December 2006

Wine Talk - Champagne & Sparkling Wine

Author: Krissy Cantelupe

“I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty.” —Madame Jacques Bollinger

‘Tis the season for celebrating and what better way to do it than with a big flute of Champagne or Sparkling Wine. Christmas and New Year’s Eve are the perfect holidays to toast and spend time with friends and family, so why not drink “some of the bubbly”?

There are all types of sparklers to choose from, as well as many places in the world that produce different types of sparkling wine. Champagne is a very good place to start. Champagne is at the same time the name of the wine and the region of origin, located northeast of Paris. The three varietals used in Champagne production are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, which grow in abundance. Dom Perignon, a Cellar Master from 1168-1715 at an Abbey in Hautvillers, is considered the inventor of Champagne. His usage of corks from Spain, stronger glass bottles and production of white wine from red grapes all contributed to the first wines. The most important process in Champagne making is the blending of the crus, in which the wine maker blends wine from the different grape varietals, from different villages and vineyards, and possibly even different vintages to make the cuvee. Dom Perignon is also credited with this part of the wine process.

There are many types of Champagne. Doux is sweet; Demi Sec is medium-dry; Sec is dry; Extra Dry is extra dry and Brut is very dry. A non-vintage Champagne is a blend of wines from two or more vintages, with the base wine the current vintage and a reserve vintage for added complexity. A vintage Champagne is 100% from the indicated year. A Blanc de Blanc is 100% Chardonnay. A Blanc de Noir is a white wine from black grapes, so the blend would be of Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier. Finally, a Rose is a pink Champagne which is made by blending white wine with a little bit of red.

In the United States, the world “Champagne” is only permitted on the label if the state of origin is used. For example, “New York State Champagne”. Most are also made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with California leading in the most production. Sparkling wines also are made in Oregon and New York, and even the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina has sparkling wines.

In Italy, there are three types of sparkling wines. Asti is made with the Moscato grape and is usually rather sweet and low in alcohol. Prosecco is made with the grape of the same name in the Piedmont region and is usually quite dry and refreshing. Brachetto d’Acqui is also made with the grape of that name and is usually bright red in color. It is a perfect sparkling wine for desserts, especially chocolate, because the wine has bright fruit flavor of strawberries and black cherries.

Sparkling wine is also made in Spain and Germany. Spanish wine is known as Cava, made from a blend of the three grapes—Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo. It also is a rather dry sparkling wine. In Germany, sparklers are known as Sekt and can be made with any grapes grown in the European Union; however, there is a lot of residual sugar in these wines, so they are a bit sweet.

I think I agree with Madame Bollinger in that Champagne should be drunk at any time. There are many different price ranges—sometimes under $10, sometimes as much as $500. So instead of just during the holidays, or wedding, or celebration, the next time you order a pizza, try some Champagne or other Sparkling Wine and have a toast of your own.

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