Wine for Valentine’s: Food-Friendly Blanc de Noirs

Do you like to share a special bottle of wine on Valentine’s Day? What is your preferred style? Something light, pink and bubbly? Or something more substantial to go with dinner? How about something that's both: Pink, yet food friendly?

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Over the past month I have been observing the countless ads and wine store offerings for Valentine’s Day. Lots of promotion for bubbles, especially pink styles everywhere. I find this interesting because according to the U.S. Greeting Card Association (or so says Wikipedia), Valentine’s Day is the second largest card-sending holiday in the year (after Christmas), and men spend twice as much as women.

I say this, because as I tasted through many pink sparkling wines, my husband and I remarked that the overt pink or mauve hued packaging on many of them seemed deliberately targeted to women. Additionally, tastewise, many were quite light-bodied and of more ‘fun’ appeal. With that thought, I set about finding some sparkling wines that could be casually enjoyed on their own, as well as working well over a romantic dinner, And, where possible, to find a packaging color-scheme with broader appeal!

My answer is Blanc de Noirs. Over the past year, I have noticed a considerable increase in the number of Blanc de Noirs Champagne and Sparkling Wine offerings here in the U.S. Fueled by the phenomenal ongoing growth of rosé or driven by a need to expand the category with a more full-bodied offering? Probably a bit of both!

What is a Blanc de Noirs?
French term that translates as ‘White from Blacks’, which means a white wine that is made from black grapes. The wine is made by gently pressing the grapes and running off the juice, before the skins have any time to impart any color. Unlike rosé wines, Blanc de Noirs are golden in color.

In Champagne, Blanc de Noirs wines are made from either Pinot Noir or occasionally Pinot Meunier. Until recently, except for the ultra-expensive and rare Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Françaises, it has been difficult to find Blanc de Noirs in the U.S. market. Champagne’s more marginal climate makes it more difficult to ripen Pinot Noir. Today, thanks perhaps to climate change, and in part to the growing number of ‘grower producers’ we are finding a much greater selection on the market.

Californian Blanc de Noirs have been more widely available for a longer time. Typically the wines from California tend toward a slightly deeper hue, presumably due to the warmer climate delivering riper grapes.

Blanc de Noirs are fuller bodied and more powerful wines than their Blanc de Blancs or blended counterparts, and can stand up to fairly hearty foods, which makes them an ideal ‘one-wine’ to open on Valentine’s Day.

Below I have listed some of the Blanc de Noirs that I have been tasting through last week, as well as some more fun, good-value pink offerings that would be great on their own, with lighter or spicy foods.

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Mary’s Blanc de Noirs Picks

Gruet Blanc de Noirs, New Mexico $14 – Slight copper hue. Medium bodied, dry, rich and creamy, persistent soft mousse. Great value. Rather masculine, black packaging!

2006 Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs, California $32 – as you know this has been a firm favorite in our house for a long time. Slight coppery color. Full-bodied, creamy, toasty vanilla with just a hint of red fruit. Very elegant and sophisticated packaging.

NV Loriot Blanc de Noirs Brut Reserve, Champagne, France $36 – Finally an affordable Blanc de Noirs Champagne. Quite unique in that it is 100% Pinot Meunier. Medium-bodied, lively with attractive epicurean and floral notes. I was very impressed with this wine. Broad appeal, if traditional packaging.

NV Pommery Wintertime, Champagne, France, $60 – from well-known Champagne House Pommery. A blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier it is full-bodied, rich and creamy with subtle red fruit notes and toasty brioche. Modern, attractive packaging but the pink label infers a lighter, more fun wine.

NV Mumm Napa Cuvée M Red, Napa Valley, $30 - More of a 'Noir de Noirs', but definitely had to include it. This is the one for the steak. Dry, with lots of red fruit flavor and subtle spice, but well integrated with the bubbles. Very refreshing. A delightful surprise. Only available from the winery (online also).

These wines will definitely work for the whole meal (except dessert), with dishes such as veal chops, magret de canard or even a simple steak.

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If you prefer something more light pink and fun, try these:

NV Cupcake Vineyards, Sparkling Pinot Noir, France, $18 – Despite the vivid yellow foil (don’t be put off), this wine was a real treat. Lively, persistent small bubbles, ripe red fruits – strawberry, cranberry and cherry, with a hint of balancing sweetness on the finish.

NV Elyssia Pinot Noir Brut, Penedès, Spain, $18 - by famed Cava house Freixenet. Very attractive, (if on the feminine side – with mauve trimming ) packaging. Mainly Pinot Noir with a small percentage of the local Trepat grape. Crisp with flavors of ripe candied strawberry and cherry cola. The bubbles were a little large and not as smooth as I had expected, but easy drinking with a touch of sweetness on the finish.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She hold the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.

Related: Festive Champagne and Sparkling Wines to Ring in 2010

(Images: Mary Gorman)