Monday, December 29, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - All that Sparkles Isn't Gold

OK, so that's not quite the old cliche - but when I need to talk to you about sparkling wines I get to use some artistic license! It's time again for celebration of the New Year, and that means sparkling wine.  There are a few things you need to know before you head out to buy sparkling wine for your celebration so that you end up with some "gold" - the type of wine you want for the price you want to pay.  Unless you are already comfortable with the lingo and brands of sparkling wine, I recommend heading to a wine shop for this purchase. Your local grocer will be stocked up on sparklers for the season, but won't have the knowledge about the products to help you out when you need it.  (Plus, grocery stores can have crazy markups on wine).  

The first thing you need to know is to call it sparkling wine vs. Champagne, unless wine from the Champagne region of France is exactly what you want.  You local wine shop can show you options from other parts of France (Cremant), Cava from Spain (one of my favorite choices), and sweeter options from Italy (Prosecco, Asti Spumante). Plus, there are a lot of great sparkling wines being made in California, New York, and even New Mexico.

If you do decide on Champagne, you also need to decide if you want a bone dry version, or a super-sweet version. The sweetness is measured by the amount of left over (residual) sugar in the wine that is not fermented into alcohol.  The levels of sweetness of Champagne are below:

  • Brut Nature (or Extra Brut): Bone dry (0-0.5% residual sugars). You won't find many of these, and this level of dryness is probably more intense than you are used to drinking.
  • Brut: Dry (0.5-1.5% residual sugars).  If you are looking for the equivalent of a dry white wine this is the level you want. The bit of sweetness adds balance to the wine, but it won't taste sweet.
  • Sec: "Sec" in French means dry, but at this level you will start to taste some sweetness in the wine. A great choice if your guests like a bit of sweetness, or if your toast is at the end of a meal. (1.5-3.5% residual sugars).
  • Demi Sec: "Semi-Dry" Champagne gets even sweeter, and broaches into dessert wine territory. 3.5-5.0% residual sugars
  • Doux: Sweet! (above 5.0% residual sugars). These will also be very hard to find and are equivalent to a syrupy sweet dessert wine. Not the choice for your New Year's toast!

So... lot's of styles of sparkling wine from different countries means lots of choices - and your local wine shop staff can help you navigate the choices and find you a great one (or two) for the amount you are wanting to spend. 

Have a safe and Happy New Year!

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