Wine Time

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J Cuvee 20 Brut NV, California

COST: $21-23

WHAT: This delightful, refreshing sparkling wine from J Vineyards & Winery is a party in a bottle. You pop off the cork, pour, and the dinner party immediately perks up.

I have long believed that we Americans don't drink nearly enough sparkling wine. A good sparkling wine will match nearly any food, and it's good for sipping by itself. So I try to drink sparkling wine as often as I can.

When a couple of friends came over for dinner we opened a Cuvée 20, and the conversation picked up. It's such a versatile wine I would be hard pressed to say whether it was better before or during dinner.

Sparkling wines often don't have a great aroma, but this one opens with lemon peel, floral and toasty aromas. Very pleasant. The taste is a complex, smooth blend of acid, apple and pear, with a long, lingering finish. Tiny, long-lasting bubbles keep it lively and elegant.

You can't call this Champagne, because it is not made in the Champagne region of France, but it's made in the same labor-intensive way classic Champagne is made. The grapes are 49 percent Pinot Noir, 49 percent Chardonnay and 2 percent Pinot Meunier. The grapes from various vineyard lots are fermented separately and blended before bottling. The nonvintage blend includes 25 percent oak cask-aged wines.

After secondary fermentation in the bottle the wine ages for three more years in a cool cellar. Traditional riddling is used to bring the sediment to the neck of the bottle, where it is frozen and disgorged. The wine spends another six months in the cellar before it is released.

WINERY: In 1986, Judy Jordan left the family business (Jordan Winery) to produce finely crafted varietals and sparkling wines that have become the hallmark of the Russian River Valley. The sparkling wines captured the public's attention first, and they are magnificent, but the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay also are quite good.

Pinot Noir is one of the most difficult grapes to cultivate, and certainly one of the most difficult wines to produce with excellence. But when it is done right, it is divine. Only a few spots in the world produce exceptional Pinot Noir, including Burgundy and the Russian River Valley.

The cool coastal climate and the diversity of soils in the Russian River Valley make it ideal for producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, the traditional grapes for Champagne.

Jordan and her winemaker, George Bursick, are celebrating 20 years of crafting fine sparkling wines. The Cuvée 20 is at the low end of their library, with the Brut Rose selling for about $30 and the Vintage Brut selling for $40 or more. All are outstanding.

GOES WITH: This paired perfectly with a spicy stir fry chicken. It also worked as an aperitif with cheese. The crisp acidity makes it a great match for spicy Asian food, such as Thai, and for rich seafood dishes.

WINE EVENTS

THURSDAY

Wine and food tasting, Luciana's -- A Taste of Italy, 362 Furys Ferry Road, 6:30 p.m. Sample a variety of wines and food; $20. Seating is limited. For reservations, call (706) 860-0888.

FRIDAY

In-shop tasting, Vineyard Wine Market, 4414 Evans to Lock Road, Evans, 4:30-6:30 p.m.

SATURDAY

In-shop tasting, Vineyard Wine Market, 4414 Evans to Lock Road, Evans, 1-6 p.m.

Wine tasting and seminar, "Pine Ridge Plus," Wine World, 133 Georgia Ave., North Augusta, 7 p.m.; $15. Wines from Pine Ridge, Forefront, Chamisal (California) and Archery Summit (Oregon). Call (803) 279-9522 for reservations.

AUG. 19

Third Thursday wine tasting, Wine World, 5-8 p.m. Sample six wines and cheeses chosen to match the wine. Cost is $4 with rebate on the purchase of one bottle of the featured wines.

AUG. 29

Bus trip to the 14th Annual Vineyard Fest at Chateau Elan in Braselton, Ga. The festival runs from 1 to 5 p.m. The bus will leave at 10 a.m. from The Vineyard Wine Market parking lot, 4414 Evans to Lock Road, Evans. Purchase tickets from Chateau Elan before the trip and then call the Vineyard to reserve a seat on the bus. Wine Fest tickets are $75, and bus tickets are $30. Only a few bus tickets are left. Call Chateau Elan at (678) 425-0900 and the Vineyard at (706) 922-9463.

OCT. 2

CoCo Wine Festival, Savannah Rapids Pavilion, 3300 Evans to Lock Road, Martinez, 1-4 p.m. Sample dozens of wines, beer and food from area restaurants. The Augusta Rose Society will be back with its Rose Show and exhibits for this fifth anniversary of what used to be called the CSRA Wine Festival. Cost is $35 if you buy tickets before Sept. 29 at Ninth Street Wine Shop or The Vineyard Wine Shop, or $40 at the door.

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