As New Year’s and the winter holidays approach, I find myself with an increased desire to drink things bubbly. However, champagne and other sparkling wines should be considered for year round consumption. If the country makes wine, they probably make sparkling wine as well so you have many choices.
But first – how do the bubbles get in there? Simply – many sparkling wines (and all from Champagne) goes through two sets of fermentation. The first one creates the wine and the alcohol. The second creates the
bubbles. Sugar and additional yeast are added to still wine. The yeast eats the sugar and creates CO2 (each house has it’s own secret sugar/yeast recipe). The bottle is capped – and the CO2 dissolves into the wine – only to appear again when the bottle is opened. Viola! (There are some sparkling wines where the CO2 is injected into the wine – these are to be avoided)
GROWER CHAMPAGNE – When looking for Champagne, try “grower champagne.” These wines are broadening the choices we have here in the US. In Champagne there are 19,000 growers, but only 5000 make wine. Of those, only about 130 make it to our shores. (Look for the initials RM on the label – this means Recolant-Manipulant). These wines are more distinctive vs the big Champagne house brands like Moet, Mumm and
Taittinger. Of the 300 million bottles of Champagne made annually – only 9 million are grower. Grower or otherwise, quality champagne will cost at minimum $45 and the sky is the limit from there – but the cost
is usually worth it. Never use champagne in a bellini or mimosa.
PROSECCO – From Italy, Prosecco is king, and like Champagne, the name is protected and can only be used on sparkling wines made in Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia. Made from the Glera grape most Prosecco are made where the second fermentation occurs in a steel tank vs in the bottle. The quality can be far ranging – so we recommend spending a little more on Prosecco and you will find superb examples of wine making. Here, $20 or $30 can get you a top bottle. If you want to spend a little more, and stay Italian, look for Franciacorta –
probably the closest thing to Champagne in Italy.
DOMESTIC BUBBLES – Though the United States does not have the wine lineage of either France or Italy, some excellent bubbles do come from California, Oregon, Long Island and yes, New Mexico. Like grower champagne makers – you will expect to find a wide range of styles using a wide range of grapes – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier are popular, but expect to find to find sparkling Sauvignon Blanc, Semillion and even Cabernet Sauvignon.
As for glassware, the flute is the recommended choice, but I prefer using a glass with a larger bowl. With the bubble rising out of the wine, I sometime feel the CO2 getting in the way of enjoying the wine. Give it a swirl and dissipate some of that gas. But no matter what country you chose – or what glass you drink it in – your celebrations will be more complete if you start with a glass or two of sparkling wine. Avoid the big brands, and enjoy something different.
Sparkling wine can be made from any grape anywhere in the world.
Wines to Consider:
• Jean Pernet, Grand Cru, Mesnil Sur Oger, NV – 100% Chardonnay, these grapes come from the family’s Grand Cru holdings. Rich, bready, brooding – this Champagne is practically food! ($48)
• Cantina Colli Euganei – This Prosecco actually uses Chardonnay as well as Glera giving it a richer quality. It is also “extra dry” which means it has a the faintest touch of sweetness. Perfect for dessert course. ($14)
• Yorkville Cellars, Cuvee Brut, 2011 – 100% organic, this bottling from one of our favorite wine makers uses Cabernet Sauvignon in their blend to make this very Champagne like wine. ($35)