The Wine Idiot Reviews: The NYE Bubbly Edition!
I know...New Year's Eve is like, a day away. I'm cutting it close with this review. But I have REALLY been enjoying my vacation.
But I didn't want you to be wandering the wine aisle aimlessly on New Year's, so I heroically got off the couch and went to Trader Joe's to find the most interesting, obscure, and affordable sparkling wines the Trader has to offer.
Unfortunately, my trip started with the most disappointing conversation I've ever had with a Trader Joe's wine dude. I think this guy was just not into champagne. Right now, TJ's has SEVERAL sparkling options available, from around $5 all the way to almost-$60 (Veuve Clicquot Rosé, but I bet if you go to the TJ's at Hollywood & Vine, you'll find even more expensive bottles). But when I asked this guy for the most surprising/fun/off-the-beaten-path affordable sparkling wine as an alternative to your typical grabs like Chandon or Schramsberg, he just sorta shrugged and pointed to the Trader Joe's Reserve Brut I just profiled. When I explained I'd already tried that, he pointed at the Freixenet Cordon Negro Cava Brut I was holding and said, "that's ok." I thanked him for his help (ok I thanked him to end the conversation), and went back to staring at the bottles.
Then, a post-Christmas miracle happened. A lady who had overheard our conversation almost literally stepped from the shadows, trenchcoat and Carmen-San-Diego hat and all, and said, "psst--you lookin' for some fun?"
OK really she probably said, "excuse me, are you looking for a fun sparkling wine" and I don't think she was wearing a trenchcoat or even a hat, but the first way was better, wasn't it? Anyway. She called my attention to an end-cap display of a bottle called Louise d'Estrée. "I just served this at Thanksgiving and everyone loved it. They had it last year and it was a dollar cheaper, I bet they raised the price because it was flying off the shelves. Really, everyone always likes it, it's a great value."
And with that, she stepped back into the shadows, and was gone.
So I added a bottle to my cart. I also held onto the Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut (because the black bottle it comes in is pretty baller). I figured a head-to-head taste-off of a French sparkling wine and a Spanish Cava would be a good way to wrap up 2015.
Both the French and the Spanish bottles are priced at $7.99. Aiding in the tasting was my cynical and judgmental brother, Patrick. (We paired the tasting battle with a viewing of Moulin Rouge, which--surprise, surprise--goes QUITE well with sparkling wine, and ALSO holds up even 15 years later). LET THE GAMES BEGIN.
I opened the Louise d'Estrée first. It smells sweet and light, and my first impression upon tasting it was that it was pleasant and fruity, but definitely on the dry side. It's peachy but not like fake peach flavor--and maybe it's the tiniest bit citrus-y? Not mouth-puckeringly so, but it tastes the way lemon zest smells. If that makes any sort of sense. And the aftertaste is good--almost créme brûlée-ish. Probably not my very favorite champagne I've ever had, but for $8 it's pretty great.
Next up was the Freixenet. This one is definitely for those who normally hate sparkling wine or champagne because it's too sweet. There's almost no sweetness to this one--it's rounder, or fuller somehow. If the Louise d'Estrée is perfume, this is cologne. Also, the bubbles in this one were bigger than the French bottle (and according to this article my Mom sent me when I announced my project, the finer the bubbles the better the bubbly).
Now, bear in mind, nothing about the Spanish wine made me go "ew," but it did remind me how much better I liked the Trader Joe's Reserve Brut with food, so I went and got my tasting cheeses.
The Freixenet is EXCELLENT with cheese--it really popped the sharp flavors in the iberico, and complemented the smoothness of the manchego. Curious, I tried the cheese with the French wine, and was promptly disappointed. I didn't really love it. I felt like the flavors of the wine somehow clashed with the cheese? Hard to explain. Maybe I was really muddying all the flavors by trying all these different things at the same time...
But the proof was really in which bottle got finished that night. I'd already had dinner, so I wasn't trying to pair it with food--just wanted something to sip on while I basked in the glory of Baz Luhrmann's magnum opus. And for that, the French wine fit the bill. I drank the entire rest of the bottle on my own (Patrick had to work in the morning). Because it's such a low-alcohol wine, I didn't get wasted--just drunk enough to do some regrettable Facebook-status-updating about how much I love my dog. So, I declare the French wine the victor!
IMPORTANT ADDENDUM: OK, so here's my method for these reviews. I write my own opinions above, then fill out the part that you're about to read, which involves doing some light Googling to find official reviews. I've been pleasantly surprised to find that most of the time my opinions are generally in line with what smarter people say. I WAS APPARENTLY REALLY WRONG THIS TIME. While literally no easily-Googleable wine expert has reviewed the Louise D'Estrée, no less than the Wine Spectator has determined the Freixenet to possess "more finesse than many of its peers." So apparently...this baller black bottle of Cava is the bottle you should bring to impress your friends and family this New Year's Eve. I warned you--I'm an idiot. But the truth is, both my brother and I preferred the Louise d'Estrée to drink on its own. So...do with that what you will!
Louise d'Estrée Brut
What the bottle says: Nothing. Honestly. It repeats the name of the wine, and proclaims that it's a product of France. But that's it.
What the Wine Idiot says: Don't know why they don't try to influence my opinion at all. Someone needs to teach the French how to market.
Who's responsible for this? "Produced by Marcel Martin at 49700-France. Imported by Latitude Wines, Inc. Danville, CA"
Do I need a corkscrew? Nope! I'll reiterate what I said in my earlier sparkling wine review: You need to be able to get a champagne cork out without killing anyone. PROTIP: LEAVE THE CAGE ON! THAT'S WHAT IT'S FOR! Loosen it, but don't remove it as you thumb the cork out--the cage will prevent it from flying.
What do smarter people say about it? The Fermented Fruit says: "The Louise d’Estrée Brut is defined by sweet orchard fruit and notes of lemon rind on the mid-palate. It finishes dry with some alcohol coming through on the somewhat unbalanced, short finish. It’s a simple, quaffable sparkler with no discernible secondary flavors."
LEMON RIND!! DIDJA SEE THAT?! LEMON RIND!!!!!! I'M GETTING BETTER AT THIS.
Should I bring it to a friend's house? If you're going to a small gathering and you want to bring an occasion-worthy bubbly, I'd probably spring for a Schramsberg (which you can get at Trader Joe's for $27 or Vons for $30). But if you're going to, say, a BYOB shindig? It's a fun cheap sparkler to contribute.
Freixenet Cordon Negro Cava Brut
What the bottle says: Again, nothing.
What the Wine Idiot says: What is up, sparkling wine bottles?! Why do you feel you don't need to convince me to buy you??
Who's responsible for this? "Produced by Freixenet, Sant Sadurni D'Anoia Spain, imported by Freixenet USA, Sonoma, CA"
Do I need a corkscrew? Nope. See above.
What do smarter people say about it? Whoa. Apparently...my palate when it comes to sparkling wine is NOT GOOD. According to Wine.com, Wine Spectator gave it 87 points and declares: "This shows more finesse than many of its peers, displaying a subtle juiciness, joined by aromatic apricot, quince, mandarin orange and almond notes. Finely meshed, with a lightly spiced finish."
Should I bring it to a friend's house? Yeah, I think according to Wine Spectator, if you're trying to decide between the Louise D'Estrée and the Freixenet, this is the one to go with! Also, it looks pretty fancy.