Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble

“Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!”
Dom Perignon during the moment he discovered champagne

What is a better drink than bubbly for this time of year?   Champagne, almost by definition, means celebration.  Given the events of 2010, who isn’t going to celebrate that this year is over on New Year’s Eve?  I know I am certainly going to raise a glass (or bottle) to toast to the demise of this past year.

So let’s talk turkey about champagne.  First of all, champagne is only produced in the Champagne region of France.  If bubbly is made anywhere else, it is generally referred to as sparkling wine.  The primary grapes used in making bubbly are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Neunier – prosecco is a bit different as the Italian grape of the same name is the key grape.  Champagne became famous in France out of necessity.  The Champagne region was too north for grapes to fully ripen for red wine – producing wine that was very low in sugar and high in acidity.  The wines were much lighter bodied and ‘thinner’ than those from their neighbors in Burgundy.  In other words, the grapes and the weather are perfect for making dry, crisp champagne.

It is a myth that Dom Perignon created champagne.  Say what you will about the Roman Catholics today, but Benedictine monks near Carassonne can take full credit for creating this delicious libation as far back as 1531.  Dom Perignon did make some significant improvement to the production of champagne – most notably the characteristic metal wire cage or collar which holds the cork in the bottle during the fermentation process.

There are several ways of producing champagne or sparkling wine.  I’m not going

Riddling Rack

to go into great detail here, but just to give you the basics.  Grapes are harvested and pressed just like any other wine. Bubbly is fermented twice.  The first fermentation produces a wine that is pretty acidic, so yeast and sugar are added for the second fermentation.  True champagne is fermented a second time in the bottle, historically cork-side down in a device called a riddling rack.  Prosecco and other sparklings often have their second fermentation in steel tanks which makes it far less expensive to produce.

Bubbly Terms 101:

Here are some terms to help decipher bubbly labels.

Prestige Cuvee:  Usually the producer’s top range and generally the most expensive of the offerings.

Blanc de Noirs:  A white wine that is produced from black grapes (grapes that make red wine).

Blanc de Blancs: Bubbly that is produced solely with Chardonnay grapes

Rose:  Bubbly made by allowing the skin of the black grapes to sit with the wine for a bit, giving it a pinkish hue.  Occasionally, it also refers to bubbly that has a small bit of red wine added.

NV:  Non vintage, which means that it is from a mix of grapes grown from different years.

Bubbly can have varying degrees of sweetness and here is the order from driest to sweetest:  Brute Natural, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Sec/Dry, Sec, Demi-sec, Doux.

I’m a big proponent of drinking wine in the proper glass.  I’m not so nuts that each

A proper vessel to drink Champagne

varietal needs to have its own custom glass, but champagne really should be put in a glass for champagne.  Use a white wine glass in a pinch, but I prefer champagne flutes.  The ideal flutes are tall, narrow and taper at the top to concentrate the bubbles. The champagne glass, falsely attributed to the shape of Marie Antoinette’s breasts, isn’t ideal because the bubbly gets warm and flat too quickly.  Same goes with flutes that do not taper in at the top.

Before I give you my recommendations, I have to let you know what my preferences are when it comes to sparkling, just to be up front.  I don’t like Demi-sec and abhor Doux.  Momof3 will never, ever, pop for a bubbly like Cristal – it is just too damn expensive.  So with that in mind, here goes.

Retail price: $17 Tribaut Brut

Rated 90 by Wine Spectator, this is a fine champagne and a good bang for the buck.  Lots of citrus, apple with a bit of a yeasty flavor (that is good, btw).  Nice and dry, the way I like it.  Nice, long finish.  Good with food.

Retail: $25.  Piper-Heidsieck.

I love this wine! The bubbles are very refined and creamy.  It is dry without being too crisp.  Notes of apple and bit of berry.  Medium body with a nice length finish.  Rated 89 by Wine Spectator and in my humble opinion, this is under rated.

Retail $10.  Gran Sarao Brut Cava Penedes

Ok, I didn’t talk about Cavas, but this is a damn good sparkler at this price point.  Notes of apricot, tart granny smith apples, bread dough (the yeast flavor) and tiny, tiny bubbles make this a standout.  Nice floral note and a long finish.

Retail: $11 Clara C Prosecco.

I’m generally not a huge fan of prosecco because it has a bit of an aftertaste I don’t care for, but this is a gem.  Big floral nose, mostly rose and wildflowers.  The body is round and full with notes of apple and peach.  The finish is crisp without being too dry.  This is good as an aperitif or with a meal.  YUM.  Clara C’s Rosato is also very fine rose prosecco.

Retail $10-12.  Cupcake Prosecco

If you are looking for something to toast with but aren’t looking to drink a lot of, then this is your bottle. The bubbles are very fine with notes of lemons and a lot of grapefruit (a little too much grapefruit for my taste).  A bit of toastiness in the finish.  It isn’t my favorite, but it is readily available in most markets and it will do a fine job if all you want is something to pop at midnight.

Retail: $20 Chandon Sparkling Wine Etoile Brut.

90 points by the Wine Enthusiast.  Very dry but a silky drinking wine.  Subtle notes of cherries and other red berries, peach and touch of vanilla.  No apple here!

Retail is north of $100.  Perrier Jouet Flowers

Yes, I know I said I’m not into expensive bubbly.  This is truly an exception to that rule if it is a special occasion or an expense account situation.  Rated consistently north of 90 points, this wine is such a treat.  Known for a very rose-based nose (thus the flowers), this wine is creamy with vanilla and a little apple comes through in the finish.  A delight to drink.  I was proposed to while sipping on this wine at the Hotel Chevre-D’or in Eze France overlooking the Mediterranean.  It was perfect for the moment and probably colors my appreciation for this wine.

Retail $10.  Freixenet Brut de Noirs.

I wanted to end on an inexpensive note.  This is the only Freixenet you should by, IMHO.  Very light Cava wine and the salmon color is gorgeous.  Spicy with notes of flowers and sour cherries.  The finish is a bit creamy with a touch of vanilla.  Again, this is a festive wine for toasting, but not for a lot of drinking.

Let’s talk about the ones you want to avoid now.  Unless you are a high school kid, please avoid any sparkling with the following words:  Andre, Duck, and Boone’s Farm.

Champagne is the only wine that leaves a woman beautiful after drinking it.
–  Madame De Pompadour

Stay beautiful this New Year’s Eve!  Salut!

Auld Lang Syne

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