Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Happy New Year - Deciphering Those Bottles of Bubbly

As we countdown to 2013 it is time to break out the bubbly to raise a glass in celebration and remembrance. The number of choices can be daunting, so here is some info to help you in picking out a bottle. As always, your local wine shop owner can also point you in the right direction.
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Types of Bubbly
Their are a number of types of Sparkling Wine - although Champagne is the one that you probably hear about the most often.  Champagne is sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France. Any wine not from the Champagne region should not be called Champagne.  The way in which Champagne is made, with a secondary fermentation in the bottle, is referred to as "Methode Champenoise" (i.e. Champagne Method). Non Champagne sparkling wine can identify they do make their wine in the same method as Champagne by including Methode Champenoise on their label.   Champagne or wines made in the same method tend to be more expensive because it is a painstaking and time consuming process to make the wine.

Want to know more about Champagne? - Here is a short video that describes the process. I think it is ingenious how the sediment is removed from the bottle.  Just think that this process was figured out back in the 1700s by none other that the monk Dom Pierre Perignon (sound familiar??)
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Types of Sparkling Wine that can help in your celebration include:
  • Champagne is the stuff from France made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir (yes a red grape!), or a combination of both (occasionally made include a grape called Pinot Meunier).
  • California Sparkling.  There are many, many examples of California Sparkling wine. I recommend two things - look for bottles marked Method Champenoise or Traditional Method. It is also a safe bet to go with a California wine made by a winery with connections to French Champagne, such Louis Roederer - here is one of my favorites. There are other methods to make a sparkling wine, so as the wine gets cheaper, the bubbles get bigger and the wine a bit more harsh.
  • Spanish Cava. A delicious and typically more economical option is Cava from Spain. Made in the same method as Champagne, but using Spanish grape varieties such as Parellada, Xarel-lo, and Viura. If your looking to try something new - give Cava a shot.
  • Italian Asti (or its cousin Moscato d' Asti) and Prosecco. Asti wines (yes from Aste Spumante fame) from Italy are made from the Moscato Bianco grape and are usually quite sweet and better for pairing with a dessert. Prosecco wines are made from the Glera grape and are typically dry or extra dry. Prosecco is not made in the Champagne method, but instead is carbonated in large stainless steel tanks (the Charmant method).
  • Australian Sparkling Shiraz. Australia specialized in making a red sparkling wine from the Syrah grape. I have tried a few of these without much luck. If you find a good one, please leave a comment with the info and let us know!
Dry or Sweet?
Sparkling wines come in a number of dryness/sweetness levels that can be confusing.  Some wines may say just "Dry" or "Sweet", but many will use the Champagne terminology. You will notice that there is some overlap in the amount of sugar left in the wine. The more sugar the sweeter the taste while drinking, and the more of a sweet aftertaste the wine will leave: 
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  • Extra Brut - is "extra" dry - we're talking bone dry.  
  • Brut – dry - the most popular one for toasting and for food pairing.
  • Extra dry – middle of the road dry, with a bit of sweetness (great as an aperitif)
  • Sec - now we are heading towards sweet, less for toasting, more for desserts.
  • Demi-sec – pretty sweet, good for sweeter desserts (remember, always serve a wine that tastes sweeter than the dessert).
  • Doux - very sweet.
I would stay away from the "extremes" of Extra Brut and Doux, and then it comes down to individual taste.  Brut is the most popular, and the level I recommend to ring in the New Year.

Know of some good sparkling wine - please share with us by posting a comment - Thanks!!!

Whatever you choose to toast 2013, I hope you have a happy and safe New Year!!!

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