If you remember my Father’s day post, I mentioned successful experiment in Sabering of the Champagne bottle. Okay, not really a Champagne – it was Cava Rose ( a very tasty one, Marques de Gelida Cava Brut Reserva). As I promised, here is the video for you:
To tell you the truth, once you open a sparkler this way, it is hard to go back to the traditional bottle twisting…
So…yes, you can try it at home! Have fun! Cheers!
Yesterday I shared with you my perspective on sparkling wine from 5 years ago. What happened in the past 5 years in the world of bubbly? Champagne is still a Champagne, as invented hundreds years ago, right? I would like to summarize the differences in two words: diversity and abundance.
Of course nobody invented Cava, Prosecco, Sekt or Cremant in the past five years – those sparkling wines had been around for hundreds of years. But never before were sparkling wines so abundantly available in United States – lots of them of a great quality and finesse, rivaling Champagne in taste and even more certainly, in price (average price of Champagne increased by about $5-$10 per bottle, depending on the brand and the actual wine store).
Diversity is another phenomenon in the world of sparkling wines – each and every category of the sparkling wines, including Champagne, has a lot more brands and styles widely available in many wine stores. Talking about Champagne, have you heard of Growers Champagne five years ago? I’m sure you did, if you are in the wine trade, but very unlikely if you are not. As we discussed before, majority of the Champagnes is produced by few big Champagne houses. For the most cases, those Champagne houses are not growing their own grapes, they are buying them from the growers. Some of the growers are also started making Champagne, which can be very distinctive and of a very good quality – I mentioned my experiences with Growers Champagnes a number of times before (you can find old posts here and here). Also increasingly available French sparkling wines made outside of Champagne appellation – they are often called Cremant and you can easily find Cremant de Alsace, Cremant de Bordeaux, Cremant de Bourgogne, Cremant de Jura, Cremant de Loire in many wine stores around you.
Going outside of France, more and more sparkling wines are made all over the world. While Italy, Spain, Germany and US where always on the bubbly’s map, during the last couple of years I was able to taste sparkling wines from Argentina, Australia, Georgia (Georgian Sparkling wine, called Bagrationi, was our favorite wine during blind tasting, beating out classic Champagne and many other – you can read about it here), South Africa, Switzerland and Uruguay. Next to this geographic diversity is number of grapes used nowadays for production of the sparkling wines. Traditional Champagne, as well as many of the Cremant wines and sparkling wines made in US and Italy, are made out of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – however, in addition to this short list I tried sparkling wines made out of Chasselas, Chinebuli, Gamay, Malbec, Shiraz and Vidal (here is the post). A number of sparkling wines were also made using natural and biodynamic methods – I had a number of outstanding French sparkling wines made from Gamay (here is the post). If you are interested in this particular category ( natural Sparkling wines), I would highly recommend checking PJ Wine web site, which boasts excellent selection.
No matter what you are celebrating, there is always a special bottle of sparkling wine waiting for you. There is also nothing wrong with celebrating just another day. But considering that tomorrow is a New Year, make sure you have a good supply of the bubbly – no matter where it is from or what grape it is made out of, it is guaranteed to make your moment special. Happy New Year! Cheers!
In the past, I wrote a few wine articles for one of the local newspapers here in Stamford – Stamford Times. As right now it is a champagne times all over the place, I thought this post about bubbly, written in 2006, still make sense. So here it is in its entirety, and I will give you 2011 perspective in the next post. Happy reading!
What is in the bubbles?
What is one type of wine a lot of people will be reaching for very shortly? If you said “champagne” – you are right. If you said “sparkling wine” – you are right too. As New Year rapidly approaching, one of the traditions of celebration is having a glass of “bubbly” with the toast to the health and happiness in the arriving year. Where this tradition is coming from is hard to tell, as ever since champagne was invented, it very quickly became a symbol of celebration – a new ship, a new house, a wedding and all other significant events all call for champagne on the table.
Let’s take a look at the history – what is champagne and where did it come from? As many other prominent discoveries of the past, the discovery of champagne is largely a result of an accident. Champagne as we know it came from France, and as majority of other French wines, the name of the region where the wine is produced became the name of the wine. Champagne region is located in the northern part of France. One of the characteristics of that region is cool weather – the mean annual temperature is only slightly above 50°F, just a minimum necessary to allow grapes to ripen.
At the same time, the advantage of the cooler climate is that it allows grapes to ripen slowly, thus gaining more flavor and adding complexity. When grape juice is becoming a wine through the process called fermentation (by adding yeast to the grape juice), constant temperature is very important for the overall success. If the temperature drops too low, the fermentation would stop. Once the temperature rises, if there is any residual yeast left, fermentation will start again. If the wine is already bottled, this so called secondary fermentation will take place inside the bottle. Those wonderful refreshing bubbles, which we adore so much in our champagne, is nothing but carbon dioxide, which is a normal byproduct of fermentation process. If takes place during first fermentation, all carbon dioxide will go out in the air. At the same time, when secondary fermentation takes place in the closed bottle, the carbon dioxide has nowhere to go, thus it stays in the bottle and becomes a wonderful fizz we all enjoy. Thus thanks to the Champagne’s weather helping to “spoil” bottled wine, and someone’s imagination, we received a gift of great taste called champagne. Who was that “someone”?
History often calls a French monk, Dom Perignon, an inventor of the champagne. In the late 17th century, Dom Perignon was a cellarer at the abbey of Hautvillers, near Epernay in Champagne. Dom Perignon also was a great winemaker, who mastered making practically a white wine from the black grape ( Pinot Noir). He also advanced the art of blending ( mixing wines from different vineyards and/or vintages) to produce wine of consistent qualities. Blending is one of the cornerstone processes in making of the champagne. Interestingly enough, Dom Perignon worked hard to prevent the fizz in wine, which was at a time considered a sign of the poor winemaking. Nevertheless, the name Dom Perignon literally became a synonym of the great champagne. It is also suggested that there is a famous phrase which belongs to him – “Come quickly! I am tasting stars! – he said at the first sip of champagne.
Let’s talk about some of the characteristics of the champagne. First, there are 3 types of grapes used in champagne’s production – chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Next, there are 2 main categories of champagne – non-vintage (usually the letters NV are added to the name) – blend of wines from the different vintages, and vintage, when only wine of single vintage is used. There are usually only few vintage years in a decade, so the majority of the champagne consumed is a non-vintage ( NV) variety. One more classification is based on the types of grape used in the blend – most of the champagne are a blend of different grapes, but if only Chardonnay grapes had being used, the champagne will be called Blanc de Blancs, and if only Pinot Noir is used, the champagne is called Blanc de Noir. Lastly, there are different levels of sweetness found in champagne, which is also put on the label: if the label says “Brut”, it is very dry, Extra Dry – less dry, Sec – sweeter, Demi Sec – medium sweet, Doux – sweet. Interestingly enough, most of the champagne produced before 1850 was sweet. Majority of champagne produced today falls into brut or extra dry categories.
Similar to the other wines from France, there are thousands producers making champagne. At the same time there are currently 26 Champagne Houses, known as Grand Marques – they are making most of well known champagne in the world. Some of the most popular names from that group include Bollinger, Charles Heidsieck, Krug, Moet & Chandon, Mumm, Perrier-Jouet, Salon, Tattinger and Veuve Clicqout. Is there champagne made outside of France? Of course, but it is not called champagne. In majority of the cases, only the wines produced in the Champagne region in France are called champagne. Sparkling wines, which are produced using the same winemaking techniques, are made in the different parts of the world – Cava in Spain, Sekt in Germany, Spumante in Italy, Sparkling wines in California. Some of the well known sparkling wines producers in California include Korbel, Schramsberg, Iron Horse, Mumm Cuvee Napa.
How champagne is served? It is served cold, best temperature being in the range of 43°F – 48°F. Most appropriate glasses for champagne are flute- or tulip-shaped. Do not serve champagne in the wide open glasses – this only leads to champagne going flat in no time, losing all of it’s refreshing fizz.
What is champagne served with? First, champagne makes great aperitif – great way to start an evening with friends. When it comes to food, similar rules apply as for matching any other wine and food. Champagne represents light and refreshing wine, thus it would be best paired with similar type of food, meaning being light. Shellfish, oysters, seafood, poached salmon all would do great. Also sushi is definitely not to be forgotten. And, yes, of course, the classic combination – Champagne and Caviar.
As John Maynard Keynes said, “my only regret in life is that I did not drink more Champagne” – let’s not make this mistake! Get the friends together, open the bottle of bubbly, and celebrate – New Year, new child, a new beginning! Happy New Year! Cheers!
Champagne! Of course, Champagne. No celebration is complete without the toast of “bubbly” – New Year’s arrival, wedding anniversary, winning of the Grand Prix, christening of a new ship, and many other occasions, big and small are acknowledged with Champagne.
Champagne is a very interesting subject in general, but even more so when New Year’s arrival is around the corner. You can find articles and blog posts about Champagne everywhere – here is a good example, post by Dr. Vino. Well, let’s join the conversation about Champagne.
Champagne is a wine which belongs to the group of so called “sparkling wines” – the wines with many tiny bubbles (there are at least 49 million bubbles in a bottle of champagne – feel free to count yourself if you don’t believe it). As many other things in life, discovery of Champagne is a combination of accident and luck – on a very primitive level, not fully fermented bottle of wine was frozen, then temperature rose, fermentation restarted (this time, in a bottle) – voila, you got a bottle of Champagne.
Well, small clarification will be appropriate – Champagne is both a wine and a place – in France, of course, where else. Are Champagne and Sparkling wine synonyms? No. Any Champagne is Sparkling wine, but not any sparkling wine is Champagne. Only sparkling wines produced in Champagne region in France using so called méthode champenoise can be called Champagne. All other sparkling wines produced outside of the Champagne region, even using the same method, can only be called Sparkling Wine.
Let’s play a little game which we will call “what is in the name”. Champagne only comes from Champagne, what about about other sparkling wines? Today sparkling wines produced everywhere, from wide variety of grapes and at ever increasing pace. Only this year I had sparkling Malbec (very good) and sparkling Shiraz (don’t do it). In United States sparkling wines are produced in California (lot’s of good wines), Oregon, New Mexico (surprisingly good), New York and many other states. Traveling through the world, a lot of sparkling wines have their own names. Let’s see if you will recognize some of them:
Prosecco – sparkling wine from Italy
Sekt – sparkling wine from Germany
Cava – sparkling wine from Spain
Cremant – sparkling wine from France (Cremant d’Alsace, Cremant de Bourgogne, Cremant de Loire, Cremant du Jura and many others)
Blanquette de Limoux – comes from Limoux in Languedoc, France with the claim of being the first Sparkling Wine, before Champagne became Champagne.
Champagne is endless subject – no way to cover it in the short blog post. Let’s stop our world tour right here, and let’s talk about the celebration “at hands” – New Year 2011. What bottle are you going to open to celebrate arrival of the New Year? How about a little dream? Again, you said? True, just a few days ago I wrote a post about the wines to dream of. Something was missing in that post, I think – and that “something” is … Champagne! There was no Champagne mentioned in that list. So we need to fix it. And if you need a Champagne to dream of, I have only one recommendation – Krug.
If you wonder why I so focused on one and only one Champagne, I can tell you – I had a chance to try it, and I was blown away. At the PJ Wine Grand Tasting event in November 2009, Krug 1996 was served among others, no doubt excellent Champagnes (Veuve Clicquot Rose, Dom Perignon 2000, …). I made a mistake – pretty much fatal, as it appeared – to start tasting from the Krug 1996. I had vintage champagnes before, and never really appreciated them. Krug 1996 was something else – with richness of freshly baked bread, nutty and creamy, fine-tuned refreshing acidity, ultimately balanced – it was incredible. All the Champagnes in that tasting, with pedigree or not, literally tasted like water next to Krug 1996. Yes, this wine is expensive (about $300+, you can check the price here), but it worth every penny – and worth dreaming about. And if you need to expand your Champagne dream list, you can find a lot more recommendations here.
There are few days left before we will toast new hopes, new dreams, new desires with the New Year 2011. No matter what will be in your glass, I wish for your wildest dreams to become reality. Raise your glass To Life, and keep dreaming!