Appreciating The Bubbles

Lyle Fujioka
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Friday - January 06, 2006 - MidWeek the weekend

As a wine merchant, I’ve always shied away from being tagged as a “wine expert.” Winemaking techniques, details of geographic influence and blind tasting contests are all in the realm of cork dorks. My passion with wine, in contrast, lies in choosing wines that my clients will embrace and enjoy. What I’ll be doing in this column is sharing wine stories and leaving the technical gobbledygook to others imminently more qualified.

In July of 1992, my appreciation for Champagne changed forever. The Honolulu Wine Festival that year showcased a special vertical tasting of Krug Champagne featuring the legendary 1959, 1963, 1969, 1971 and 1973 vintages. Knowing that this Champagne house was my late wife Sue’s favorite, I decided to gift this tasting as her birthday present.

Up to this point, my bubbles appreciation was basic: Appease the wife, sipping it as an apéritif or as a celebratory toast. It was enjoyable, but often a bit too heady a beverage for me.

The tasting proved to be a revelation. Flute after flute of the most magnificent Champagne from their finest years appeared and had me literally shaking my head in dis-belief. Though the 1959 had lost its effervescence, it displayed a character like a well-aged white Burgundy (Chardonnay), proving that the king never dies.

Sue turned to me after the final glass and asked. “Do you get it now?” I certainly did, and Krug has become one of the only wines I believe in collecting.

But is it necessary to pay $125 to $700 a bottle for Krug to initiate oneself to the world of bubbles? Certainly not! My greatest satisfaction has always been finding the highest quality wines with correspondingly high value. For my money, the sparkler to beat is Prosecco ($11 to $20 a bottle). Italy’s light, refreshing sparkling wine delivers a less yeasty, fruitier experience and is an outstanding choice with sushi.

For those looking for Champagne on a beer budget, you’ve got to try California’s Scharffenberger’s Brut with a French profile at $13.

The value Champagnes to consider for hailing in the New Year have got to be Nicolas Feuillatte, Pommery or Charles Heidsieck non-vintage champagnes ranging between $25 to $30 per bottle.

If you insist on becoming an instant “Kruggist,” their fantastic Grand Cuvee will certainly pave the way to a lifetime of memorable Champagnes along with what might be their greatest vintage ever, Krug’s stellar 1990. Dear though the cost may be at $175 per bottle, perfection does have its price.

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