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April 11, 2010

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Try the new age bubblies

WHILE I make no bones about my preference for Old World sparklers, I must admit that there are some very desirable New World sparkling wines that offer plenty of delicious bubbles for the money.

While Old World sparkling wines tend to have defined regions and known brands like Champagne, Cava and Prosecco, new age sparkling wines can come from almost any region and lack the defined style and regulated production of their antecedent counterparts.

Purchasing New World sparkling wines is risky as you never really know what you are getting unless you've already tasted the wine. The most reliable way to pick a good one is to know the producer.

The label also usually indicates how dry or sweet the wine is (for instance brut for dry, extra brut for very dry and demi sec for sweet) and the grape or blend of grapes.

Let's take a look at some of the New World's best sparklers that are readily available in Shanghai.

Two of the best have a Champagne connection. The Taittinger Champagne House purchased Domaine Carneros in the cool California wine region Carneros in 1987.

The 2005 Domaine Carneros Brut is made with three grapes -- pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot blanc -- and offers a lovely combination of citrus fruit flavors and a palate soothing creaminess. One of my favorites is the Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut.

This chardonnay and pinot noir wine combines elegant fruit flavors and a long clean finish. Owned by Louis Roederer, producer of the legendary Cristal Champagne, the sparkling wines from this estate are consistently well-made and balanced. Another top US producer is Domaine Ste Michelle in Washington State.

Part of the large Chateau Ste Michelle family of wines, Domaine Ste specializes in sparkling wines. If you favor a wine that's not very dry, the Ste Michelle Brut offers lots of ripe yellow flavors with only a touch of acidity while the dryer Blanc de Noirs offers intriguing spicy, red fruit flavors.

A wonderful new discovery for me is the De Bortoli Windy Peak Pinot Noir Chardonnay, a sparkling wine from Victoria, Australia with Old World sophistication and New World exuberance. The wine features an enchanting slightly pinkish color with abundant fruity flavors with toasty hints.

This unusual wine is made using two methods; the pinot noir from the Yarra Valley is made using the transfer method and the chardonnay using the Charmat method.

If price is an issue, you can't go wrong with another Aussie sparkler, the Wolf Blass Red Label Chardonnay Pinot Noir that offers excellent value for money.

The Norton Cosecha Especial from Mendoza, Argentina, is another reasonably priced wine with abundant yellow and red fruit flavors, a clean acidic finish that helps make it very food friendly.

In fact, all the sparkling wines in this article match nicely with many types of food. They are especially good with popular Shanghai seafood dishes that have strong flavors and rich sauces, like braised fish and eel dishes, as the acidity of the wines acts as a palate cleanser accentuating the freshness of the dish.

It's fair to say that the best sparkling wines still come from the Old World, but generalizations, even when accurate, always have exceptions, sometimes exceedingly delicious exceptions.


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