Battle of the bubbly
By Craig Allen
Nothing shouts celebration quite like a bottle of bubbles. Whether it’s a special announcement/occasion, catching up with family and friends or attending the many holiday galas, popping the cork instantly sets off smiles and even some giggles. What was once a luxury drink for the elite has weaved itself into pop culture. Champagne tastings, champagne cocktails and champagne bars are now a part of mainstay America.
It is everywhere – and you don’t have to fork over a lot of green to enjoy it.
Most of you are probably familiar with Dom Perignon. The name is synonymous with champagne. And yes – the house of Dom Perignon is revered for its vintage champagne, but the prestigious house is actually named after a religious cellarmaster.
Dom Pierre Perignon is one of two Benedictine monks noted with the invention of the champagne-making method back in 1668. It is said that the monks were trying to get rid of the bubbles to make a white wine just as good as the red wine royalty loved so much. Fortunately for us, they just perfected it.
Champagne grapes are picked late in the year, and due to the cold climate in the French region of Champagne there is very little time for fermentation. So Frère Jean Oudart and Dom Pierre Pérignon developed a second fermentation process which took place the following spring. This second fermentation occurs in the bottle which creates the carbon-dioxide sparkle, better known as the “bubbles in your champagne”. The process is still used today otherwise known as Methode Champagnois.
A true champagne can only be labeled “champagne” if it comes from the Champagne region in France. However, you can get the bubbly in different countries, but the name changes depending on the region or grape varietal. Grape varietals for champagne consist of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Each champagne house has its own signature style; however, when compared to its sparkling counterparts, it reigns in richness, elegance and vibrancy due to the traditional three grape varieties. You will also find a yeasty character with subtle notes of green apple and a great body thanks to the Pinot Noir grape.
Budget champagnes don’t really exist. You can find some good values in the $30-$50 range, but a really good one is going to cost you.
Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs Brut $39.99
Krug Grand Cuvee Brut – $189.99
This is the Spanish version of champagne and is made in the Methode Champagnois. Macabeu, Xarel-lo and Perellada are the three traditional varieties you will find in a cava. But sometimes you may find Chardonnay, Subirat or Riojan Malvasia. Pinot Noir and Trepat are the only black grapes authorized in Spain to make rose cavas. The name “cava” translates to cave, which is where the sparkling wine is racked. Typically the deeper the cave, the finer the bubbles.
You will find cavas to be very light and a little dryer than Champagne. It isn’t overwhelming or filling, which makes it a lovely choice for the holidays. Cava tends to compliment most dishes instead of fighting for attention. It is also easier on the wallet.
Segura Viuddus Brut Reserva Heredad – $21.99
Paul Cheneau Brut – $9.99
Prosecco is the Italian version of bubbly, named after the Prosecco grape. It is grown north of Venice in the wine regions of Veneto, Valdobbiadene and Conegliano. Prosecco grapes are used to make two other sparkling wines known as spumante, a dry sparkling wine, and frizzante, a semi-sparkling wine. Similar to the laws of champagne, European law states that the name “prosecco” can only be applied to Prosecco grapes grown in the Caldobbiadene/Conegliano wine region. In Italy, prosecco is a very festive drink similar to celebratory uses of champagne. Traditionally; Italians drink it before a meal or use it as an aperitif. It is also a great sparkling wine to use for champagne cocktails like Bellinis, Mimosas and the Poinsettia.
In the past five years, Americans have picked up on prosecco most likely due to world traveling. Like cava, prosecco is also much lighter than champagne and doesn’t have that heavy yeast characteristic. It is very pleasant on the tongue and works very well on its own, with cheeses and even dessert. Compared to cava, prosecco has undertones of softer fruit like apricot and peach and you may even pick up some floral notes. Cava is a little dryer and crisper with notes of citrus. This is also another great bang for your buck if you are looking for bubbly, but not a high price tag.
Bisol Prosecco Crede – $18.99
Riondo Prosecco – $11.99
Sparkling wine runs the gamut. You will find some sparkling akin to French champagne because they use the same method as well as the same grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot Meuniel. In fact, there are French Champagne house companies right in California.
However, there are no laws when it comes to sparkling wine and you will find various grape varieties in sparkling wines. Not every house wants to mimic the French creamy style. Sparkling wines are produced all over the country in places like Oregon, New Mexico, Virginia and New York, as well as worldwide in Canada, Australia and South Africa. You will come across everything from very sweet to very dry from very bubbly with citrus to flat and bland. Price points will also vary; however, it is still half the price of champagne.
Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs – $36.99
Domaine Ste.Michelle Blanc de Blancs – $11.99
So there you have it: the essence of bubbles at your fingertips for the next holiday gala, family gathering or catching up with friends. It might even be a good idea to hold a “Battle of the Bubbles” party and let your guests decide which bottle pops the punch!
Craig Allen is owner of All Star Wine & Spirits in Latham Farms. For more information call 220.9463 or visit www.allstarwine.com.