Tuesday, June 30, 2015

"The Boston Globe" on Georgian wine: Off-the-beaten-path sparklers

by Ellen Bhang

30.06.2015. The Republic of Georgia is making sparkling wine. And there is another good fizzy pour coming from the Basque region of northern Spain. Both are made with grapes you probably don’t already know.

Producers all over the wine world are crafting frothy pours from varietals that may be entirely new to you, and offer the lively zip of bubbles in your glass.

One of these off-the-beaten-path grapes, called famoso, teetered on the edge of extinction until quite recently. Fifteen years ago, only two rows of these vines remained in northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna. The varietal declined in the aftermath of the late-19th-century phylloxera scourge, then fell further into obscurity, easily mistaken for a similar looking grape. Today, winegrowers like Mauro Altini and his family at La Sabbiona winery craft these large berried, intensely aromatic clusters into a sparkling white called “Divo.” They use the charmat method, where the wine undergoes a second fermentation in a pressurized tank, to create lovely, persistent bubbles. (This is the same manner in which prosecco is made, but you would never confuse this glass of famoso — with a distinctive lemon curd fragrance — with its ubiquitous counterpart.)

The charmat method is also used at Bagrationi, based in Tbilisi, in the Republic of Georgia. The company, a leading producer of bubbly in the former Soviet country, is named for a prince who established the sparkling wine house in 1882. Winemakers craft native grapes like chinebuli (also known as chinuri), mtsvane, and tsitska into a frothy sparkler offering appetizing scents of apples and a touch of yeastiness.

The varietal hondarribi zuri has slightly better name recognition, particularly among fans of the spritzy white wine called txakoli (pronounced “cha-co-lee”) hailing from the Basque region of northern Spain. This grape comprises the majority of a blend from family producer Uriondo, situated near Bilbao. Mune mahatsa (in France, folle blanche) and txori mahatsa (sauvignon blanc) round out the grape blend. Just a whisper of bubbles are captured by bottling the wine with a little residual CO2 that remains after fermentation.

Another lovely porch sipper from Emilia-Romagna, playfully called “Bi Fri,” an abbreviation of “bianco frizzante,” is crafted by brother-in-law winemakers at Podere il Saliceto. Sauvignon blanc also makes an appearance in this white blend, but the focal grape is trebbiano Modenese, named for the same fruit that is turned into the famous balsamic vinegar of Modena. But there is nothing vinegar-like about this winsome, lemony pour. Bubbles are created through methode ancestrale, where young wine containing a little residual sugar finishes fermentation in the bottle under the seal of a crown cap. As you make your way to the bottom, this dry quaff offers some cloudiness from that in-bottle fermentation. But don’t worry. As the bottle’s name suggests, “be free.”

Take the road less traveled.

Podere il Saliceto “Bi Fri” Bianco dell'Emilia Frizzante Secco Aromas are at first shy in this gently sparkling white, which offers a bright palate of lemon and a touch of green apple, altogether easy to sip alongside toasted Marcona almonds, crunchy crudites, and salumi before a meal. Around $20. At The Wine Bottega, North End, 617-227-6607; Streetcar Wine & Beer, Jamaica Plain, 617-522-6416.

Uriondo Bizkaiko Txakolina 2014 Just a spritz of CO2 remains in this minerally white, offering scents of the sea and a hint of white peach. The dry palate offers moderate tartness — a softer style than its txakoli peers — with citrus and pear, and a refreshing impression of saline. Skewer white anchovy and a pickled guindilla pepper (or a salty green olive) to craft your own Basque-inspired pintxo. Around $20. At Central Bottle Wine + Provisions, Cambridge, 617-225-0040; Social Wines, South Boston, 617-268-2974.

La Sabbiona “Divo” Famoso Spumante Extra Dry Plentiful bubbles inhabit a fragrant pour with scents of lemon curd and confectionary aromas. Residual sugar gives this quaff a lovely roundness, with flavors of peach, pear, and fruit that is faintly tropical. Pair with scallop crudo drizzled with fruity olive oil. Around $18. At Social Wines; Boston Wine Exchange, Financial District, 617-422-0100.

Bagrationi 1882 “Classic” Brut Mousse-like bubbles convey yeasty, almost savory aromas, leading to impressions of bruised apple, toast, and saline in the mouth. On the plate with this dry white: crispy fried chicken. Around $13. At Apex Wine & Spirits, Lexington, 781-860-9463; The Wine Gallery, Brookine, 617-277-5522.

    Georgian Wine Catalogue      
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