The Omniboire

There’s a lot ofloose talk in the summer about picnic, pool, porch, and patio wines, but what if your end-of-August affair moves into the parlor? (Yes, I know nobody has a parlor anymore — humor me.) When the occasion calls for a little more glitz, Omniboire bets on bubbles. Ever cautious about the bottom line — especially in these days of gyroscopic stock-market swings — we curbed our enthusiasm somewhat, however: The august August panel tasted only sparkling wines made outside of France’s Champagne region — meaning they can’t be called champagne. Even with a lower-case “c.”

Our host for the tasting was Manny Ortiz, owner and manager of the newly minted City Club at the Majestic. (There are benefits to membership, but non-members may also lunch during the week or make reservations for dinner Thursday through Saturday — perfect for before- or after-theater occasions.) Panelists included Mr. Ortiz; Laz McGill, sommelier at Bohanan’s Prime Steaks & Seafood across the street; Julius Gribou, interim provost at UTSA; and me. The program was put together by Ray Ayala of Republic National Distributing. As usual, we tasted blind for the first part of the session.

And we were brutal, once again. The one French entry, the normally very reliable Bouvet Brut, just missed the scoring cutoff of 13/20. The single California contender bombed big-time. (We didn’t taste, say, Schramsberg or Roederer Estate.) But Italy and Washington State did well — just not as well as Spain.

Yes, an ever-popular cava, the Cordoniu Original Brut, was the afternoon’s big scorer — by quite a bit. Made primarily of lesser-known grapes (xarello, macabeo, and parellada), the wine showed nice, persistent bubbles and was, in Gribou’s words, “distinctive, with everything matching and consistent.” Ortiz found a “nice citrus finish” and McGill, who had pegged it as Spanish, sniffed out “a minerality and flintiness,” adding, “I love cavas for the price.”

Three other bubblies managed identical scores, and of them, the two Italians were the most divergent. At the Fiat end of the scale, there was the Villa Sandi Il Grefco Prosecco, something of a ringer in that its style is necessarily softer than the others’. Nevertheless, Ortiz found it “perked up” with the cheeses he had served (a garroxta and l’Alt Urgell from Spain). McGill thought it useful as the base for a Champagne-like drink — think adding a few drops of cassis liqueur, for example.

From Fiat to Ferrari, almost literally, the other Italian contender was the Ferrari Rosé, Trento D.O.C. — no relation to the automobile except in the obvious quality association. Curiously, this “metodo classico,” composed of 60-percent pinot noir and 40-percent chardonnay, got far better comments than it did scores. Though Ortiz found “a musty bouquet,” McGill detected “a peachy smell” and found “a lot goin’ on, basically.” Gribou “loved the color,” thought it had “good sparkle”, and suggested it was the entry that changed most with food — especially with a lush goat-cheese cheesecake and beautiful slabs of sautéed foie gras with raisins and apple. And since I have the pen in this instance (yes, I know; the term is as anachronistic as the parlor), I’ll admit that this was my second-favorite, losing points only for its relatively high price. Though I do stop short of endorsing the maker’s claim of “the fresh fragrance of hawthorne flowers” (who knows how they smell, anyway?), I did detect red currants and strawberries. The jury is out on a “delicate finish of sweet almonds.”

It was left to Washington’s Columbia Valley to uphold the honor of American sparklers, and Domaine Ste. Michelle’s classically produced Cuvée Brut did the job as well as an $11-$12 bottle could be expected to do. “Smooth and silky with a grapefruit finish,” claimed Ortiz. “Lingering, lasting quality … light yet presents itself with sufficient body,” opined Gribou. And McGill summed it all up nicely. “It has really good melony qualities,” he said. “It’s a people-pleaser that’s not too serious for amateurs, not too simple for connoisseurs … it would do well at a party.” By the banks of the Pedernales, on the porch or patio, around the pool, or in the parlor, perchance?

The Ratings:

Cordorniu Original Brut. D.O. Cava (Spain), $8
Citrus and mineral qualities

Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut, Columbia Valley (Washington), $12
Well-integrated melon and grapefruit

Villa Sandi Il Grefco Prosecco (Italy), $11
Soft, smooth, and appley

Ferrari Rosé, Trento D.O.C. (Italy), $30
Pretty salmon color, hints of strawberry and rose petal

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