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Wednesday, July 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 68.0° F  A Few Clouds
Eats

TABLE TALK

Jan Earnest and Dominique Taquet: Baroness of beer; Euro wine buyer and bubbly specialist
Steve's Liquors, 8302 Mineral Point Rd.

Dominique Taquet (l.) and Jan Earnest
Dominique Taquet (l.) and Jan Earnest
Credit:Susan Kepecs
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Why you should go: To listen to these two speak the poetry of spirits, and for their super selection of holiday libations.

With the economy headed south, what are some best-bet bubblies for ringing in the new year? Taquet: We've been getting away from the big brands. We've got quite a few fabulous champagnes at better prices from the smaller récoltant-manipulants. Some mind-blowing, organic choices include the Jean Vesselle Oeil de Perdrix [$40], a Pinot Noir-based brut, light in color with a fruity, cherry-raspberry nose and hints of coffee beans and leathers, like the best Pinot Noirs.

The P. Lancelot-Royer 100% Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs [$38] is a demi-sec - bright and elegant with a very tiny bubble, and fragrant with notes of pear, apple, quince, peach and apricot. The Michel Turgy Chardonnay [$40] is a brut blanc de blancs; it's dry, but it has those white fruit aromas and hints of vanilla and spices. Texture-wise, it's got a very elegant mouth feel and a long finish, so the pear-apple-quince aroma lasts a long time on the palate.

More affordable, though they don't have as much panache, are the crèmants, from outside the Champagne region. We chose a Jaillance Crèmant de Bordeaux [$15], very clean, with aromas of white fruit. The semillon grape gives it a little more fat than the champagnes. It's very bright, aroma-wise, with white fruit and hints of mandarin,

Another well-made Jailliance crèmant, a claret, Clairette de Die [$18], from southern France close to the Pyrenees, has an interesting balance - light sweetness and good acidity. It's got those white fruit aromas and hints of Muscat and honeysuckle.

I love the creamy texture and tiny little bubbles in the Riva di Rocca Prosecco Spumante [$13] from Venetto, Italy. I always want elegance, not aggressiveness, in a sparkling wine. This one titillates the palate with hints of exotics - mango and papaya on top of pear and apple - and slight notes of honey. It's creamy as can be.

If you don't want to spring for champagne or high-end sparkling wines, will beer do? Earnest: Of course. Lambic beers from Belgium are very festive - soft effervescence, and sometimes a lot of fruit. Lindemans lambics in particular are very consistent. Local lambic-style favorites are the stunning Wisconsin Belgian Red and Raspberry Tart brews from New Glarus [both $8.49/750 ml].

Saisons, originally brewed in France and Belgium to provide sustenance and maybe payment to hired farmhands, can vary greatly, from deep orange peel and spice to nearly champagne-like. Ommegang brewery in Cooperstown, N.Y., makes Hennepin [$6/750 ml] - hands-down the best domestic saison I've ever tasted. It's golden in color, with a delicately frothy head. The nose promises orange peel and coriander, with honeyed notes. It's slightly, but not offensively sweet, perfectly carbonated, with a satisfying, easy finish - highly poundable! If you'd rather buy local, Furthermore Brewing in Spring Green does the fabulously festive Fatty Bombalatty [$9.29/six-pack], their version of a golden Belgian saison.

What's this year's champagne of bottled beer, for your Rose Bowl party? Earnest: After New Year's Eve you won't want anything with too much alcohol content. Besides New Glarus' Spotted Cow, Ale Asylum - the only self-contained brewery and bottling company in Madison - has a line of highly drinkable, very well-crafted beers. Two of them would be just perfect. The bright and citrusy Hopalicious can't be beat, and I personally love their Ambergedden for its proportion of hops to malt [both $8/six-pack]. It's slightly warming, somewhat piney - perfect with burgers or pizza.

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