W hether you call it Champagne, Prosecco, Sekt, Cremant, Cava or just bubbly, there is nothing like a good sparkling wine to make the holidays merrier. Just look at your guests’ faces when you pop that cork and you will know they are already enjoying the occasion.
Too many people have the idea that sparkling wine is only for special occasions, and if you are among them, now is the time to pop those corks. No time is more special than all the holidays that come at the end of the year. Sparkling wines pair with most holiday foods, whether it’s traditional Hanukkah treats like latkes, shrimp on New Year’s Eve, or Christmas roast beef.
But sparkling wine tastes great any time of year, even without a special occasion.
Wine drinkers have discovered the delights of sparkling wine. Consumption is up around the world, growing by about 40 percent in 10 years, outpacing growth of still wines. In the United States total consumption of sparkling wines nearly doubled from 2005 to 2016, and consumption of foreign sparkling wines nearly tripled.
Nationally, about 40 percent of all sparkling wine is sold in October, November and December, with the bulk of it coming in the last month of the year.
We started our celebrations with one of my favorite sparklers, Frank Family Rouge ($55). It is a sparkling pinot noir with great color and robust flavors. It also paired well with the many side dishes we had for Thanksgiving.
That is one of the great things about sparkling wine. It matches any food, from sweet to spicy, from hearty to delicate. All you need to do is decide what style you like and what your budget is.
Like so many other things in the world of wine, sparkling wine choices have increased year after year. So, to help you I offer some of my favorites and recommendations from local wine shops.
Frank Family, Blanc de Blancs, Napa ($55).
Piper-Heidsieck Brut, Champagne ($38).
Several Proseccos from Bisol, including Crede Prosecco Superiore DOCG ($25), Bisol Cartizze Prosecco Superiore DOCG ($50) and Jeio ($15). Mionetto also makes a range of nice Proseccos from the fun Il brand to $10-15 everyday sparklers to their Luxury Collection ($20).
Zonin Prosecco ($17).
Loosen Brothers Dr. L Sparkling Riesling, Germany ($16), Slightly off-dry.
Brut Rosé Spumante V.S.Q. Grasparossa, Italy ($15).
Akakies Sparkling Rosé 2016, Greece ($22).
Santo Sparkling Brut, Greece ($22).
Valdivieso Brut Rosé, Chile, ($13).
Champagne Palmer Rosé, France, ($52).
Guelfo Verde Marche IGT Frizzante, Italy ($11).
Biltmore Estate Blanc de Noir, North Carolina ($25).
Cote Orelia Blanc de Noirs, New Mexico, ($11.99), Lidl.
Cleto Chiarli Premium Vecchia Modena Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC, Italy (SRP $15).
Roger Strohl, who owns The Vineyard in Evans, says December is when he sells the most sparkling wine. “By far, this is the biggest time of the year, especially the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. And you don’t have to spend a lot of money.”
For bargain hunters Strohl recommends Prosecco. It has all the bubbles and less alcohol than most sparklers. “I wish people would drink Prosecco more often,” said Strohl, “especially in the summer. It’s a perfect drink for summer.”
Some of his favorites include Casa Defra ($9.99), LeMarca ($13.99), Belstar ($12.99) and La Bella ($12.99).
Other Vineyard recommendations:
Saint-Hilaire, France ($16.99). This is the oldest sparkling wine in France, created by Benedictine monks more than 100 years before sparkling wine was made in Champagne.
Mumm Napa ($22.99), one of the finest American sparkling wines.
If you want real Champagne, Strohl recommends Pierre Peters ($55.99), Laurent-Perrier ($42), Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Blue Top ($39.99), Taittinger ($69.99). Taittinger has several levels of quality, but this is one of my all-time favorites, especially after visiting their facility in Reims a few years ago. Their chalk aging caves date back to Roman times.
If you like sweeter sparkling wine, two popular brands are Rosa Regale ($19.99) and Mamamango ($9.99).
Over at Wine World in North Augusta, Dale Siliko has several recommendations for sparkling wines:
Louis de Grenelle, from the Loire in France, ($19.99).
Taittinger Champagne ($41.59).
Cote Mas, Brut Rosé Cremant De Limoux ($15.99).
Chateaux Beausoleil, Blanquette de Limoux, France ($14.99).
Segura Viudas, Cava from Spain, ($7.99). Dale says this is the perfect wine with pizza.
Cuvee Aurora Rosé, an Italian sparkling rosé from Banfi ($29.99).
Chandon Blanc de Noir, from Napa ($23.99).
Some sparkling information
Just so you have something to talk about while sipping your favorite sparkler, here is some basic information about the wine most Americans call Champagne.
Sparkling wine should not be called generically Champagne. Only wine from the Champagne region of France, about 90 miles northeast of Paris, can legally be called Champagne. For French sparkling wines made in other regions, the word “Cremant” is used, as in Cremant d’Alsace.
German sparklers are called Sekt, the Italians call it Prosecco and in Spain it’s Cava.
When buying sparkling wine you need to know which style you like, though some of us pretty much like them all. Dry sparkling wines have a zesty acidity that makes them particularly suited to food. They can be great with any course of the meal. Sweeter sparkling wines are better with dessert.
From driest to sweetest, sparkling wines will have these designations: brut nature, extra brut, brut, extra dry, dry, demi-sec, doux. Extra dry and dry are slightly sweet wines, so don’t be fooled by the words.
Many sparkling wines are also identified as “Blanc de Blancs” (wines made from Chardonnay grapes), “Blanc de Noirs” (wines produced from black grapes), or rosé or pink sparkling wine/champagnes (small amount of red wine added to the blend or wine that is allowed brief skin contact with color-laden grape skins).
How it’s made
There are two basic ways to make sparkling wine: methode traditional (Methode Champenoise) where the bubbles develop in the bottle during a second fermentation, and tank or Charmat fermentation, where the bubbles are introduced in large, pressurized tanks. The chief advantage of tank fermentation is lower cost. Some tanks can produce 100,000 bottles at a time.
Sparklers produced in tanks tend to be less complex and have larger, shorter-lasting bubbles than those produced by the traditional method. But they can be fresher and fruitier.
The bubbles in the wine come from carbon dioxide. Small bubbles are preferred to larger ones, and you want the bubbles to continue throughout your drink. The wine should be served cold in tall, narrow, stemmed glasses called flutes. These concentrate the bubbles in the glass. Never use the shallow, saucer-shaped glass called a coupe. It should only be used to serve dessert.
Don’t put your sparkler in the freezer – that tends to kill the wine’s effervescence. For quick chilling, place the bottle in a mixture of ice and water for 15 to 20 minutes. Or lay the bottle down in the refrigerator for three to four hours.
Be careful when opening the bottle. The bubbles create a lot of force and can push the cork out at a high speed.
Point the bottle neck away from your face and away from your guests. Remove the foil. Hold the cap down with your thumb and begin untwisting the wire, loosening the cage. Gently remove the wire and immediately replace your thumb on the exposed cork, watching for any movement.
Now place the rest of your hand firmly around the rest of the cork and twist gently, while counter-twisting the bottle gently with your other hand. Allow the cork to free itself from the bottle with a quiet sigh or gentle pop, leaving the bubbles and wine inside the bottle.
Finally, here are some cocktail recipes. I would use less expensive sparkling wine for most cocktails. You don’t need to spend $30 for a Mimosa mixer.
[box type=”shadow”]The Champagne Cocktail
This traces its roots all the way back to 1862. The classic version allows the sparkling wine to shine, which is why choosing a high quality one is important, and features a nice balance of bitter and sweet.
1 Sugar Cube
Chilled sparkling wine
Drop the sugar cube into a Champagne glass and soak it with two to three dashes of Angostura Bitters. After the sugar has slightly dissolved, fill the glass with wine and top with the lemon twist.[/box]
[box type=”shadow”]The Bellini
It’s unclear when exactly the Bellini was invented but most think it occurred sometime in the 1930s or ’40s at Harry’s Bar in Venice by Giuseppe Cipriani, who named the drink after his favorite artist.
3 ounces sparkling wine
2 ounces peach puree (peel and slice a peach and purée in blender or mash with fork)
Place the peach purée in the bottom of a Champagne flute and top with the wine. Stir and serve.[/box]
[box type=”shadow”]Kir Royale
3 ounces sparkling wine
1/3 ounce créme de cassis
Pour the créme de cassis into a Champagne flute and fill with sparkling wine.
You can substitute other liquers, such as Chambord for a raspberry flavor, or Cointreau.[/box]
Pour e qual parts of orange juice and sparkling wine into a Champagne flute.[/box]
Author Dennis Sodomka