The clink of crystal flutes, tiny bubbles that are the trademark of fine champagnes tickling your nose, the POP of the champagne cork all add to the festive ritual of drinking sparkling wine.
A must for any celebration, especially New Year's Eve.
Even though sparkling wines may be found throughout the world, only wines that come from Champagne, the northern most wine-growing region of France, may truly be called champagne. Champagne is made form Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier grapes or a blend of them. Sparkling wine requires that the grapes do not ripen fully thus have high acid and less-developed flavors.
New England is a perfect place to grow grapes for sparkling wines. Some of our local vineyards have sparkling wines well worth trying:
Newport Vineyards & Winery offers Brut sparkling wine ($34.99). It is made in the traditional champagne method. It is a world-class blend of Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. It has a dry finish. The new thinking is that sparkling wine goes with anything, from fish, shrimp, beef, to duck, veal, cheeses and celebrations. Craig Corsetti, tasting room manager, said they bottled 80 cases of the sparkling wine this year. Understandably, this time of year is their busiest for this label. It's also popular for weddings and anniversaries, he said.
Champagne often is so expensive because the best grapes are used and it is made by methode champenoise. Not only are premium grapes used but there are years that champagne will not be made because the chef de cave doesn't think the grapes are good enough. It is also expensive because it goes through two fermentations as it gets it sparkle from carbon dioxide. Sparkling wines made according to the traditional "méthode champenoise" become carbonated through a second round of fermentation, which happens in the bottle.
The average price for a good bottle is about $40.00.
An alternative sparkling wine, Prosecco, made in Italy, is very popular due in large part to the fact that it is easy to drink and it is affordable. Bottles generally range from $10 to $20, and the Italian sparkling wine is usually made from the Glera grape and tends to be less tart than most Champagnes.
Look at the size of the bubbles in the glass. Bubbles from fine champagne whose effervescence is due to fermentation are pinpoint and very small. Bubbles from a lesser-quality wine are larger and look like soda bubbles, as they are a result of carbonation with carbon dioxide.
The action of the bubbles is also very important. The trail of the bubbles should flow from the bottom or sides of the glass to the top. In a less quality wine, the bubbles tend to stick to the sides.
During the late 1900's scientist Bill Lembech was wondering how many bubbles there are in a bottle of champagne. He devised a formula and came up with 49 million. Not to be outdone, Monet Chandon decided to truly count the bubbles and came up with an astonishing 250 million. No matter how many bubbles there actually are in champagne, we all enjoy drinking it.
Some guidelines for serving sparkling wines:
- Chill to about 42 degrees.
- Serve in nice crystal or glassware. (The flute style tends to concentrate the bubbles and the aroma).
- Be careful when you pop the cork, there is a lot of force there.
Salute and Happy New Year!
Carolyn Horan of Middletown is a regular contributor to the New England Wine Gazette. To see more of Carolyn Horan's articles on wine and other culinary topics, visit www.Carolynhoran.com.