Champagnes Make Holidays Sparkle
It’s synonymous with celebration and no holiday party would be complete without a Champagne toast. Don’t let the search for that perfect bubbly – one that suits the occasion, your tastes and your budget – spoil the celebration, though. Armed with a little knowledge, you’ll be ready to pop the cork at midnight.
The difference between Champagne and sparkling wine is simply a matter of location. To be called Champagne, the wine must be made exclusively with grapes grown in the Champagne region of France and must be made using the traditional Champagne method of fermentation. This method involves a second fermentation that occurs in the bottle in which the wine is sold. Sparkling wines may also use this method, but if they are produced outside of Champagne, France, they cannot bear the Champagne moniker. This does not mean that they are inferior – there are many exceptional sparkling wines.
Bubbles reveal a lot about the quality of a sparkling wine and are a reflection of the way the wine is fermented. The least expensive sparkling wines get their bubbles from an influx of carbon dioxide, much the same way soft drinks get their fizz. This creates large, short-lived bubbles that are aggressive on the palate. Exceptional sparkling wines and Champagnes have an even stream of tiny bubbles not much bigger than the head of a pin. The smaller the bubbles, the smoother and longer-lasting the stream, and the higher the quality of the wine. After the wine has undergone its first fermentation, which produces a still, dry wine much like any white table wine, more yeast and sugar is added and the bottle is sealed. Bubbles are produced during this second fermentation and won’t escape until they are released.
When selecting sparkling wines for your holiday parties, consider these
Sample different brands to establish a preference for a light or full bodied or sweet or dry style, and determine a favorite. Note: sparkling wine made with a larger amount of Pinot Noir tend to be fuller bodied and sparkling wines labeled Brut are driest, extra dry has just a touch of sugar, and demi-secs are sweet.
Taste from various price ranges. An expensive Champagne doesn’t necessarily guarantee satisfaction. Also make sure to taste a Champagne house’s non-vintage style (NV on the label), since this is their signature style that tastes very similar every year it’s produced.
In addition to ringing in the New Year, consider pairing Champagnes with your holiday dinner. Sparkling wines are very food-friendly.
An excellent sparkling wine to try is Gloria Ferrer, Blanc de Noirs Sonoma County NV. This is not a demi-sec. The rich, bright strawberry, raspberry and black cherry aromas are enhanced by a lush palate, small, lively bubbles and a persistent finish. The light pink hue, rich texture and fruitiness are the result of whole cluster pressing which extracts a hint of color and character from the hand-harvested Pinot Noir grapes.
For a French Champagne, select the Perrier Jouët, Grand Brut France NV. This Champagne has a lean, citrusy aroma with a high-toned grape-herbal accent. Crisp and lively, it features lingering flavors of fresh apples and lemons, as well as a mild, toasty character. The crisp body of this wine makes it a great companion to food.
Another excellent Champagne is Moët & Chandon White Star France NV. This extra-dry, bright, fruity wine is balanced, with mellow, well-developed flavors and just a hint of sweetness. It’s golden yellow and displays delicate aromas of flowers, hazelnuts and biscuits. Soft on the palate, White Star has a fruity finish evocative of white peaches.
Once a Champagne or sparkling wine has been selected, it’s important to open it appropriately. While “popping” the bottle may be exciting, it is not recommended. That method releases too many bubbles too quickly and ultimately results in a flat wine.
Use caution when uncorking a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine, as the contents are under high pressure. Hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle, point it away from your guests or anything precious. Cover the cork with your thumb, hand or napkin, loosen the wire cage and slowly twist the bottle rather than the cork for more control. Slowly pour into a Champagne flute, and delight in the explosion of tiny bubbles.