Vino staycation, a bubbly way to spend a vacation

Zhou Yubin
So what style of wine embellishes a holiday and brings true joy during the seemingly endless days of rain? The answer is bubbles.
Zhou Yubin
Vino staycation, a bubbly way to spend a vacation

Picturesque hillside vineyard in Champagne

If travel is a part of your work or you don’t want the hassle associated with arranging a holiday, then spending a well-earned vacation at or near your home is always an attractive option. This is especially true of Shanghai. This time of year the weather is good and over the ensuring weeks this means plum rain season — a semi-permanent convergence zone that annually saturates much of southeast China, including Shanghai, in heavy rain. The perfect solution for surviving, or even thriving this rainy season, is a vino staycation.

So what style of wine embellishes a holiday and brings true joy during the seemingly endless days of rain? The answer is bubbles, which always go up and never down, just as your spirit should on a rainy day. No place does bubbles better than Champagne. Whether you’re at home dining, watching a movie or taking a hot bath, Champagne is sure to lift your spirits and bring greater elegance and pleasure to your staycation.

But buyers still need to be selective. Over the past several decades, even as prices have risen precipitously, the overall quality of Champagne wines has suffered. This is especially true of mass-marketed brands that often boast long and glorious pasts, yet fail to deliver their historic excellence. One sagacious solution is to choose non-vintage Champagnes from smaller producers.

Non-vintage wines are a blend of wines from different vintages. The goal of the blending is to create a house style that is consistent year after year. Each year a Champagne house will make 30 to 60 separate wines from different villages all located within the confines of the Champagne AC. A minimum of 20 percent of the wines must be kept in reserve for future years. These reserve wines play a crucial role in keeping the style of the non-vintage Champagnes consistent.

Every Champagne producer takes pride in having their own distinct house style. Because vintage Champagnes by nature vary according to the vintage, this house style is best reflected in a non-vintage wine. The style of a Champagne is dictated by the location of the vineyards, the blend, fermentation, dosage and aging. The majority of Champagnes are blends of one or more of the three authorized grapes, namely Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Single variety Chardonnay wines are called Blanc de Blancs and they tend to be lighter and have more finesse, while single variety Pinot Noir sparklers are called Blanc de Noir and they are heartier and more structured. Some producers add a minority contribution Pinot Meunier to their Blanc de Noir Champagnes to embellish fruitiness.

Some of the most notable non-vintage Champagne producers who have wines in Shanghai include: Larmandier-Barnier, Lerlerc-Brian, Cedric Bouchard, Pierre Peters, Tarlent, A. Roberts, Lanson, Delamotte and Jacques Picard. The best producers in Champagne are not necessarily the most famous, instead they are often small to medium-sized, frequently family-owned enterprises that put their cherished heritage and passion into every bottle. These are perfectly suited for a Shanghai staycation.

Neighborhood wine bars

The term staycation doesn’t exclude a visit to a nearby wine bar so another option is a quick walk in the rain to one of Shanghai’s many sophisticated wine bars. No cars, taxis, buses, subways or boats needed — in Shanghai, wine pleasure is only a few steps away. In my case, a five to 10-minute walk from my Zhenning office or home brings me to a host of ideal staycation wine bars.

There’s no better place to start than Wine Universe by Little Somms. For professionals and serious wine lovers this place is a must visit. From the outside, this small and unpretentious looking wine bar and shop on Yuyuan Road provides only subtle hints of the liquid treasures within. Step inside and engage Jasper or one of his highly trained staff and you know you’re in for a world-class wine experience.

Little Somms is an oasis for wine professionals and serious wine lovers with over 500 labels on offer. On any given day 120 wines are offered by the glass, including some of the world’s rarest and best wines. French bistro-style snacks and cheese can be enjoyed with the wines. On any given day you may run into internationally famous wine masters, sommeliers and celebrities. Most important, this place is all about great wines with something special for all drinkers alike.

Another nearby petit Shanghai wine enclave is Anteroom. Located on tree-lined Changle Road, this intimate and warm wine bar offers reasonably priced wines from the four corners of the world. There’s also a limited but tasty selection of well-prepared European-inspired dishes. In addition to non-vintage Champagnes, the selection of high-end, yet still eminently affordable, Chilean and Argentinian wines is among the best in Shanghai.

If you wish to keep things simple then I suggest JustGrapes on Anfu Road. As the name implies, this place is all about demystifying wines and putting consumers at ease.

Here you can dispense with mind-bending vino jargons and the Byzantine intricacies of winemaking and simply enjoy drinking a wine that’s suitable for you. They offer a host of good value vinos as well as premium wines that can be enjoyed with wine-friendly comfort foods like lasagna, chicken quesadilla and Prosciutto and arugula pizza.  

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