Writing about sparkling wines before New Year's Eve is so 2014!
I'm crazy about Champagne, but it's not exactly a state secret that they can be hard on the wallet. So I have to look elsewhere to fill in the gaps between splurges. Eldad Levy, who's the best local source of excellent Champagnes producers (often at sane prices) also exports the very worthy Languedoc producer Jean-Louis Denois, but I've already written about him several times. Other than that,arguably the best imported 'substitutes' are carried by Giaconda.

I placed quotation marks on 'substitutes' because the sparkling wines in the Giaconda catalog are anything but substitutes. First of all, they are from appellations where sparkling wines are part of the local culture. And more importantly, the best are good in their own right and have their own very specific personalities.

For the most part, we're talking about German sekts. And it seems just about every German producer in the catalog has a sekt. I've written about just about every one of them in the past, but now I'd like to focus on a couple of Pinot-based wines made by the only pure sekt specialist in the portfolio. Raumland makes Riesling based sekts, of course, but those haven't arrived in Israel yet. And call me a sentimentalist, but what really move me are the Champagne grapes, anyway.

Raumland, Rheinhessen, Cuvee Katharina, n.v.

This is Pinot Noir/Meunier based, and it's actually fairly entry level in that it's made of lesser quality grapes. Some tasters on Cellar Tracker are calling it coarse, but I do find plenty of refinement for the price. This was disgorged in early 2012, and, from what I've read, it's usually kept on its lees for 42 months. So some back dating says it's based on the 2008 vintage, which is a decent year (although no German vintage chart ever talks much about sekts) and the bottle has some nice age on it. Which probably explains why I don't find it coarse. It's a very good basic wine, indeed, with nuances of brioche and nuts, and fresh and tasty. Plus, it's dry - no makeup here to draw in the the casual drinker! What it lacks in my eyes, in comparison with a decent non vintage Champagne, is more girth and sheen on its fruit. (Dec. 6, 2014)

130 NIS.

Raumland, Rheinhessen, Rose Prestige, n.v.

I was really looking forward to trying this because of the whole rose mystique. This is one of the palest roses I've encountered, shaded a pale bronze like an orange wine. At first, the fruit doesn't lean so much towards red fruit as other roses I've had, sparkling or otherwise, unless you count pink grapefruit as a red fruit. Then it picks up intensity and presence, as well as an obvious Pinot character. It's slightly sweeter (riper?) and less complex than the Katharina (which wasn't that complex in its own right), but livelier and more refreshing and mineral laced. As it's recently disgorged (June, 2014), I'm willing to wager it will develop complexity and a more definitive sense of wineness with a couple of years of patience. (Dec. 7, 2014)

160 NIS.

My favorite Giaconda sparkler, though, is not a sekt.

Andre et Mireille (now Stephane) Tissot, Cremant du Jura, Blanc de Blanc Cleve en Fue, n.v.

Despite the label, this is actually a pure 2007 bottling and is probably the best sparkler in the catalog, unless there are surprises in the sekt department since I last ambled through it. As always, I get cashews and mushrooms and savory salinity. If you like that sort of thing - and who wouldn't, these are some of the traits one looks for in a good, basic Champagne - then this is the best offer in the bubbly section of the portfolio. (Dec. 12, 2014)

160 NIS.

Over the last few years, I've bought, drank about the Huet, Vouvray, Petillant, 2005 and it's a crazy value. Terrific stuff. The only reason I've stopped buying it is because of the changes in the wine-making regime at the domaine.

On the local front, The Golan Heights Winery is renowned for making the best methode traditionelle in Israel and I've been meaning for years to try their Blanc de Blancs (I've had the discontinued Brut on several occasions, but never the BdB for some reason). I finally got around to it. The Blanc de Blancs, 2007 has plenty of chalk and both citrus fruit and citrus blossom. It's a little sweeter than what I usually drink (although there's plenty of acidity to rein that in) and, after five years in its lees, more than hints at the roasted nuts/brioche/mushroom character I love, especially on the gorgeous nose. It's much more tame and correct than the any of the above (that's not necessarily bad, but worth mentioning at the very least), but it is very tasty and fresh and crazy value, at about 120 NIS. I should get some more. (Dec. 28, 2014)

There. Now you can't say I never say anything good about GHW!

Of course, there ain't nothing like the real thing.

Gaston Chiquet, Valee de la Marne, Millésime Or, 1er Cru, Brut, 2004 

Opened to celebrate the New Year, this shows greater depth and 'seriousness' than any of the above, as well as the nuts and brioche of a robustly mature Champagne. The fruit is ripe, feeling sweet despite the low dosage. Yet despite that sweetness, there is a fresh backbone of fine acidity that belies the lightly oxidized notes on the nose, and a long, brothy  finish. At the end of the day, it's hardly the most elegant Champagne I've had, but I wouldn't ever throw it out of my bed. (Dec. 31, 2014)

Fat Guy, 295 NIS. 

Jean Lallement, Verzenay Grand Cru, Brut, n.v.

This is one of my favorites, probably the wine I most often long to open, ever since I first drank it last year. I have no idea what vintages this bottle is based on, but the cuvee is heavily into Pinot Noir (80% of most bottlings, from what I read). It's not only supremely tasty, it's always interesting and unique. It's always about chicken stock, sauteed mushrooms and salted cashews, even more than it is about minerals and fruit - and there's plenty of minerals and fruit in there - always lifting my spirit and imagination. There's more complexity and detail in here than your average non-vintage has, and eventually the erstwhile Monsieur Lallement will release his first vintage wines and I will be able to sleep peacefully. (Jan. 1, 2015)

Fat Guy, 269 NIS.