In France, the term used to denote a sparkling wine other than Champagne is Crémant. The Perle de Roche Brut Nature from Domaine Sainte Barbe is a Crémant de Bourgogne and therefore technically not a Champagne, but you’d be hard pressed to guess otherwise if given a glass to taste blind. An absolute dead ringer for authentic Champagne. And, just like it's done in Champagne, Domaine Sainte Barbe has the wine go through secondary fermentation in bottle. This is called Méthode Traditionnelle. The legendary monk, Dom Perignon, is erroneously credited for discovering this technique of making still wine into sparkling wine. The transformation of still into sparkling wine was less of a sudden discovery and more like a drawn-out process that evolved over a long time period. At any rate, Domaine Sainte Barbe’s winemaker, Jean-Marie Chaland, uses 100% Chardonnay, a blanc de blancs as it were, from the lieux-dits La Verchère, a parcel of 50 year old vines in Viré, just north of Mâcon. The Chardonnay grapes are grown on clay and limestone soils, lending a pronounced mineral quality to the wine.
Jean-Marie leaves hisPerle de Rocheen tirage for a good long time; it sits on the lees for 30 months before disgorgement. Perle de Roche is a Brut Nature, which means it has zero dosage and less than 3 grams of sugar per litre. As a comparison, a Brut can have up to 12 grams of sugar per litre. In other words, it is a sparkling wine for Rock Heads – an affectionate term used for wine drinkers who have an affinity for mineral-driven, steely wines. At the store, we call the Perle de Roche, the Poor Man’s Les Mesnil because of that distinctive, crisp, sleek finish. Perle de Roche is not made in every vintage and production is tiny, less than 300 hundred cases produced. The bottling we have in stock is entirely from the 2014 vintage. A truly artisanal effort. And here is the real kicker - it's only $28.98 per bottle! No need to twist my arm, I gladly embrace the tradition of drinking a glass – or two- of bubbly this time of year. Of course, I don’t usually need any encouragement to drink it as I adhere to the Lily Bollinger way of thinking (“I only drink Champagne when I’m happy, and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I am alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when am. Otherwise, I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.” LB) This holiday season, I’ll be stocking up with bottles of Perle de Roche to take to parties, give out as gifts and have at the ready in case people pop by the house. The price makes it doable. It doesn’t hurt either that the package is elegant, but ultimately it is the quality in the bottle that will impress and so no one will be the wiser that I did not have to overpay for mediocre Champagne. Cheers! - Anya Balistreri