Sparkling Wines: ’Tis the Season!
Cheers! It’s the time of year when we make plans to close out the successes of one year and plan for the adventures of the next one. Worldwide, there’s a tradition of crossing from one year to the next, celebrating what’s to come with family and friends. Any way you pour it, this celebration often includes a special beverage, punch or bubbly!
The traditional celebratory beverage in my family was always champagne. The holidays were the one time of year when the extravagance of champagne was accepted, almost encouraged. Champagne was considered an extravagance because it wasn’t the everyday beverage or cocktail and was instead revered as a symbol of success, comfort or good cheer. The pop of the champagne cork is a universal symbol for good times. Whenever you hear the signature pop, don’t you glance around for just a moment wondering who or what the fuss is for?
We used to think that sparkling wines could only come from lands far away, but look no further than your market to find sparkling wines from Venezuela, Spain, Italy, France, Germany and California regions of Lodi, Amador, Clarksburg, Paso Robles and Napa.
Sparkling Wines vs. Champagne
Sparkling wines are wines that have undergone a second fermentation caused by additional yeasts and carbon dioxides for effervescence. You can find sparkling wines at your local market or convenience store. But pay attention to a key word: Champagne. Sparkling wines that derive from the original region of Champagne, France, are called Champagne and are strictly created by methode Champenoise, the original method accredited to the Benedictine monk Dom Perignon (1638-1715) who, along with his countrymen, initially viewed the accidental bubbles from secondary fermentation as a flaw! But in 1839 modern development of champagne overcame the obstacles of exploding bottles and inconsistency with the dedication of Veuve Clicquot, Charles Krug and others. The shape of the champagne bottle is mostly traditional, but it was indeed necessary for the bottle to be made of very thick glass with gentle shoulders and a deep punt (indentation at the bottom of the bottle) to literally contain the increasing champagne pressure.
Is Italian Prosecco a sparkling wine? Absolutely. But it is not champagne. Prosecco is a very dry white sparkling wine in which yeasts are added to the entire barrel or volume of wine, then bottled into the classic sparkling wine bottle before corking and labeling. Conversely, when champagnes and other sparkling wines are made, each bottle is filled with wine (already fermented); then the additional yeasts are added per bottle, and corked for an initial period of nine months or more. During this time of aging, the wine is turned ever so slightly to keep the yeast from settling. After the designated period of time, the cork ends of the bottles contain yeast sediments that are then frozen, uncorked, then recorked quickly. The champagne has undergone its secondary fermentation and is now naturally highly carbonated and corked with extreme pressure. A quality flute of champagne may have fifteen million bubbles, whereas a Prosecco may have fewer bubbles by volume that dissipate much more quickly than champagne’s seemingly endless supply. Both are delightful wines to serve in the traditional flute to help contain all that beautiful effervescence.
Broadening our taste for sparklings, we see lovely offerings made from Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Moscato, Chardonnay and red varietals of Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Pinot Noir. In addition to the usual mimosas for brunch, sparkling wines are an ideal way to start off your appetizer course, an elegant way to cleanse one’s palate, or a perfect welcome when guests first arrive to your soirée. Poultry courses such as pheasant and turkey go very well with the crisp dry finish of sparkling wines. If you opt to do your holiday dining in four-star restaurants, you may find yourself enjoying champagne courses throughout the entire menu.
Holiday beverages can be kicked up a notch with a bottle of sparkling wine added to your favorite punch recipe, or try adding sparkling wine to a glass of cranberry juice, enjoying the Poinsettia. Add a bit of Chambord liquor and you have a Duchess and the bubbles continue.
Remember to always chill your sparkling wines and retrieve them from the freezer after 20 minutes or the bottle may explode! May you all enjoy a marvelous and blessed holiday season filled with love and friendship! HLM
Sources: domperignon.com, drinksmixer.com, karenmacneil.com, phys.org and thewinedoctor.com.