Sparkling: Il Mosnel Franciacorta Brut NV, Lombardia, Italy
Among Italian sparklers, Prosecco seems to get all the attention these days. While its light, fresh appeal is undeniable, it’s Franciacorta, not Prosecco, that’s the country’s real answer to Champagne. Franciacorta has a bit more richness, power, and depth than Prosecco; made in the Metodo Classico (i.e., the same way as Champagne) Franciacortas like the Il Mosnel deserve renewed attention as Champagne’s prices continue their upward climb. One of the region’s oldest wineries, Il Mosnel only began making sparkling wines a few decades ago. The Brut is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir; it’s fairly full and smooth, with brioche, pear, and hazelnut notes plus a hint of vanilla on the finish.
Serve with: Grouper Isaac Stewart’s Black Grouper with Creamy Polenta, Grilled Fennel, and Shellfish-Pernod Sauce
More from Germany: Spätburgunder
White: Conte Leopardi ‘Calcare’ 2007, Le Marche, Italy
Sauvignon Blanc has made in-roads among the producers of Friuli in the northeast of Italy, but the Calcare is a bit different. It’s from Le Marche, on the Adriatic Coast east of Tuscany. It falls somewhere in between Sancerre and New Zealand-style Sauvignon in style, with the minerality of the former and some of the fruit of the latter. The same could be said of many South African Sauvignons, but a more aromatic character as well as those floral notes give the Calcare a style all its own.
Serve with: Artichokes Richard Corrigan’s Salad of Cornish Crab and Globe Artichokes
More Italian Whites: Pinot Grigio and More
Red: Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2000, Napa Valley, California
That Chateau Montelena’s Cabernets are good is no surprise; they’ve been receiving high scores and praise since the 70s. They also age remarkably well, and occasional library releases have made these wines available without resorting to auctions and the like. At 8 years old, the 2000 still has a long life ahead of it, but it is starting to come into its own; tasted six months ago I thought it would be forever until I could say that. But the firm, dense structure of this Cab is finally unfolding a pure nose of cassis liqueur, cedar, and blackberry, with fantastic graphite undertones. The tannins are smooth and supple, and the finish lingers. The 2000 was not as widely praised at its release as other vintages, so it’s good to see it get its day.
Serve with: Lamb Christian Shaffer’s Roasted Rack of Lamb with Swiss Chard
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Dessert: A. Margaine ‘Traditionelle Demi-Sec’ Champagne NV
Demi-secs are not a priority for most Champagne producers; few make them, and even fewer export them to the US. In fact, two large Champagne houses, Veuve-Clicquot and Laurent-Perrier, dominate the market here. Margaine, on the other hand, is a small grower-producer – they only make about 55,000 bottles each year. Their vineyards are in the village of Villers-Marmery, which unlike its neighbors in the Montagne de Reims area grows mostly Chardonnay instead of Pinot Noir. Margaine’s demi-sec blend is identical to their Brut; they simply add more sugar at the dosage stage. The resulting wine is light and smooth, with floral and peach touches upfront which move into lemon curd, vanilla, brioche and pear on the palate. It’s elegant and fresh on the finish.
Serve with:Fruit Pastries Gordon Hamersley’s Warm Apple Tart
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Beer: Prof. Fritz Briem “1809” Berliner-Style Weisse, Oberbayern, Germany
In the old days, before lager beers became the mainstay of German production (i.e. 18th, 19th century) two regions became known for their wheat beers: Berlin and Bavaria. The former pretty much died out, and hefeweizens as we known them today are made in the Bavarian style. But Professor Fritz Briem, working with the Bavarian brewery Weihenstephan and Doemens, has re-created the Berlin style. The main difference is its leaner, tart character, courtesy of lactic bacteria that are introduced at the same time as more traditional yeast. Instead of the full-bodied, banana and clove character of many wheat beers, the 1809 is citrusy and light, with touches of yeast and even yogurt. It’s very refreshing, and like wine should smooth out and develop tertiary flavors if left to age for a while. If that sounds far-fetched, consider why it’s called “1809:” that was the year that Napoleon, impressed by the brews, declared them to be the “Champagne of the North.”
Serve with: Salads Marcel Biró’s Baby Calamari Salad
More Wheat Beer: Hefeweizens