June 27, 2008

Bubbledome #1: A Winner by Knockout!

One would expect the French to dominate these events. Champagne is, after all, the sparkling wine equivalent of the US Basketball Dream Team (Barcelona, not Athens). But our first champion in the Bubbledome hails from Italy. The non-vintage Ferrari Brut (no relation to the fancy cars) was the hands down winner against the 2005 Pétillant Naturel from Puzelat.

So it's a win for Italy out of the gate. But Giulio Ferrari was inspired by France. When he founded his winery in 1902, he actually planted cuttings originally from Champagne. He chose to put them in the nearly Alpen regions outside Trento (north of Verona) because the soil matched that of the famed French region.

Thierry Puzelat is a celebrated grower based in the Eastern stretches of the Loire Valley. He has a cult following amongst aficionados of "natural wines". (Lab note: there are subtle differences between "organic," a term for vegetables, "natural," which usually involves some form of organic farming and non-interventionist winemaking, and "biodynamic," which is kind of natural+plus. We will will try to illuminate the distinctions in a future report. And if anyone knows of a succinct explanation somewhere we'd love to know about it.). A writer who's tasting notes I always enjoy, Brooklynguy, recently wrote up several of Puzelat's wines with an enthusiasm that makes you want to drink them.

Puzelat's sparkler is made from Chenin Blanc in a méthode ancestrale, meaning the secondary fermentation (where the bubbles are produced) happens without liqueur de tirage (additional of sugar) or additional yeast. Fermentation, and therefore bubble production, simply stops when the yeast in the bottle is exhausted. Sparkling wines made in this manner are sometimes not so bubbly.

But this one had a fair amount of fizz. And an unexpected nose, faint hints of lanolin and Fuji apple and something strange and pleasant that I could only describe as caramelized rubber bands (and not at all like cork taint, promise). In the mouth, it falls fairly flat. Green apple (and you scoffed at our palate training exercise) with some faint mineral tones on the finish.

So the Puzelat wasn't bad, but it was out-classed by the Brut from Trento.

The Ferrari started out strong with a really interesting nose of doughy, buttery French toast and spiced apples. It continued to be impressive on the palate. Golden Delicious apple (again the palate training pays dividends!) with a lovely toffee undertone. Great acid balance and a sexy, if too brief, finish that was less chalk and maybe more like a white nougat. Hard to be precise because the delights of the finish are more about texture than flavor. Overall, this wine leaves a deep impression of Autumn with its buttery spices, crisp apples and falling leaves. I'm buying another bottle to drink in October.

This one could hold onto the champion's belt for a while.


Brooklynguy said...

hey jd - thanks for the shout-out. and bigger thanks for the concise and illuminating paragraph defining methode ancestrale. i didn't include the puzleat petillant in my write up becuase i also was not impressed with the wine this time. the last time i liked this wine was the 2002 vintage, and i really liked it then. not since then though. the still wines - magnifique. the petillant - something's just plain wrong.

J David Harden said...

Just calling it as I see it! It's an honor to have you round for a visit. Might need to change the name outside the Bubbledom...

I think that even on a good day Puzelat's petillant is just average. But I also think a striking percentage of his bottles are off (see 7/1 post). My guess is that he's using less sulfur dioxide or more likely none at all (b/c he doesn't want to stop fermentation after bottling), so some of the nasty yeasts (maybe brett in his barriques?) are gaining sway. But it's just a guess. cheers!