blueberry fruit and spice, with soft tannins and a lingering finish. For $14 you would be hard pressed to find a tastier “drink now” Merlot. Rating: 88.
    Sebastiani 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County ($19) — Winemaker Mark Lyon is extremely skilled at getting the most out of the grapes nature gave him. This 2011 Sonoma County cab exhibits a core of sweet red fruit with soft tannins and a kiss of oak. The vintage was difficult, but Sebastiani and Lyon made it work, and the result is a delicious California cab for under $20. Rating: 88.
    Tasting Notes
    Wakefield 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘The Visionary,’ Clare Valley & Eden Valley, Australia ($120) — Clare Valley is among the finest terroirs for cabernet sauvignon in all of South Australia, and this gem of a cab from Wakefield drives home that point. Beautifully layered and complex, this powerful example of Clare cab shows ripe blackberry and cassis fruit, aromas of mocha and coffee and a backnote of eucalyptus. It’s a stunning wine now, but destined to improve for those with the patience and discipline to cellar it another eight to 10 years. Rating: 96.
    J. Lohr 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Hilltop,’ Paso Robles ($35) — J. Lohr can hang with the best of them when it’s hitting on all cylinders, as it does with this 2010 Hilltop Cabernet. It’s everything anyone could want in a Paso cab, delivering layers of black-fruited aroma, sweet tannins and vanillin spice. This vintage is voluptuous yet structured and while it might improve over the next several years if cellared, it is beautiful at the moment. This may well be the finest $35 cabernet sauvignon in America. Rating: 94.
    J Vineyards 2012 Pinot Noir ‘Misterra,’ Russian River Valley ($50) — J’s Misterra is a pinot noir with a twist, made with the unusual addition of pinotage (native to South Africa) and pinot meunier, a red grape variety typically used in the production of sparkling wine. Winemaker Melissa Stackhouse has crafted a beautifully balanced, delicious red from this unique blend. It can legally be classified pinot noir because that grape accounts for 90 percent of the blend. It exhibits a spicy nose that follows through on the palate. On the palate, it delivers complex layers of red and blue fruit, with slightly chewy tannins. This is the first vintage of Misterra, and it shows the potential and promise of this daring combination of grapes. Rating: 93.
    Page 3 of 3 - Duckhorn Vineyards 2010 Merlot, Carneros ($70) — This excellent Carneros appellation Merlot is yet another example of what Duckhorn can achieve with this often-maligned grape variety. Merlot is the Rodney Dangerfield of Napa Valley red wines, yet in the right hands it is as magnificent as king cabernet, and sometimes better. Duckhorn has been a Merlot specialist since its inception and treats the grape variety with all of the dignity and care most Napa vintners accord cabernet. This vintage from the cool Carneros district is restrained as Napa Valley reds go, exhibiting layers of blueberry and currant fruit, exquisite balance and a subtle spice note on the finish. Though enjoyable now, it promises to be even more dazzling with an additional five to seven years of cellar age. Rating: 93.
    Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru.
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