If it Doesn’t Sparkle, it Doesn’t Matter

photo by stuartpilbrow

I have mixed feelings about this time of year — I love when it snows, but I don’t like the shorter days. I love seasonal foods, but I don’t like packing on extra pounds. I really like giving presents, but I don’t love receiving them. You get the idea.

One more:

I love seeing more sparkling wine being served, but I get frustrated that it is not served more during the rest of the year. I am a bit of a sparkling wine nut and think it is the perfect type of wine for just about every meal.  I even have my own personal motto: “If it doesn’t sparkle, it doesn’t matter.”

Like it or not, ’tis the season for sparkling wine. Buying a bottle of the bubbles does not have to be all that intimidating as long as you remember a few things before you go into the wine shop or, increasingly, online (yes Virginia, there are retailers/producers that will ship to the Commonwealth):

A. All bubbles are not created equal.  Making wine is a fairly simple process: yeast consumes sugar, resulting in alcohol and carbon dioxide. In a still wine, the carbon dioxide is released, and you have wine. To make a wine effervescent, the gas is trapped, resulting in a sparkling wine. There are a few different ways to trap those tiny little bubbles in the wine (in descending order of complexity):

  1. The Traditional Method, also known as the Méthode Traditionelle and the Champagne Method–although you will unlikely see that any more since the folks in Champagne got their culottes all in a bunch over the term. Most of the better sparkling wines (and all Champagnes) are made this way, where secondary fermentation occurs inside the bottle, resulting in a more complex wine (since the yeast that produces the bubbles stays trapped in the bottle before being removed, developing additional depth and character).
  2. In the Charmat Method (also known as Cuvée Close) secondary fermentation occurs in a large vat, capturing the carbon dioxide, resulting in a sparkling wine, which is then bottled. Most notably, Prosecco is made using this method. These wines tend to be less interesting and complex, but they can also be good values since they are less labor intensive.
  3. Unfortunately, there is another, the CO2 Infusion Method (the same process used to make soft drinks) which is rather unfortunate and probably should be avoided at all costs if you do not want a terrible headache the next day (most bad hangovers come from drinking bad wine—but that is the subject of another post). How do you know which wines are made this way? Generally speaking, they will likely cost less than $10, come with a plastic ‘cork’, and will be given to you by your least favorite in-law.

B. Know your audience. Before you go out and drop a boat load of cash on some Champagne, assess who is going to be drinking it. This might sound élitist, but if your mother-in-law does not know the difference between Dom Pérignon and Dom Deluise, neither Dom should be anywhere near her. For your New Year’s Rocking Eve party of 30 people, you might want to opt for sparkling wine in the $12-15 range (or less) since the invitees are probably more concerned about cramming their craws with peeled shrimp than drinking good bubbly. When your boss (from whom you are hoping to get a promotion in the new year) invites you over for a dinner, you might consider a mid-range bottle of non-vintage champagne. Don’t bring a vintage (they can cost at least twice as much) since he or she will then think you don’t need the money.  If you are planning to propose on Christmas Eve (as I did a dozen years ago on the top of the Empire State Building), you might want that bottle of Dom ready (especially if your future spouse knows anything about wine; if he/she doesn’t, you might want to rethink things….).

C. Don’t Use the Expensive Stuff for Mimosas.  Ever. That’s why there is the cheap stuff.zardetto-spumante-rose

One of the better aspects of this time of year is that many retailers tend to stock up on sparkling wines in anticipation for the coming celebrations. Heck, even our own Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) seemingly ups its game (if ever so slightly). I recently went through a few of the selections available, ranging from wines for a tight budget to those aimed at a bit of a splurge:

Freixenet Carta Nevada Brut (Sale $7.99): Freixenet is one of the largest producers of sparkling wine in the world, making several different bottlings in the $10-15 range. Very dry, even a bit austere (but great acidity) with melon up front, a bit chalky on the mid-palate and a brief finish. Will not blow your mind, but neither will it blow a hole in your wallet. 85-87

Zardetto Vino Spumante Rosé (Sale $11.99): When I picked this up, I thought it was a Prosecco, but  it isn’t. It is still made using the Charmat method, and is marked by boysenberry and citrus. I found this a touch sweet on the palate and slightly bitter on the finish. 84-86 

De-Chanceny-brut-Cremant-de-LoireDe Chanceny Brut Cremant de Loire (Sale $11.99): I have a soft spot for Crémants, especially from the Loire (and Alsace, for those keeping score). This blanc has great apricot and lemon rind notes, with a bit of chalk and a medium finish. If you celebrate the New Year with oysters, this deserves serious consideration. 86-88

De Chanceny Brut Cremant de Loire Rosé (Sale $11.99): The rosé version of this wine has a bit more heft than the blanc version, with red berry fruit and orange rind. The finish verges on long, with a nutty characteristic coming through. 88-90

Jean Noel Haton Brut Classic NV (sale $27.99): These just came into the PLCB – a somewhat shocking development since I assumed such a perfect NYE beverage would surely show up in PA the day after New Year’s. Featuring bright citrus with hints of pineapple and croissant, the active mousse delivers great acidity and leads to a surprisingly long finish. At $28, this one is a steal.  91-93

Champagne Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs ($32.99): It was an exciting moment when I came across this rarity in PA — Grand Cru means it comes only from the best vineyards and Blanc de Blancs indicates 100% Chardonnay (in Champagne). The walnutty nose stood out as did the dry chalky palate with citrus and brioche. Very long finish. 90-92