Friday, November 27, 2009

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva: House Wine of the Majestic

I've been asked many times by friends and acquaintances alike about my house wine of choice. Since I have three certificates in wine studies, and I've worked in some pretty fancy restaurants, I think people are sometimes disappointed and/or shocked by my answer. Undoubtedly, it's a bottle that retails for around $6.99: Segura Viudas Brut Reserva. It's kind of a little secret and I always am excited to tell folks that the bottle costs as little as it does after they have told me how much they are enjoying it. I think I've paid an awful lot money to unabashedly be able to enjoy cheap wine and to let everyone around me know that I think it's ok to drink cheap wine too. To a great extent, all of those educational expenses have made me feel entitled to my opinion! Sadly, it seems that cultural bias and wine snobbery dictate that the quality of a wine (and it's drinker) be judged by the price that one pays for what's in the glass. In the case of the bubbly category this is grossly exaggerated. That's why it's so refreshing to find something like this humble Cava that really delivers for the price.

Why are bubbles expensive? Largely, it has to do with the marketing and sale of Champagne. The bad news is that we have only ourselves to blame. Champagne producers, and other producers of sparkling wine charge ridiculously inflated prices because we are willing to pay them. For many of us, bubbles are something we drink only for special occasions, and we are willing to pay a premium because of the rarity and specialness of the event in association with said bubbles. It's not unlike the sports car that stays in the garage except for special Sunday drives or the fur coat that's in the back of grandma's closet that only comes out for birthdays and anniversaries. We tell ourselves and truly believe that it's special. You almost can't blame them for taking money out of our pockets, when we give them every excuse to do it.

The Champenois are also extremely protective of their name and have fiercely protected the delineation between the Champagne and common sparkling wine effectively and emphatically emphasizing the scarcity of their product, and therefore their brand. Only so much true Champagne can be produced every year because the entire region is smaller than the state of Rhode Island. Champagne producers have gone so far as to put folks out of business with lawsuits who so much as try to sell a bottle with the name Champagne on it not having been made in the authentic territory. Compounding the problem, as our demand for bubbles increases every year, Champagne houses can continue to raise the premium for an entry level bottle. It's sad that it costs around $40 just to buy an entry level large production bottle of Veuve Clicquot or Moet et Chandon. They are great wines, but $40... really?!?!?!?!?

And then there's branding... For many, the name Champagne is synonymous with bubbly - most people don't even know there is great sparkling wine being made in most of the world. Franciacorta and Prosecco from Italy, bubbles from Tasmania, "Cap Classique" from South Africa, and sparklers from Oregon are a few examples of high quality for relatively lower prices. The Champenois want us to believe that the grapes grown on their sacred soils are so precious and rare that it justifies the price, and maybe it does, but it's just not a possibility for me to afford drinking it more than a few times a year without selling my first born child or a kidney. Happily, there is some growing awareness in the US of California bubbles, but did you know that most of them are owned and operated by French Champagne houses? Do you really think the French are going to produce a wine out of California that rivals the stuff made on their home soils?

What makes Cava so great? For one thing, it has a unique identity among sparkling wines of the world. It has a truly unusual and deliciously intoxicating floral-earthy quality that I don't really find in Champagne, or any other sparkler for that matter. Partially, I think this is due to the three grape varietals that are indigenous to Spain: Parellada, Macabeo, and Xarel-lo. Most other sparkling wines of the world are made from the same three grapes used in Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier and grown on soils that are extremely disparate from that of Champagne. These three grapes are extremely sensitive to soil and climate, so it's unrealistic to expect that they will perform the same way in other parts of the world to make a base wine for the eventual sparkler. Why then would producers choose them if only to attempt to emulate Champagne instead of seeking a unique selection of varietals best suited to showcase the terroir of the region? The grapes used to make Cava have been evolving and changing to adapt to the specific terroir of Penedes and other parts of Spain for centuries. It follows that a synthesis and harmony between these indigenous varietals and the place in which they grow should exist. That's a recipe for great wine, in my opinion.

Cava also has a terrible brand image. Thanks to producers like Freixenet, Mateus, and Lancers there is a real association by consumers of cheap sparkling wine and the Iberian Peninsula. That means that you, the savvy consumer, can find some real value if you know what you're looking for in a wine and are willing to kiss some frogs before you meet your prince charming. It's difficult for a producer to get top dollar if a negative brand image exists. Sherry, another Spanish treasure, is also a great example of a highly misunderstood wine that has received a bad rap. A great bottle can be snatched up for not much more than a song. If you can learn to appreciate it's enigmatic aromas and flavors you can find some unbelievable bargains. P.S. I love Sherry too!

The Champenois also like to point out that making sparkling wine in the "Methode Champenoise" is expensive, time consuming, and labor-intensive. This has to do with a two step ageing/fermentation process in which the wines stay in contact with the yeasts for a prolonged period, and a second fermentation occurs to create the bubbles. The entire process contributes greatly to the rich and complex flavors that are evident in a finished bottle of Champagne. What they don't want you to know is that a lot of Cava producers are using similar if not identical methods to produce the same complexity in their wines. Segura Viudas Brut Reserva at $6.99 sees a good amount of time on the lees and three years bottle age before release!

Before I get off my soap box, I'm not saying by any stretch of the imagination that my humble bottle of Segura Viudas is nearly as interesting or captivating as Pol Roger's "Sir Winston Churchill Cuvée," but it sure does deliver a lot of bang for the buck. So, if, like me, you want bubbles on a weekly or daily basis, delight in my simple Cava. You can bet I'll be buying a case or two on my next trip to the wine shop, and don't be surprised to be greeted with a glass on your next visit to The Majestic!

Recommended books about bubbles:
World Encycolpedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine
Champagne for Dummies

No comments:

Post a Comment