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Posted by Robert Whitley on December 1, 2017 at 9:35 AM

The Champagne Difference

Remember that time a friend offered you a glass of Champagne but poured a prosecco instead? It's a common mistake that will often be repeated throughout the holidays.

Champagne is the sparkling wine that is produced in a specific region of France northeast of Paris. There is a huge difference between Champagne and other sparkling wines like prosecco, cava, cremant and the many New World bubblies.

With a few exceptions that were grandfathered in when global commitments were hammered out (Korbel being one example), current trade policies prohibit labeling anything other than Champagne as Champagne. The Champenois guard their Champagne identity jealously, and with good reason.

The Champagne region produces a unique product that is frequently imitated but seldom surpassed. One aspect of that is the terroir: The chalky soils instill a steely firmness in Champagne. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the firm structure of Champagne allows it to age beautifully for decades. Few other sparkling wines can make a similar claim.

Beyond the physical characteristics of the Champagne region that influence the final product, there is the matter of style. The better Champagne houses reserve generous stocks of wine from the best vintages. The so-called reserve wines are then blended with current vintages to maintain quality as well as a specific house style.

Few other wine regions that produce high-quality sparkling wines go to the trouble of building reserve stocks from their finest vintages. The reserve wines add richness and backbone to less successful vintages, allowing Champagne to deliver a consistent product even in less successful vintages.

This sets Champagne apart and is the primary reason to remember that Champagne is Champagne, and everything else is sparkling wine.

La Mannella, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) 2013 ($72, Quintessential)
 Though the wines are bottled and in distribution to wholesalers, the official release date of the 2013 Brunello di Montalcino is the beginning of 2018.  The growing season was cooler than 2012, which suggests the wines might be more elegant than powerful, but generalizations can’t be made, if at all, until tasting a full range of them.  As with many Brunello producers, La Manella blends wines made from Sangiovese grown in vineyards in two parts of the DOCG, north and southeast of the village itself, to achieve a balanced and complex finished wine.  They have achieved that with their traditionally framed 2013.  It has impressive combination of density and suaveness with luxuriously silky tannins.  A refined wine, it’s long, with bright acidity that imparts an uplifting freshness. There’s the barest hint of attractive bitterness in the finish that reminds you this a serious wine. 93 Michael Apstein

Dr. Michael
This Issue's Reviews
Three Women of Bordeaux
Rebecca Murphy

The wine business in Bordeaux has been traditionally male dominated, but as in many businesses throughout the world, women are playing a bigger role. Or, maybe it is just that they are finally getting recognition for the role they have played all along. In any case, I met many very talented and forceful women during a recent visit courtesy of the Bordeaux Wine Council. I'd like to introduce you to three women who did not start out in the wine business, but now find themselves fully immersed and evidently loving every minute of their work.
The Mother of All Wine Auctions
Michael Apstein

The Napa Valley Wine Auction (officially known as Auction Napa Valley), which started in 1981, bills itself as 'the world's most celebrated charity wine event.' To its credit, it raises a lot of money--roughly $10 million last year. Yet this hoopla pales in comparison to the century-old mother of all charity wine auctions, the Vente des Vins des Hospices de Beaune, usually just known as either Hospices de Beaune--if you are an outsider--or La Vente des Vins, if you are from Burgundy. In its present form, the Hospices de Beaune auction started in 1859, which makes the recently completed auction-always on the 3rd Sunday of November-its 157th. The sale raised $13.2 million (11.2 million euros), an all-time record with the proceeds going to the hospitals of Beaune and various other charities.
Wine With
WINE WITH…Spaghetti Aglio e Olio

It's that quiet time of year in the kitchen, the brief moment between America's two most food-centric holidays when, for just a few days, home-cooks across the country take a mini-break from shopping, chopping, baking, simmering, peeling, slicing, and roasting. We no longer need to search the refrigerator for a tiny bit of real estate in which to store that cupful of leftover gravy (which may or may not get re-purposed for the next feast). The silver will stay polished for at least another few weeks; we don't have to iron a fresh tablecloth, or lug bags of groceries home for a while. And one thing we definitely don't want to do right now is spend a lot of time cooking tonight's dinner. On the other hand, we're already sick of sandwiches, done with dieting, and tired of take-out. We want something that's quick and simple to prepare but is also delicious and soul soothing. What we need is Italian comfort food in the form of spaghetti richly infused with garlic and olive oil.
On My Table
A Candidate for the Holiday Table
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley, Zinfandel, 2013 ($36): The holiday season brings the perpetual dilemma of what type of wine to serve with the major meals. In reality, no single wine can complement the entire mash-up of flavors on the holiday table. The sensible route is to choose a good-quality wine that works fairly well with most of the food, is easy to drink and is enjoyable to a wide range of personal tastes. This Zinfandel fits the bill. I have always enjoyed the wines of Grgich Hills because I find them to have a note of refinement that is not the norm for California reds. Founded forty years ago, the winery rose to prominence on the reputation of founding winemaker Mike Grgich, who was the talent behind the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that won the legendary Judgment of Paris wine-tasting in 1976. Grgich is now 93 years old and still active, while his daughter Violet and son-in-law Ivo Jeramaz have taken the helm. The winery has remained small by choice, and all the wines are estate-grown.