Fizz Is The Biz

Three, two, one, pop! Four sparklers to crack open on New Year’s Eve.

There’s only one true way to tackle celebrations welcoming in the New Year, and that’s with a cracking sparkling wine.

Seeing as it’s practically mission impossible to obtain the real deal from Champagne itself — and if you do, it will cancel out that entire Christmas bonus pay cheque you just received — the only way to mark the moment is by staying local.

Amalaya Brut Nature.
Amalaya Brut Nature.

With sparkling wine hailing from Salta, La Pampa, and various nooks in Mendoza, this “fizz is the biz” list will not only unveil unexpected corners of Argentina producing sparkling wine, but surprise your hosts or guests under the fireworks without breaking the bank.

Based in Cafayate, Salta, Amalaya has been producing award-winning wine at excellent prices — under 80 pesos — for quite some time now. One go-to Torrontés is always Amalaya’s, which they brand as a blend given that it’s 85 percent Torrontés and 15 percent Riesling.

While it’s not strictly necessary to label it in that way, as 85 percent is the minimum requirement to call a wine a varietal, in fact it’s a clever marketing tactic to pique consumers’ interest. And very fresh and dependable it is too.

So when it came to sampling Amalaya’s first sparkling wine, produced using the charmat method, my automatic assumption was that the same blend and quantity of grapes had been incorporated.

On the contrary and remarkably, it was Riesling that dominated, and what an ace surprise that was!
Expecting flowers and tropical fruit to appear in the nose, the contrast of citrus and minerals was mind-blowing, thanks to the dominating Riesling.

Take some spicy beef empanadas from Salta up a whole new social class by accompanying them with this fizz; these bubbles will also pair well with a spicy Asian dish such as a Thai green curry as well as fatty slivers of Serrano ham, or crudo if that’s all you can get your hands on.

Breaking down booze barriers
In Agrelo, a department within Malbec heartland Luján de Cuyo in Mendoza, Las Perdices has been part of the sparkling market for quite some time.

Las Perdices Brut Nature.
Las Perdices Brut Nature.

Winemaker Juan Carlos Muñoz launched Sweety last year, a smart move to try and capture that vast market of women who tend not to drink alcohol unless it’s sweet enough. Produced using the charmat method, it sports a friendly fusion of 50 percent Torrontés, 30 percent Viognier and 20 percent Sauvignon Blanc.

But this year’s latest addition, taking the line to six offerings, is aimed at connoisseurs who aren’t afraid to break down booze barriers. While the Brut Nature — with three to six grams of sugar per litre, is on the dry end and qualifies as a dependable fizz, the on-lees version is more of a conversation piece.

Made with 80 percent Chardonnay and 20 percent Pinot Noir, just like the Brut Nature, this Sobre Borras (on lees) version means the wine has undergone its second fermentation in bottle — but the lees haven’t been removed.

Capped with a beer bottle top, rather than corked, the result is fascinating. Look at it and cloudy apple juice springs to mind. Sugar is minimal at three grams a litre. The nose is toasty, and mineral with white fruits and a hint of raspberry popping up, so far so good.

But the difference is in the mouth. Far more unctuous and rounded than usual traditional method sparkling wines, the recent contact with lees during the second fermentation in bottle is far more noticeable than it would be in a sparkler that has been aged. A rough diamond if you will, but with plenty of shine at the heart of it.

Honest in the nose and mouth
Sticking to Mendoza but a little further south, Doña Paula chose a white grape better known for making fantastic wines in France’s Loire region to make its latest fizz.

Sauvignon Blanc is the core of Sauvage Blanc, a sparkling wine that is as honest in the nose as it is in the mouth.

I love the DP SB for its fruity and fresh mouth and superb acidity, so sampling the bubbled version was a pleasant surprise. The usual aromatic tropical fruit with a hint of herbal green pop up in the sparkling edition, making it as frank as the bubble-free version.

Given that this grape is usually aromatic and works perfectly as an apéritif, this would be a superb sparkler to kick off new year’s eve celebrations.

Adoring the origin
This last NYE recommendation isn’t exactly new but I adore its origin — and its price.

La Pampa province is better known for its flat grasslands and hefty cow population, so I’m always tickled by the fact that Bodega del Desierto from 25 de Mayo produces well-priced sparkling wine produced the same way as it is in Champagne, made using the champenoise method.

Pampa Mía comes in two flavours — Chardonnay and Pinot Noir — but it’s the latter blanc de noir that tickles my palate.

It’s deep onion skin, slightly copper, tones prove its grape origin, while the nose is pure berry, with raspberry at the forefront backed up by floral notes. Thanks to its time on lees, keen noses will also detect warm toasty aromas.

In the mouth bubbles are smooth yet prominent and at 120 pesos a bottle, this is a great sparkler that will brighten any party — pair with beef carpaccio for a well-rounded starter.

Salud — and a Happy New Year to you all!

The chosen few
Amalaya Brut Nature, Bodega Colomé, Cafayate, Salta, 100 pesos.
Las Perdices Vino Espumante Sobre Borras Nature, Viña Las Perdices, Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, 125 pesos.
Doña Paula Sauvage Blanc Brut Nature, Bodega Doña Paula, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, 165 pesos.
Pampa Mía Extra Brut Pinot Noir Blanc de Noir Bodega del Desierto, Alto Valle del Río Colorado, La Pampa 120 pesos.

Buenos Aires Herald, December 28, 2014

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