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Sparkling wines get their chance to shine

Buyers enjoy discovering bubbly from around the globe

Winemakers around the globe are making great strides in sparkling wine, in some cases rivaling the paradigm of bubbly, French Champagne. This is a boon to operators who want to diversify the flavors, styles and price points of their sparkling wine selections.

“I like Champagne a lot, but it is fun to discover something really tasty from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia or Chile,” said Eduard Seitan, partner in The Publican in Chicago and its sibling restaurants there, Blackbird and Avec, and creator of the wine lists for the three.

Seitan gave each place a sparkler section with a different personality. Champagne takes the stage at Blackbird, where the thrust is new American cuisine, while Spanish and Portuguese bubblies shine at the Mediterranean-inspired Avec. The Publican, a beer-focused restaurant with a penchant for pork, seafood and shellfish, features a bubbly section strong in sparklers from the Southern hemisphere. At the latter, two South African sparklers are standouts, Seitan said, Graham Beck 2008 Brut Rose, priced at $41, and The Ruins 2009 Brut, priced at $39.

“They may not be as complex and layered as some of the fantastic Champagnes out there,” Seitan said. “But they are really well made and very good on their own.”

Seitan also touted Yering Station 2004 Yarrabank, from Australia, priced at $59, made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, typical Champagne grapes, and Toso Brut from Argentina, priced at $32 by the bottle and $11 by the glass. He said the Toso is especially enjoyable as a summertime tipple because of its relatively low alcohol content: “It’s our easy to drink, inexpensive, workhorse sparkling.”

Also casting a wide net for bubbly is Juliette Pope, beverage director of Gramercy Tavern, a contemporary American restaurant in New York City’s Union Square Hospitality Group. On her list, eclectic offerings from Spain, Germany, Italy and Long Island, N.Y., priced at $38 to $95, keep company with a block of Champagnes priced mainly in the $100 to $400 range.

“Champagne is just frankly expensive when you deal at a high level, as we do,” Pope said. “We also need sparkling wine that is not so expensive, but also well made and delicious tasting.”

Her finds include Causse-Marines Preambulles, made by a small producer in Gaillac, Southern France. “It has a little touch of apple cider in the flavor and is very soft and quaffable,” Pope said. “It’s not challenging or super complex, but just delicious and only $40.”

Another attractive choice, Pope added, is Bruder Dr. Becker 2007 Extra Trocken, a very dry sparkler from Germany that dispels the notion that German wines are inevitably sweet. The Scheurebe grape it is made from evokes flavors of grapefruit and white pepper. “It is very racy and refreshing and really fun, for only $38,” she said.

Pope looks closer to home, the North Fork of Long Island, N.Y., for Lieb 2007 Brut, which shows the melon quality of the Pinot Blanc grape, priced at $55 per bottle, and Shinn 2007 Brut, with nuances of apple from Chardonnay, priced at $65 by the bottle and $13 by the glass.

“When you are putting a sparkling wine list together, your first thoughts go to Champagne,” said wine consultant Steve Tindle of the Vine Experience in Chicago, formerly wine and spirits director of Shaw’s Crab House there. After those slots are filled, he suggested looking at Italian Prosecco, Spanish cava and California sparkling wine to add interest and value to the list. A couple of items popular at Shaw’s are Jean-Louis Denois Blanc de Blancs from the Languedoc in the South of France that is $13.99 per glass and Spain’s Avinyo Reserva Cava Rose Brut for $65 a bottle.

At McCrady’s, known for new Southern fine dining in Charleston, S.C., sommelier Clint Sloan said that Spanish Cava has the best value for the money in sparkling wine today, “hands down.” One he favors is Castellroig Cava Brut, priced at $40 on his list.

“In the wine business, the Spanish are the most forward thinkers in the world,” Sloan said. “They are adapting to the market probably more than anyone, adjusting their wine laws, allowing Chardonnay in their blends and being much cleaner in their winemaking technique.”

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