The Inexpensive French Sparkler for your next BBQ

As Independence Day has thrust us all into the full throes of barbeque mania, I’d like to introduce an unusual pairing partner that will launch your next smoked masterpiece to dizzying heights. A delightfully unique red sparkler, Bugey-Cerdon is nestled in France’s alpine wonderland between Savoie, the Jura, Burgundy and Beaujolais.

My first experience with this charming méthode ancestrale red wine is a moment I’ll never forget. I was going through the sommelier program at the International Culinary Center in the Bay Area when I met a couple life-long friends as well as a handful of wines that would change my life. One of our professors and mentors, Alan Murray, (the first Australian Master Sommelier) left me with a lesson that transcends mere wine and resonates as a shining example of what a true sommelier should be – not to mention a wine that’s firmly implanted in my sense memory.

A few years before this time, Alan was serving as wine director for San Francisco’s Masa. He received a call that the legendary chef, Jacques Pépin, (who is also one of our culinary institute’s founders) would be visiting Masa later in the week. Contrary to many of his peers’ instincts when hearing Jacques Pépin would be descending on their restaurant, Alan opted for an inexpensive yet esoteric wine that would strike an emotional chord with his esteemed guest instead of hauling out the most rare and expensive wine in the house. You see, Jacques spent a significant amount of his childhood in the rural, alpine paradise near Bugey-Cerdon. When the night arrived, Jacques swirled his wine then tasted the cheerful nectar and tears welled up in his eyes. His dinner companions sent Alan a thank you note for making the event such a memorable evening. To me, this moment captures the epitome of what a great somm should truly be. He thoughtfully chose to give his famous guest an unforgettable, poignant experience. For a mere $20, Alan over-delivered when many of his colleagues would have dug deep in the cellar for the most expensive, highly allocated and forgettable bottle the restaurant could muster.

With this moving tale marinating in my mind, I took my first whiff then sip of Patrick Bottex’s Bugey-Cerdon. As years have passed, I can undoubtedly say it was more than mere sentiment that made me fall in love at first taste. The glass came alive with notes of firm, ripe berries, a hint of rhubarb, chalk, peony, violet, aromatic alpine air and a subtle yeastiness that was sheer magic! Although the picturesque little hamlet has been crafting wines since the Romans donned togas, it only received an AOC (French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) in 2009, but the wines remain the same rural sparklers that the locals know and love. As I previously mentioned, this sparkling wine is crafted méthode ancestrale, which means that the wine starts fermentation in barrel then is racked to bottle before all the sugar has been fermented. Fermentation finishes in the bottle and leaves behind its lees (spent yeast), which results in a magnificently subtle and inimitable flavor profile that only elevates the beauty in the final wine. This unique method is believed to predate the Champagne method – and though I love Champagne, Bugey-Cerdon offers a wholly unique flavor profile that lovers of the bubbly simply must experience!

Imported by Kermit Lynch, which should come as no surprise to those of you who know me, Patrick Bottex’s offering represents the pinnacle of the appellation for the modest price tag of $20-ish a bottle. Patrick and Catherine Bottex farm their high-altitude parcels on limestone slopes perched above the Ain River. The wine is comprised of 90% gamay and 10% poulsard, which is indigenous to the area. The fruit is hand-harvested, fermented with its natural yeasts and delivers a pure, sensory snapshot of the French alps replete with alpine air, limestone minerality and bright mountain fruit in the glass. A perfect, albeit unusual accompaniment to all the sauce-laden barbeque you can throw its way, I’d make sure to have plenty on hand this summer as this thirst-quenching stunner will disappear before you can throw another rack of ribs on the grill.