Let’s be honest, would the holidays be the same without a little stress? The reality of the season typically yields delayed flights, dry turkey, bickering relatives and at least one stray finger in the whipped cream that once graced the pumpkin pie but now we long for the days when these inconveniences were a possibility. While still in quarantine amongst fears of a global pandemic remind yourself of what matters most; Friends, family and gratitude. Raise a slender glass of the juice most synonymous with celebration and relish the dance of fine bubbles tickling your palate. As best put by author Mark Twain, “Too much of anything is a bad thing, but too much Champagne is just right”.
“Come quickly! I am tasting stars” ~Dom Pérignon
Benedictine Monk, Dom Pérignon, was not the first to discover or produce sparkling wines despite the myth. While not the first, he was a wine pioneer of fine sparkling wines using the first ‘cuvée’ (blended wine) sparkling production. In its most natural form Champagne, or Sparkling Wine, begins as a still wine that is fermented to maintain its maximum acidity. Sparklers come in all shapes and sizes, but those that reserve the right to be called ‘Champagne’ are an exclusive club. The right to use this term applies only to wines that are made in the region of Champagne, France.
In the region of Champagne there are seven permitted grapes but only three are highly revered; Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. Other regions of France celebrate the use of varied and often designated grapes, and can be referred to as Cremant. The individual wines are then blended to produce the style of wine most desired. Three classic descriptions can frequently be found on the label:
- Blanc de Blancs (White from White) The wine is made entirely with white wine from white grapes.
- Blanc de Noir (White from Black) This represents a cuvee made from only black grapes. This can be a blend of several red wine producing grapes such as Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
- Rosé (blend) Unlike classic rosé wines, the pink color can be achieved by blending both red and white wines. It can also be produced using red wine grapes only using the saignée method of bleeding the juice from the skins before achieving full color.
After the finished juice is blended and bottled an additional mixture of yeast and sugar, liqueur de tirage, is added to the blend and sealed into the bottle. This initiates a second fermentation that will produce carbon dioxide gas within the bottle itself; The bubbles! The gas, and additional alcohol, is a by-product of the yeast consuming the sugar. When the yeast cells die, they fall to the bottom of the bottle creating ‘Lees’ which can add richness and toasty flavors in the resulting wine. The bottles are stored with the neck resting slightly lower than the body of the bottle and are gently turned to collect the yeast near the cap over several years. When the winemaker pulls this plug from the bottle it is called ‘disgorging’ and the final stages of production begin. The final steps of production include adding a ‘dosage’ after the yeast plug is pulled. This replaces the wine lost with a mixture of still wine and sugar called the Liqueur d’Expédition. This labor intensive process is referred to as the Methode Champenoise or Classic Method. When the winemaker chooses to undergo the secondary fermentation in a large tank as opposed to individual bottles, this is called the Charmat method and is used for younger, early to market, wines.
What’s on the label?
If it doesn’t say “Champagne” don’t worry – it may be just as good if not better! Wines using the same process of double fermentation produced anywhere else in the world are referred to as sparkling wine, unless from regions with specified monikers. The sparkling wines of Italy are designated Prosecco and Moscato D’Asti. In Spain they are referred to as Cava. Unless otherwise specified the wine will be labeled as NV (Non Vintage), vintage dated wines are only produce in exceptional years.
The level of sugar in the dosage determines the sweetness level of the wine which will be reflected on the label by the following terms:
- Brut Nature- No sugar added
- Extra Brut- Very dry
- Brut-Dry, this is the most popular and food friendly
- Extra Dry- dry with a hint of sweetness
- Demi Sec- Sweet
There is a style to match every palate. The high acidity and richness of body make Sparkling Wines perfectly compatible with every type of cuisine from fried chicken to fois gras. Take a breather this holiday season and let the bubbles lighten your mood. If you prefer to remain local with choices, these Texas producers can bring the celebration to your glass!
Our Sparkler Recommendations:
NV Jansz Sparkling Rose (Tasmania)- $41
NV McPherson Cellars Brut Sparkling (Texas)- $28