Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bubbles Anyone?

Bubbles Anyone?

By Kathy DiPietro, CSW – Certified Specialist of Wine – Society of Wine Educators, Washington, D.C.

Tis the season! For parties, dinners, corporate events and family gatherings – not to mention ringing in the New Year – whatever the cause for celebration your event deserves some bubbly to get everyone in the mood.

What's that you say? You're not a fan of the bubs? Be still my heart! You have simply not found the one that suits your palate. Believe me, there are as many different styles of sparkling wine as there are countries that produce it.

Allow me to be your guide through the world of bubbly.

Let's start with the most famous bubbles in the world - Champagne.

All Champagne is sparkling wine – but all sparkling wine is not Champagne. Champagne is a wine producing region in France that is famous for its sparkling wines that are classic blends of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier - so, a blend of two red grapes and one white. Typically, a non-vintage Champagne, one that is made with a blend of wine from grapes harvested in different years, is aged in oak barrels on the lees (yeast) for one and a half years before bottling, creating a crisp, fresh flavor with aromas of apples, pears and a hint of lemon cream. A vintage Champagne, one that is produced only with grapes harvested in the same year, is aged in oak for three years before bottling; these are often more toasty and vanilla-creamy with notes of baked apples, fresh-baked brioche with a touch of smoke.

Other areas of France produce sparkling wines, but by law they cannot be called Champagne since their origin is outside the confines of that region. These wines are labeled Crémant, usually followed by the area from which they hail - like, Crémant d'Alsace, Crémant de Bourgogne, or Crémant de Loire. These bubblies are made from grapes that would be native to those regions - for instance Crémant de Loire can be made from Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc or a blend of both.

True Champagne will set you back a minimum of $35-$40, with America's most popular sparkler - Veuve Clicquot (vuhv [rhymes with love] clee KOH) - yellow label starting at $45. A Crémant on the other hand can find its way into your glass for a modest $10-$15. We carry the La Jolie, a fun French sparkler in a frosted bottle with purple bubbles painted on it, just $12 – Viva la France!

Leaving France and heading south you'll find an abundance of bubbly being produced just across the border in the region of Catalunya, Spain.

Cava Vineyards in the Penedes region of Spain

When the vineyards of Champagne were devastated by a pesky little bug named Phyloxera, the French took their winemaking equipment and talent and headed across the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain where they encountered native grapes perfect for use in making sparkling wine. Although hard to pronounce (Parellada, Xarello and Macabeo) the resulting blend, called Cava, is both easy to drink and easy on your wallet - two of our most popular Cavas, Rene Barbier and Segura Viudas, sell for $7.99 and $8.99 respectively. Speaking on a personal note, I have a refrigerator in my garage filled with the Rene Barbier. Crisp and refreshing, I just love having a glass of this Spanish sparkler to celebrate the end of a hectic day at work!
Spanish Cava Caves

Heading to the north of France prepare to be delighted by Germany's contribution to the world of bubbly - Sekt. Most Sekt is a sweeter style, with the secondary fermentation (bubbles) typically produced in tanks instead of the bottle (which is the traditional Champagne method). Sekt is made with anything from Riesling to Sylvaner - an obscure white varietal. There are other sparkling wines made in Germany, often referred to as "foam" wine, but Sekt is the term for quality sparkling wine in the Rhine-land, of which World Market carries one - Silberies "silver ice." Try it... You might like it!

Just across Germany’s southernmost border your search for Italian bubbly will manifest itself as either Prosecco, produced in the Veneto, Asti from Piedmont, or Lambrusco from Emilia, all in the north of Italy. Let’s take each one by itself, shall we?

Vineyards in the Alto Adige region of Northern Italy
 Prosecco is both the name of the grape, and the style of the wine. It’s crisp and light, with fresh fruit flavors of lemon, pear, peach and apple. Decades ago Prosecco was a sweeter style of bubbly, but in recent years a drier style has evolved with just a hint of a sweet finish. This sparkler is not produced using the traditional Champagne method with its bubbles being developed in the bottle– it’s made en Charmat using large steel tanks which help to keep the cost down and the wine fresh and fruit-driven. More than half of all Italian sparklers are produced by the Charmat method. Prosecco has experienced a surge in popularity with 70 million bottles produced. World Market carries a good assortment, ranging in price from $10 to $16 – my favorite right now is the La Marca, you’ll recognize it by the beautiful bottle shape and its Tiffany-blue label.

Asti is the name of the wine-producing region and the style of the wine and can be found in two different forms – Moscato d’Asti or Asti Spumante. Moscato d’ Asti is produced in a frizzante style (fizzy), and Asti Spumante is produced in a fully sparkling (spumante) style; you can tell them apart easily by their corks – Spumante uses a typical Champagne-style cork and wire cage, whereas Moscato d’Asti is closed with a slightly wider, regular wine cork. There is no need for the wire cage because it contains less carbonation, less bubbles and less pressure in the bottle. Both of the Asti wines are made from the Muscat/Moscato grape, and are sweeter than Prosecco, with flavors of peaches and apricots and can be found in most stores. We carry many different labels ranging in price from $5 to $15; my favorite is the Opera Prima Sparkling Moscato for $5 – I love to make Moscato floats with it! Spoon a bit of peach sherbet or sorbet into a Champagne flute, add the Opera Prima, and watch as a sweet volcano of Moscato overflows – Yummy!

Lambrusco, like Prosecco, is both the name of the grape and the style of wine and can be produced as a red, white or rosé, all made from the same red grape. It’s full of tangy flavor, fresh dark fruit and is made to be enjoyed while young and fresh.

Generally Lambrusco can find its way into your shopping cart for less than $8. At that price you can grab a white and a red to have your own little Lambrusco tasting – try the Solato at World Market, just $6.99!

Let’s hop the pond and come back to the United States and experience some home-grown bubbly. Most domestic sparkling wine is produced in the Champagne method with the bubbles being produced in the bottle; some are even aged like fine Champagnes in oak barrels and then racked into bottles for that secondary fermentation that produces the bubbles. The oak gives the wine a toasty flavor with added layers of complexity. American sparkling wine producers make their bubbly in all the typical French styles of vintage and non-vintage, and in Brut – a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, Blanc de Blanc – white from white, made only from Chardonnay grapes, and Blanc de Noir – white from black, made from only red grapes. The latter is my favorite style of French or American bubbles because it gives you a richness and complexity from the use of Pinot Noir grapes with a touch of strawberry and raspberry.

Did you know that only American wines are served at White House formal events? And guess which bubbly is served at every reception? Domaine Chandon, their Blanc de Noir, of course! Bottles of American bubbly run the gamut in price – from $5 for a Charmat-made bottle to $125 for a vintage, traditional method, oak-aged, limited production bottle – but the Domain Chandon Blanc de Noir can be had for less than $20...

Thanks for allowing me to be your guide on a virtual tour of the world of bubbly.

If you’re not a bubblehead like me, I hope that I have convinced you to break out of your bottle and try something new. After all, sparkling wine is the wine that goes with everything! With its combination of both red and white grapes, it’s a great match for all types of foods – from salad to steak, calamari to French fries, appetizers to desserts – whatever you’re eating will go well with bubbles!
Find it ~ Buy it ~ Try it ~ Love it!

Salud! KathyD


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