“Tiny bubbles in the wine, make me feel happy, make me feel fine…”
Champagne is synonymous with celebrations. It’s the beverage of choice for special occasions such as New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, Birthdays and Anniversaries.
Just what is Champagne?
Champagne is actually a subset of the larger category, Sparkling Wine. To be legally labeled Champagne, as opposed to Sparkling Wine, the wine must be produced in the Champagne Wine Appellation of France. Most of what Americans call “Champagne” is actually sparkling wine produced in California or other parts of the world. Real Champagne is normally more expensive than other Sparkling Wines, but as with all wine, select what tastes good to you. Understanding the labeling laws and the different types of Sparkling Wines can help you identify your favorites.
There are many different Sparkling Wines. Sparkling wine from Spain is Cava with the two largest producers being Freixenet and Cordiniu. Crement is sparkling wine from the other wine regions of France such as the Loire Valley or Bordeaux. Prosecco or Asti Spumante come from Italy. Sekt is sparkling wine produced in Germany. And that’s just a start. Each major wine growing region has their own specialty.
Are all these Sparkling Wines the same? Definitely not! Not only are they made from different grapes, they are also made by several different methods and they have different residual sweetness levels.
Champagne is normally made from a blend of three grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Note that even though Champagne is thought of as a white wine, two of the three grapes are actually red varieties! Sometimes not all three varieties are used. If it’s called Blanc de Blancs then it only contains Chardonnay and if it’s called Blanc de Noirs, then it only contains the red varietals.
Champagne is made by a labor intensive is called the Methode Traditionelle. Many “California Champagnes” and other sparkling wines are also are made by this method. This means that the second fermentation (the one that creates all the tiny bubbles) takes place in the bottle. This method produces the most complex wines. However some sparkling wines are produced by the less expensive “Charmant” method, which means that the second fermentation takes place in a pressurized tank.
There are many also different levels of sweetness in Champagne and Sparkling Wine production. Everything from bone dry (labeled Natur) to cloyingly sweet (labeled Doux). Luckily for us, the labeling laws in most countries require this information to be but on the label so from driest to sweetest look for: Natur, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry (Extra Sec), Dry (sec), Semi Dry (Demi-sec), Sweet Cuvee (Doux). Please note: a label of Dry is not the driest Champagne available!
Then there is the blending. If you look at Champagne or Sparkling Wine you will find that most bottles are lacking a vintage. Champagne is labeled with a vintage only in truly exceptional years. Otherwise it is marketed as NV, meaning non-vintage. Wine from several different years is blended by the champagne house to ensure consistency of style year after year. Champagne producers are the original master blenders.
Just as with Still Wines, Sparkling Wines may be made from many, many different varieties of grapes. Just another reason, why you make like Champagne but not Prosecco or vice versa.
Although Americans think of Champage in terms of celbrations, especially weddings, in many other countries, Sparkling Wine including Champagne, is just another everyday wine that pairs well with food, especially appetizers.
If you enjoy wine and you’re interested in Sparkling Wine, now is the time to go buy it. The largest selection, along with the best prices, are found in wine shops between Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
Or if you’d like to try a few different kinds of Sparkling Wine to contrast and compare –sign up for the wine tasting at Clamber Hill on Wednesday January 16, 2012.
We hope that you find something to your taste to celebrate Valentine’s Day! As the Brits say, “Cheers !”