By Richy Petrina
I recently got to taste Dr. Konstantin Frank’s newly released 2016 Blanc de Blancs. This is one of my favorite styles of bubbles and this cuvée hits all the classic high notes. The first sip woke up my senses and tasted like a big bite of a cold, fresh, crisp green apple. It is bright, focused, pretty, and expressive with a great intensity of flavor, like a happy little celebration on your palate, complete with confetti, fireworks and a live band.
As typically done in Champagne, Finger Lakes producers follow the tried and true recipe of using some permutation of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and (Pinot) Meunier still wines from which they create their assemblage. Interestingly, 5% of this Blanc de Blancs, which is made from all estate Chardonnay, was barrel-fermented in 4-year-old barrels for more complexity. Few houses even in Champagne do this, and though it is perhaps undetectable, the wine felt—and looked—a tad bit richer as a result.
The long maturation period of 40+ months is so impressive that the winery applied a ‘disgorgement month’ sticker on the back of each bottle—mine was July 2020. A useful exercise since the same vintage might be disgorged on 20+ different occasions, resulting in 20+ slight variations of the same wine!
The ‘2016’ on the label means that every grape used in this blend was harvested in that particular year, the exception to the rule in the otherwise non-vintage Champagne world. To compensate for that hot and dry summer, the vineyard team had to pick a bit earlier which gave them smaller grapes yielding a more structured wine.
This fabulously pretty wine from Dr. Frank inspires confidence that the Finger Lakes is producing wonderful sparklers. Together with Hermann J. Wiemer and Fox Run Vineyards, two other wineries making excellent Blanc de Blancs, these three have a combined +100 years of sparkling wine experience. Something worth raising a glass to.
Dr. Konstantin Frank 2016 Blanc de Blancs, $34.99
Specs: ACID 8.78 g/L, PH 2.99, RESIDUAL SUGAR 8 g/L, AGING Méthode Champenoise. 40 Months Minimum. ABV 11%.
More about Blanc de Blancs and the classic “méthode champenoise” styles:
About the three grape varietals: Chardonnay provides minerality and floral notes of green apple and citrus. Pinot Noir adds red fruit, weight, structure, and complexity, informally known as the oomph. And Meunier is a red grape that often behaves more like a white grape, bringing stone fruit flavors to the party. A ‘blanc de noirs’ contains no Chardonnay, while a ‘blanc de blancs’ is exclusively made from Chardonnay.
To make a Rosé, one usually adds a small percentage of vinified red wine (from Pinot Noir and/or Meunier) to the blend. Though it is much more complicated than this, generally speaking the more red wine you add, the richer in color and style the final blend becomes. By definition, a Blanc de Blancs cannot also be a rosé, because the color of the wine comes from the skin of the grapes.
Back to the assemblage: This blend, which must be recreated each year, is then bottled, and with a little help from magic (i.e. sugar and yeast), a secondary fermentation occurs inside each individual bottle. It is not efficient at all, but having thousands of bottles resting in your cellar for years makes for a great photo op! And the result is a textural wine elevated by little dancing bubbles that give it a creamy mouthfeel.
If we were in the Champagne region of France, their highly regulated rules mandate a minimum of 15 months for maturation in the bottle for a non-vintage wine, and 36 months for a vintage. Most houses, however, do go much longer and allow the necessary time to mature until the desired style is reached before disgorging and removing the lees.
This process requires precise attention to detail, a lot of experience, and a ton of time. And a few extra steps that I skipped over. But that’s for another column!It is safe to say that a well-crafted Blanc de Blancs becomes a serious wine that is best enjoyed in a wine glass (not in a flute) and can be an excellent pairing in lieu of a fine ‘traditional’ Chardonnay. This Dr. Frank recently-disgorged wine needs to open up a bit, and a larger glass is the perfect accessory.
Richy Petrina is the founder of small local startup Ithaca Wine Ventures that recently launched WINEcsa.org, a wine club featuring a different Finger Lakes winery each month. Subscribing members can gift and ship wines nationally or pick them up in Ithaca. Like a farm share, but with wine instead of vegetables!