I didn’t even realize I had a foot fetish until I met Jennifer Wall, winemaker at Barefoot Bubbly. It was a sober, professional, business-card-exchanging encounter at some tasting, and suddenly, the idea of shoeless Jen up to her kneecaps in a vat of squishy moscato grapes made my heart go all ragdoll.
Too much info? I’ll stick to technical spec sheets forthwith—pinky-toe promise.
Moscato—or muscat to those who prefer unlyrical, unpoetic, rodent-sounding grape names—is one of the most underappreciated varietals on the market. And good thing, too—as a result, it tends to be inexpensive, and dollar for dollar, scent molecule for scent molecule, flavonoid for flavonoid, the most seductive and aromatic wines you’ll unscrew, uncork or disgorge. Pronounced perfumes of dried apricots and fresh peaches mingle with honeysuckle and orange peel, and on the palate, the flavors are luscious without being cloying. Apparently, I’m not the first wine writer to so gush; muscat is the oldest known grape variety on the planet. The Greeks wrote about it, the Romans drooled over it and it was the wine served at the funeral of King Midas, who was, apparently, not just some Disney character.
It’s also a grape that lends itself easily to a secondary fermentation, often the ‘Charmat’ bulk method, but occasionally the more labor intensive méthode champenoise. Reputation-wise, Asti Spumante has been pretty much beaten up over the years, and a lot of this Piedmontese lowbrow chugger juice has been forgettable froth—but not all, and with tightened regulations, not lately. There’s a presumption made by plenty of people that because a wine is simple and sweet, it’s flawed.
Naturally, these anal-retentive tools should get their noses out of the air and back inside the wine tulip where they belong.
Jen Wall’s version of Asti is called Barefoot Bubbly Moscato Spumante, which she unabashedly labels as ‘Champagne,’ despite convention which suggests that this hallowed term be reserved for wine from the region of Champagne only, as in France (and much of Europe), by law, it is.
But barefoot people defy convention, this is documented fact. Huck Finn helped a slave escape from slavery—that wasn’t real conventional. The Incredible Hulk (quite unconventional) did not wear shoes, not even sometimes. Neither did Fred, Wilma, Barney or Betty, who might be conventional today, but were hardly conventional in one million BC. Did I forget to mention Measha Brueggergosman? Look her up, I have a column to write. Suffice to say, all are famous, unconventional, barefoot historical figures who I am certain would call sparkling wine Champagne without a hiccup.
Anyway, Barefoot Bubbly Moscato Spumante showcases all the stone fruit and flowers forecasted above, plus some nice, subtle spices—ginger especially. It’s light and non-pretentious, slightly sweet and makes a lovely dessert wine, especially alongside fresh fruit.
Jen Wall’s stab at traditional Champagne flavors comes in the form of Brut Cuvée and Extra Dry, neither of which are made in the painfully time-consuming méthode champenoise, but rather in the bulk, stainless-steel-tanks-under-pressure method which can take as little as ninety days from harvest to bottle. Some grapes—prosecco, for example, for whom the process was invented—benefit from this schema—but with chardonnay, from which the Extra Dry is made, better overall results are had using the old-school technique. Charmat sparklers tend to produce larger, less-long-lasting bubbles which are not really integrated into the wine itself, and in fact, both Barefoot Brut and Extra Dry know from tiny bubbles only when Jen Wall cranks up Don Ho on the boom-box.
On the other hand (foot), these wines retail for around ten dollars, so if you’re expecting the moon, invest in NASA. Extra Dry is slightly sweet—again with the unconvention—and Brut is dry. Each shows reasonable acidity, some yeasty Granny Smith apple notes and an underscore of minerality to indicate that the fruit was chosen with some circumspection. Whatever corners were trimmed to keep these bottles priced to move, it appears that grape quality was spared the financier’s axe.
So you wind up with wedding wine; sparklers you can buy in bulk and serve in quantity, and most folks won’t dress you down for not serving something pricier—it isn’t Andre Peach Passion ($5), it isn’t Minsk Sparkling Wine Factory Sovetskoye Zolotoye ($6 or 186 rubles), and the label has a playful logo of a bare footprint just above the equally playful assertion that the wine is actually Champagne. Who’s the wiser? The French? They’re know-it-alls anyway.
Or God forbid, a pair of shoes.