Nosh Box: Tiny Bubbles in November


Spumante is the most popular sparkling Italian prosecco, or white wine. A slightly less sparkling version, frizzante, made from red grapes, and served young is called lambrusco.


All that glitters is not gold. And all that bubbles is not Champagne. November revolves around Thanksgiving, fall’s centerpiece holiday. And now is the time to commissary for December’s feasts and celebrations. This advice applies especially to holiday wines, because many low-production varietals are likely to be available now. As time progresses, supplies have nowhere to go but down.

Turkey Time

Thanksgiving menus are notoriously turkey-centric. Just as folks with O+ blood type are known as universal donors, when pairing wines, turkey is the universal partner: a cordial tablemate with reds, whites, rosès, and all sorts of sparklers. The focus here is on local and imported examples of the latter.

The East Bay wine market continues to evolve in ways that benefit consumers. More international vintners are focusing on the U.S. market and competing for shelf-space. Changing demographics are part of the equation, as Gen-X consumers become more prominent in the marketplace.

Citing an ancient proverb “When water buffalos battle in the swamp, it’s the frogs that are trampled and die,” let’s examine the shuffle among major retailers.

• Liquor Barn long ago closed the door on its way out of town.

• Cost Plus World Market Place expanded market-share expansion and varietals beginnings in the 1980s. But their wine operation has not kept pace with the happenings elsewhere.

• Safeway and other supermarkets’ wine inventory various from store to store, but all outlets carry significant selections compared with a decade ago.

• Costco imports massive amounts of wine, and sells it at a low markup. According to CNBC, “Costco is the world's largest importer of high-end French wines.” Meanwhile their house brand Kirkland wines have garnered a special category among major wine-rating publications.

• And right now the biggest water buffalos going head-to-head in the East Bay face-off are BevMo and Total Wines. Both giants are trying to outdo the other in terms of service, selections, convenience and price. What a great time to commissary your wine cellar for all of the holidays.

International Players

Champagne—France’s namesake sparkling wine is the standard of comparison for all others. And the name is as vehemently protected, just like Coca Cola or Xerox in America. The recent name change for the fermentation method from Methode Champenoise to Traditional Method demonstrates this protectionism.

Champagne growers are ecstatic over a bumper crop of grapes this year. Vintage 2018 is expected to be one of the best, but it will be some time before it’s available on domestic shelves. So settle instead for an off-the-shelf bottle of Moët & Chandon, Piper-Heidsieck, or Taittinger, which are easy to come by.

 Spumante is the most popular sparkling Italian prosecco, or white wine. A slightly less sparkling version, frizzante, made from red grapes, and served young is called lambrusco. Both are readily available in the East Bay.

Cava—From the Spanish word for cave, where the wines were first produced, sparkling cava is produced in Catalonia province. No blending is allowed. And sweetness levels range from the very dry, brut nature, through dulce, the sweetest. Categorically, cava may be the best value among imported sparklers.

Sekt—While most East Bay wine buyers would be familiar with Rhines, Rhones, or Gewürztraminer, most may not know that Deutschland ranks 10th among global wine producers. Fewer would be familiar with Sekt, the German term for sparking wines.

Rules and regulations play cardinal roles in German culture. The fatherland recently developed compulsory regulations for bubbly production. Patterned after the French, the dictum covers hand picking, fermentation, aging, alcohol level, crush volume, age at harvest, and eligible varietals for producing sket.

Along with the regulations, German vintners have a new marketing strategy to increase awareness, and succeed in the world market—along with a special push to increase U.S. market share.

Local Favorites:

• A penny pincher award goes to Prince Alexander Loire Valley, traditional method, 100 percent Cabernet Franc, at select Costco warehouses, $8.99 for 750 ml.

• Although neither a Rock Wall nor a Rosenblum Cellars wine, the top seller at their Jack London Square tasting room is Bivio Italia Sparkling Rose Brut, Extra Dry, 100 percent Chardonnay, $33 for 750 ml.

• Locally made by Livermore winemaker Karl D. Wente, the 2015 Small Lot Brut, Methode Champenoise, fermented from Arroyo Seco appellation grapes in Monterey County, $40 for 750 ml.

Final Note—When choosing, don’t hesitate to ask salespeople for advice. Tell them what you’re looking for. Ask them to describe various sparklers. Finally, make a point to consume the bubbly that you purchase this month by January’s end. Sparklers are ready to drink now. Don’t chance damage by storing them improperly or for too long.


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