Star-Bulletin Features

Wednesday, December 26, 2001


Tiny bubbles

7 wine aficionados offer tips in selecting
delicious yet affordable holiday spirits

By Betty Shimabukuro

In this case, size does matter. And the smaller, the better. When we're talking wines with fizz, tiny bubbles are a mark of quality. So here's today's special word: mousse (no chocolate involved). Mousse, in terms of sparkling wines, refers to the size of the beads, or bubbles. Smaller bubbles are more delicate and produce a wine of greater finesse.

New Year's Eve approaches, and with it the obligation to select an appropriate beverage for midnight toasting. André is actually selling for as little as $3 a bottle this year, but you really can do a lot better than that.

Serving as our guides are the seven regular contributors to our weekly wine-pairing column, "By the Glass." They've put together a list of suggestions from the classically styled Charles Heidseick to contemporary, distinctive California sparklers, with prices that range from a heart-stopping $300 to a value-oriented $9.

Master sommelier Chuck Furuya suggests sampling a bottle from a small, boutique producer, where wines are made in small, handcrafted batches as opposed to quantities.

These wines offer purity and "deliciousness," Furuya says, and work very well when served with food.

"Finer restaurants and retail stores on the mainland were hip to the boutique trend four or five years ago, but it's just starting to come to the islands."

Boutique quality, by the way, doesn't have to mean expensive. Compared to a "big house" such as Moët -- which gives us Dom Perignon for $100 a bottle -- smaller producers in France, California and Italy are offering true values, some under $20.

Retailer Lyle Fujioka says it's a good year for experimentation, with prices in general on the wane. The economy being weak and world events putting a damper on the celebratory mood, many distributors are offering discounts, which retailers are passing on.

"The advice to consumers is buy, buy, buy," he says. "You're going to see deals that are amazing."

Before we get to the specific suggestions, here are two more terms (after mousse) that will help you understand the descriptions these experts offer:

>> "Yeast" or "yeastiness" has to do with the time the wine spent in contact with yeast, but specifically relates to complexity of flavor.

>> "Pinpoint detail" indicates a wine that is intricate, as opposed to gaudy.

Prices quoted are retail estimates:

Chuck Furuya

Fine Wine Imports

Agrapart Blanc de Blancs, Grand Cru, nonvintage ($43): A world-class, "boutique," grand cru! This handcrafted bubbly, comprising 100 percent Chardonnay, is all about elegance, finesse and sophistication. It has incredibly fine bubbles and pinpoint detail with a long, long finish. Class and refinement all the way!

2000 Moscato d'Asti, Tintero Elvio "Sori Gramela" ($17): There are many Moscatos. Some good. Some bad. This is the best I've had. Delightfully fizzy. Not sparkling -- fizzy. With a light, little bead mousse. So fine and delicate. I am always amazed at how delicately light and refined this wine really is, despite it's fabulous intensity and concentration. What really wowed me, however, was its captivating purity. Most Moscatos, whether from Italy, California, France or Australia, are about ripe, sweet fruit. In wines from Elvio, you can appreciate the limestone soil in which the grapes are grown. Nowhere else in the world can you get a wine like this! Serve it with fresh fruits (steeped or not), prosciutto and melon, tiramisu, panna cotta, foie gras, custard. Just make sure you serve it well chilled. Crisp and refreshing.

Lyle Fujioka

Fujioka Wine Merchants

NV Charbaut, Epernay, Brut ($17.95): An uncompromising wine of Champagne quality at a value-based level. Representative of a classic Champagne style, the numerous tiny beads create wonderful bubbles and a generous mousse when it first hits the glass. Toasty tones of yeast, great fruit character, magnificent nuances in the nose and amazing balance of flavors on the palate make this quick to disappear from the flute and the store shelf!

1998 Michel Olivier, Blanquette de Limoux, Brut ($8.95): This sparkling wine will eliminate the anxiety of what you think bubbles cost. The soft, friendly nose offers aromas of pretty tree fruits, light yeastiness and hints of orange. The beautiful, animated effervescence with tiny beads creates a bright, happy look! The zingy style of this dry French sparkler is pleasant and well balanced, with a surprisingly long finish that makes this easy to drink and impossible to beat for value and pleasure.

Richard Field

R. Field Wine Co.

Chandon Reserve Cuvee 495 ($18.99): Chandon is a respected Napa Valley producer. The Reserve Cuvee 495 is an example of a French-styled sparkler that has intense autolyzed yeastiness -- meaning it downplays the fruitiness that you normally find in California sparklers and develops a fine, pinpointy mousse with flavors rarely seen in any wine at this price.

Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 1997 ($39): Schramsberg in Napa Valley produced this wine very much in the French mode. It has a pale copper color with a serious intensity and yeasty character. It develops a light cherry fruit flavor and a polished texture. This is a very well made California sparkler.

Jay Kam

Vintage Wine Cellar

1996 Roederer L'Hermitage ($35-$40): Roederer is famous for making France's Cristal, one of the most famous Champagnes in the world. It is also expensive ($160 to $180). Roederer L'Hermitage is made in California in much the same way as Cristal and by the same company, but using grapes from California. What you get is a great sparkling wine that compares favorably to many well-known, expensive Champagnes. You will be amazed at the quality of this sparkler.

Charles Heidseick Brut Mis en Cave 1995 ($40-$45): Charles Heidseick has been making impressive Champagne lately. This nonvintage Brut is very well balanced. Smooth and integrated, with a bit of yeast, nuts, mocha and mushroom flavors. This medium-weight Champagne is versatile. It is good enough to stand solo, or its harmony allows it to be enjoyed with all kinds of food.

Mark Shishido

Alan Wong's Restaurants

Prosecco, Zardetto ($10): A great anytime sparkler from Veneto, Italy. Fabio Zardetto's dry offering is refreshing, feather light, with bright pear and apple flavors, and so lively. Great value.

Bollinger, "Vieilles Vignes Francaises," Blanc de Noirs ($300): At the opposite end of the spectrum is this rare and expensive sparkler with decadent, endless, mouth-filling flavors and nuances, in the signature masculine style of Bollinger. It's more of an oddity -- the extreme -- so rich and "over the top," just smelling it can overwhelm the senses, like the thought of a "quarter-pounder" foie gras sandwich.

Ivy Nagayama

Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar

1994 Charles Brut Classique, Anderson Valley ($18): This wine is a perfect celebration sparkler from California. Made of 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay from Anderson Valley, Calif., it has great intensity and concentration, yet is effortlessly elegant and suave.

Vino Spumante, Marcalberto "Metodo Classico," Italy (available in restaurants only): A delicious blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown in the rolling hills of Barbaresco. The French call it "Methode Champenois." The Italians call it "Metodo Classico." The result is a superbly elegant wine with a really pretty, silky finish, ideal for our contemporary foods.

Jason Panui

Coreterra Wines

Billecart-Salmon "Rose" Champagne ($50): This elegant style is one suitable for a romantic evening with someone special. Elegantly sleek and crisp, with hints of strawberry. Delicate -- not a yeasty style. It's a great buy for style and elegance.

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin