Drinking Wine 
into the New Year

by Drew Stofflet, Time Out Wine Columnist
Well, 2017 rang forth, and the world didn’t end, yet at least. Hard to believe, but it was a mere 17 years ago that we were told it would. I’m speaking, of course, of the Y2K event (or non-event) where the simple turning of the numerical calendar would crash computers around the world, leading to nuclear armageddon, among other doomsday scenarios. Fast-forward to today, when we are facing everything imaginable from the earth’s rising oceans, due to the melting of the polar ice caps, to nuclear war; well it seems like having a survival kit now might be a good idea.

I always fantasized that the first thing I would acquire for my cellar, I mean survival bunker, was a shipping pallet of wine. That’s 57 cases. Most of it would be Grand Cru, naturally. Save the best for last! But alongside all of that Chablis, Chambertin, Bonnes-Mares, Vougeot and Echezeaux, would be some of Europe’s finest Champagnes like Dom, Veuve, PJ, Krug, Billecart-Salmon and so on.  Alongside, the wide genre of European “non-Champagne” wines would be well represented. Hey, if it’s a sunny afternoon, a wine like a cava from Spain, an Italian prosecco or a German sekt would fit the bill. Down in the bunker, we would need a lot of this good cheer.

Some of these Euro-sparklers, like the German sekt and the Italian prosecco, undergo their secondary fermentation not in bottle but in sealed autoclave-like tanks. Called the Charmat method,  the secondary fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks instead of the bottle, which is the method traditionelle and how Champagnes are constructed. In the Charmat method, carbonation still occurs biologically from the decomposition of sugar from added yeasts. The must (pulp) then undergoes slow fermentation in pressurized tanks. Aging, to reach the proper balance of flavors and aromas, requires 20 days for simple characteristics like frizzantis; standard sparklers may take up to three months and house cuvees and prestige wines can go up to six months.

But forget about all of that for now because a wine that has really caught on around my bunker is a taut, fresh pink sparkler made with pinot noir grapes in the traditional French style. It is however, not from France, but rather from the Austrian shores of Lake Neusiedl, the largest inland sea in central Europe, which straddles the Austrian-Hungarian border. Warm weather and abundant sunshine are the hallmarks of this climate. In fact, some of the highest average temperatures and highest amount of sunshine in central Europe is recorded here. It’s definitely not the shrill, brisk and dank environ of Champagne, with its notoriously cold, wet and windy shoulder seasons.

This region of Austria is known as the Pannonian, and its warm climate produces the silky, lush Austrian reds like zweigelt, blaufränkisch and of course, blauburgunder, which is Austrian pinot noir.

Red wine obviously thrives here, so take an early pick of blauburgunder, crush it at low sugar and high acid levels, age it for a year or more, add the secondary fermenting yeast awhile after bottling, wait, riddle, wait, riddle, disgorge the yeast, wait a little more and voila.

Szigeti is a fairly newish producer of sparkling wines in a very old world country, beginning to make wines after Peter and Norbert Szigeti founded the estate in 1990. The Szigeti Österreichischer pinot noir rosé sekt brut reserve 2012 is a $20 lively sparkler with pink salmon color, loads of toasty brioche and mousse. No oak. It is smoky, rocky, with a bit of elegant yeastiness. Loads of dried wild strawberry flavors dance along with the bubbly palate.

Like many of the wines in this category of more obscure Euro-sparklers, this wine is crisp. It is phenomenal on its own, great for an afternoon spent cleaning out the bunker. Even better, if the mates gather up some mettle and venture above ground, say, to grab some sushi or Vietnamese, this is the wine. It is so deep, yet delicate, so fruity, yet so playful as it bounces with bites of hamachi. Heavenly with the ginger/wasabi garnish. Crispy, fried imperial rolls with pork and lemongrass chicken beg for this wine. Me too.

Hopefully this bunker scenario won’t cramp our wine-drinking style, because I am getting the feeling that 2017 is going to be over the top.

Cheers! Remember, wine reveals truth.

Drew Stofflet lives in Carbondale. Correspond with him at drew.stofflet@gmail.com