Teobaldo and Maria Rivella in their home (overlooking Montestefano!)
One of the best things about Italian wine lists in Italy is the Champagne. Wines we would never find in the US, for prices so low it will make you shed a happy little tear. Small-production Champagne from intriguing little producers and big name houses from classic vintages alike, all casually compiled in epic wine lists like little treasure-troves of fun.
Italians love their bollincine; bubbly toasts and frothy clinking glasses are the only way to begin an evening with friends in the piazza.
These are the wines that signify celebration. Wines that fuel the atmosphere with life-affirming joy and self-contentment. These are Champagnes that bolster you- that give you the courage to order that 1996 Bruno Rocca Barolo, or even the 1982 Giacomo Conterno…
One of my favorite parts about working for an Italian wine importer is that I am able to spend time with Italian winemakers while they are visiting the US. It’s a fantastic study in cultural differences and similarities- and really, it’s just a lot of fun. One theme I have noticed recently is that our visiting winery representatives are always excited about one thing. Sushi. Continue reading
Don’t mistake me- I love Italian wines. A lot. However, I can’t possibly close my eyes to the other great wines of the world. I had an experience this weekend with a wine that reminded me how truly impossible this would be. Thank you, Larmandier Bernier, for reminding me not to shut the door to the world outside of Italy.
The impetus for my recent wine revelation began with a Champagne and Sparkling wine seminar by Master Sommelier Peter Neptune. Can I just say that this man is completely captivating? I have yet to find a wine educator more compelling than Peter. His presence at the front of the room pretty much necessitates that you to listen and learn- I doubt you could tune him out if you tried. Two words that come to mind when I think of Peter Neptune at the front of a lecture: Stage. Presence. Awesome lecture, pertinent information, excellent visual presentation. Just loved it!
I left the presentation convinced I absolutely HAD to learn more about Champagne. After a little bit of research I went to Hi Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, in search of a few wines. After all, the best way to learn about wine is to taste it, right?
The reason I selected the Larmandier- Bernier “Tradition” Champagne was that I knew (from reading dear Alice Feiring’s writing for so long) that this producer is considered “natural”, and subscribes to biodynamic practices. Larmandier Bernier also commits to using native yeasts in their fermentation, which I personally find fascinating. It’s hard enough the grow things, especially wine grapes, without “help” from modern pesticides and conventional practices. Then added to that, there is the nearly insurmountable challenge of wine making without predictable “designer” yeasts and other additives that can control the outcome of the process. I am by no means an expert on the subject of wine making (natural or otherwise), but it seems to me that when a winery commits to a methodology that increases their chances at failure in the vineyard and the winery exponentially- there is usually a good reason. In this case the reason is quite simply that they produce spectacular wine. That people like Pierre and Sophie Larmandier succeed is a tribute to modern ingenuity and some very ancient wine making history- both worthy of praise and notice!
I visited the winery’s website and was really impressed with the way they describe their definition of “natural”. Basically, like most wine makers, they believe the best wine is made from the best grapes in the best vineyards. In their opinion, the recipe for greatness is simple, “old vines, working the soil, moderate yields; vines which thrive without having fertilizers forced into them, and mature grapes picked by hand. The best vineyards are not treated with chemicals”. Sounds like real agriculture. Sounds like responsible agriculture. Sounds perfect to me.
This wine was a bolt of lightening for me- and it would be for anyone the first time they taste it. It is a beautiful crystal-yellow in the glass with a fine foam. The nose is yeasty, but equally fresh and full of bright green apple. On the palate it is clean and dense without being heavy or overwhelming. It’s like a light switch going on, “This is champagne!” Find this wine. Drink it. Be happy!
After I tasted the wine I decided what to make for dinner- and in honor of the wine makers whose commitment to great wine began with commitment in their vineyards I used tomatoes I grew in our backyard to make a simple pasta… warning: Gratuitous Glamour Food Photography to follow…
Larmandier- Bernier “Tradition” Champagne