Paul Kolbuc
February 5, 2010 | Paul Kolbuc

A World of Spakling Wine & Champagne

Tiny bubbles play a big role in any celebration, and there's a world of sparkling wine just waiting to be explored. Not only is the classic French Champagne always a good choice, but other countries around the globe also produce some delicious offerings. Good for more than a toast at the stroke of the New Year, sparkling wine is a perfect aperitif and pairs well with a wide range of foods.

All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. True Champagne comes only from the region of the same name in northern France, and most sparkling wine producers elsewhere respect French tradition by not using the term on their labels. Champagne is usually a blend of three grapes, two red (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) and one white (Chardonnay).This classic blend produces a wine that has a good balance of sugar and acidity, and styles can range from light and fresh to toasty and yeasty, or from dry to sweet.

Quality Champagne is produced using a traditional method known as methode champenoise in which the secondary, bubble producing fermentation takes place in the bottle. This makes for desirable tiny, delicate bubbles and is generally a more expensive method than the charmat method, in which the second fermentation is done in tanks.
Spain's sparkler, Cava, is also made using the traditional French method, which they call metodo tradicional. Its distinctive fresh, crisp and earthy fruit flavors can be tasted in reasonably priced versions such as Casa Doro Brut and Segura Viudus Brut Reserva.

Italy's Prosecco is a sparkling wine made with the white grape of the same name. This dry wine has light citrus Celebrate with festive fizz from around the globe and apple flavors and is either lightly sparkling, frizzante or fully sparkling, known as spumante. Excellent examples are made by Martini & Rossi (slightly off dry) and Zardetto Brut (dry). If you prefer a sweeter option, the Italians produce many Asti sparkling wines using the charmat method. Mondoro Asti is a staff and customer favorite that has delicate, sweet, and aromatically fragrant character and flavor.

A number of French Champagne houses have taken up residence in California. The warmer climate produces a rich tasting and typically fruitier option, often available at a more affordable price. Mumm Cuvee Napa Brut Prestige and Chandon Caneros Blanc De Noirs are excellent selections. There are also U.S. producers not affiliated with the Champagne houses who create fine fizz in California and Washington state. For a full-bodied sparkling wine, try Iron Horse Classic Vintage Brut (CA), and if you are serving many, Domaine Ste. Michelle (WA) is an excellent value......always very good quality, clear and crisp on the palate.

New York's Finger Lakes region is gaining considerable attention for producing excellent sparkling wine. The famous Chateau Frank Champagne house has produced sparkling wines that have outscored many California and French Champagnes including Bollinger, Taittinger, and Veuve Cliquot, in fact Konstantin Frank's legendary winery's Champagne produced in the classic methode champenoise has been served at the White House. With that said, February 2010, is Finger Lakes Sparkling Wine Month!

A bit of bubbly is a delicious companion with foods ranging from cheddar to chocolate. Just keep the different styles in mind to best complement a particular food's flavors, and you can serve it with every course. Turkey and chicken make tasty fizz companions, and lamb and ham pair nicely with a rose sparkler. Sparkling wines even pair well with egg dishes to make for a festive brunch. Serve the sweeter styles with sweets to avoid creating a flat, metallic taste combination. Many sparkling wines will bear the names of traditional French style categories.

Wine labeled Brut, the most common type, is very dry. Extra Dry, ironically, is slightly sweeter. Sec is medium sweet, Demi-Sec is sweet, and Doux is very sweet. Derni-Sec and Doux are best as dessert wines or on their own.

Paul Kolbuc

Wine Consultant

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