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AUDIE CORNISH, Host:

And what's a wedding without champagne?

(SOUNDBITE OF A POPPING CORK)

CORNISH: Just the sound of a popping cork evokes a sense of celebration. And Chris Adams is here with his champagne recommendations for the summer season. He's the CEO of Sherry Lehmann Wine and Spirits in New York City, and he joins us from our New York bureau. Chris, welcome.

M: Thanks. It's great to be here.

CORNISH: Let's start with the budget list, the most bubbles for the buck - maybe things that aren't necessarily champagne.

M: I think that if you're going to look at sparkling wines, you're going to look at regions that are known for producing great wines, but not necessarily within the region of Champagne. And those regions, sometimes within France - in the case of the Cremant that we're talking about today, Louis Bouillot, the rosé - but they also exist in Spain with cavas. And they certainly exist in Italy with Prosecco, and in California with the great sparkling wines of California.

CORNISH: All right, well, let's taste one of these. There's one here with a lovely pink label. I think you mentioned it.

M: There is.

CORNISH: Say it again.

M: It's Louis Bouillot's Cremant - Cremant de Bourgogne, I should say. The rosé, which, you know - I chose a pink wine because I thought, well, we're not going to taste one today from Champagne, where rosés are, you know, not prohibitively expensive but they get more expensive. And I thought this was a nice opportunity to taste a delicious rosé, certainly value priced at about $14 a bottle.

And the first thing is, I always point about - when I look at a glass of wine, I always look at the color, of course. And here you have a - sort of a pale salmon color with - and importantly, and I think this is one of the things that you can talk about when you talk about sparkling wines or actually, champagne - is, you want to always sort of take a look at the size of the bubbles.

As sparkling wines get less expensive, one of the things you often notice is that the size of the bubbles get bigger...

CORNISH: So, say that again. It's sort of - the cheaper it is, the bigger the bubbles?

M: The less expensive it is, ultimately it gets a little bit more carbonated...

CORNISH: Ah. A little bit more like...

M: Soda, seltzer water.

CORNISH: Soda, exactly. I did notice this is quite mild, and while there are a lot of bubbles, they're tiny.

M: They are very fine, exactly. And on the nose, strawberry, little black currant-infused and then most importantly, on the palette. Shall we go ahead and taste? Hmm. This is dry, this is fine. You don't want it to be cloying like a soda, where there's a sweetness that overwhelms everything. It's meant to go with light fare. It's meant to go with fruit. It's meant to go with salads. It's meant to be enjoyed in the summertime with that kind of fare.

CORNISH: Okay. And I see another bottle here, a rather oddly shaped bottle.

M: It is an oddly shaped bottle, more traditionally in the hundreds of years sense, shaped bottle of Dom Ruinart. It's a beautiful bottle of champagne. It's a blanc de blanc, which in champagne means that it's 100 percent Chardonnay. It is a little bit more expensive, for sure - about $60 a bottle retail. But the great grandson of the founder opened the doors to the American market and crossed the Atlantic way back in 1831, and introduced Dom Ruinart to Andrew Jackson and the rest of the United States.

So going into the Fourth of July weekend, I thought this would be appropriate.

CORNISH: Okay. We're going to pour.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLINKING GLASSES AND POURING)

CORNISH: So this is the drink of Andrew Jackson. This is a good selling point.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIZZING)

CORNISH: Very fizzy - almost like foam here. This tastes very different.

M: It's a richer wine, for sure, so that the body of the chardonnay comes through.

CORNISH: Now, what flavors should I be tasting here?

M: Well, you'll get a little bit of hint of hazelnut on the nose for sure, a little bit of yeast, almost like a fresh bread kind of thing happening on the nose. And then candied citrus, maybe a little bit of herb, a little bit of ginger - but still very balanced and very bright. And when I say bright, you sort of get the acidity, you sort of get that - sort of mouthwatering finish that comes through.

CORNISH: Now, what if we feel like splurging? What are the champagnes that are on your high-end list?

M: You know, right now, because we're still - it's still a challenging economy, let's not kid ourselves - so when we talk about the top-of-the-house champagnes, I'm still pretty conservative. And spending $200 or $300 a bottle on some of the wines that are out there still seems to me a little bit out of the realm of what is most appropriate. But there are some great champagnes out there that are more expensive, but they still deliver the tete de cuvee - what I mean, the head of the house, the top-of-the-house flavor and aromatic profiles for relatively inexpensive price points.

And the one that came to mind for me was the Pommery Cuvee Louise 1998. And that's about $110 to $120 a bottle - you'll see it retail across the country. And 1998 was a very nice year. At this point, that wine has over a decade of aging, so it begins to take on some of those secondary and tertiary characteristics and aromatics.

And that is a much more sublime experience, and something that is a nice treat for the summer, for sure.

CORNISH: Chris Adams is the CEO of Sherry Lehmann Wine and Spirits in New York City. Chris, thank you so much for talking with us.

M: Happy to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: You can find a complete list of his champagne recommendations at our website, NPR.org.

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