Buckle up, I'm about to delve into one of...well, maybe actually my very favorite style of wine. Sparkling wine. If you want pricing and notes, scroll past all the sweet, sweet knowledge being thrown your way.
Sparkling Wine 'Splained
If I had one style of wine to drink for the rest of my wine, without a doubt, it would be sparkling wine. It's my--and many of my compatriot's--"desert island" must-have. Bubbly pairs with everything, has an extra bit of verve and nothing quite matches the festive nature. And it's fun to perform party tricks, like Sabering.
Around this time of year, sparking wine becomes one of the most talked about things in the wine industry. It's the wine of celebration, because of it's unique qualities and caters to all five senses. It's looks beautiful in a glass, sounds like a celebration, has amazingly expressive aromas, is bright and lively or even rich and textured and tingles on the tongue. It has everything.
If we are always utilizing bubbly wine for celebrations, why wait for an opportunity? Make one! Opening a great bottle of Champagne or Cava can be a celebration in itself. One of my favorite combinations is kettle chips or even popcorn. Sit on the coach with a loved one, put a movie or binge-watch your favorite show, pop some corn and pop a bottle. You'd be surprised how amazing the combination is.
Don't know what to pair? Bubbles. When in doubt, it answers almost anything. Think of it this way: if you spill something on the carpet, you can use club soda to get it out, because it pulls the particles out with carbonated fluid. The same thing with bubbly wine, it will clean your palate in a very literal sense, so each bit is like the very first one. Sushi? Prosecco. Platas? Cava. BBQ? Sparkling Rose. Dessert? Demi-Sec.
If it's so great, why isn't it universally drank all the time? Well, beside the US, it pretty much is. Year round it is drank in France, Spain, Italy, South Africa, Argentina, etc... The only thing that frightens us is our ignorance to the finer points. Another few steps to make the heavenly drink, also add complexity and confusion to those trying to get into the category. Most of us don't know the difference between the styles. Don't worry, that's what I'm here to 'splain. I'll go over some easy, general terms and what they mean. What sparkling wines are best for and my personal picks towards further down.
Let's break it down. I will keep it somewhat simple with a few slightly more advanced notes. But the main thing to remember is it is wine, just with natural bubbles made by starting up a second fermentation. The ones made with injected Carbon Dioxide...I don't even want to acknowledge right now. They are barely drinkable, but if you're in a hot spot and need to make a mimosa for $4, I guess they'll get the job done. Also remember, even though we tend to use the term "Champagne" synonymously and almost ubiquitously with all sparkling wine, it is a region. Champagne is a place where they make the world's greatest sparkling wine, and anything outside of that place is not Champagne. You wouldn't call an Italian Rosso a Napa red, would you?
Now time for some deets.
Alcoholic Fermentation is when yeast cells eat sugar, then they fart CO2 and pee alcohol. Guess what, that's what happens in beer, as well. Welcome to the world of alcohol, the curtain is lifted and you will never forget the image I implanted in your mind. The second part is key to bubbly wines. AFTER a white, rose or red wine is made into a still wine (non-sparkling wine), you can make it naturally bubbly by adding a bit more sugar (in the form of more grape juice, for example) and a bit more yeast. Some small amount of alcohol will be produced, but you're doing it for the bubbles. If you do it in the bottle, it is normally called traditional method (sometimes called Methode Champenoise by those who try to fancify the term), if it is done in a large tank it is called Charmat or Tank Method.
After the second fermentation of the two major methods, it is completely dry (no noticeable residual sugar), so at this point you choose how much sweetness to add with a mixture of sugar and wine. This is called the "Dosage". From driest to sweetest, here are the levels:
Brut Nature (almost no sugar, not perceivable to the human palate) < 3 grams/liter Incredibly focused acid, lacking sugar for controlled balance.
Extra Brut < 6 g/l -- Incredibly dry. If you cannot stand sweetness, this is your wine. The sugar is not noticeable through taste, but gives just enough texture for control. I very much like this style, if done well.
Brut < 12 g/l -- the most popular style, there is a touch...only a touch of sugar. Very dry to most palates, but fruit is more apparent. Dry, but not harshly so.
Extra Dry < 17 g/l -- about as dry as a glass of Chardonnay. MUCH more expressive fruit characteristics
Dry/Sec < 32 g/l -- a softness due to the quite blatant use of sugar. More off-dry than dry.
Demi-sec < 50/l -- Sweet, but with amazing balance when done right. A. Margaine does an amazing version. Instant hit with a crowd. Most people a little sweetness.
Doux (very sweet) 50+ g/l -- Dessert bubbly. It's an after-dinner treat all by itself, or to balance a spicy dish.
Traditional Method: The Champagne Method, Methode Champenoise, Metodo Tradicional, etc... where a secondary fermentation is done inside the bottle. Practiced with Cava in Spain, Franciacorta in Italy and Champagne. Also practiced in the US and other countries when designated "Traditional Methode." Champagne is a protected appellation in the European Union, so only Champagne can carry the name or term Champenoise...the US is not in the EU, by the way. We can call a $3 cheaply, mass produced sparkling a "Champagne" if we want to. Because 'Merica! (cue eagle scream sound affect)
Charmat Method: Prosecco is the most famous version. Second fermentation & dosage in a stainless steel tank, then put back in bottle when done. It will have less pressure, lower acidity and larger bubbles and less rich mouthfeel and color. Light, easy drinking and uncomplicated. It's named after Eugene Charmat, who patented it in the early 1900's, but was around a decade before, made by an Italian man by the name of Federico Martinotti.
Most nations have their own bubbly, but we'll go over the three most important ones. Prosecco in Italy, Cava in Spain, and of course Champagne in France. The US doesn't have a protected appellation system of sparkling wine...yet.
Prosecco: Made in the Northeast part of Italy, where there was a village called...GASP...Prosecco. Since then, the town was absorbed and is a suburb of the city of Trieste. Made predominantly with a grape varietal by the name of Glera (formerly called Prosecco, as well), using the Charmat (tank) Method. Affordable, enjoyable and quite tasty, but lacking high complexity. It's rare to see one over $20, so I can't hold it against them if they aren't mind-blowing. It's generally a very-easy-to-like sparkling wine that is perfect for Sunday brunch.
Cava: Spanish sparkling wine made in the traditional method. Uses some different grapes than Champagne, like Macabeu (Macabeo/Viura), Parellada, Xarel-lo,Monastrell & Garnacha, but also can use two varietals common in Champagne--Chardonnay & Pinot Noir. These are some of the VERY best values in the world, for sparkling wines. If you are going to select one, be very specific, as the quality between the best and worst has split in a very dramatic way. We can help you there!
Champagne: THE region that is synonymous with the best bubbly wine. It is a controlled and protected appellation, that when making as a sparkling wine MUST use the Traditional Method, predominantly made with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier, but can also have Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Arbane & Petit Meslier. As you may have seen in a certain video, not all wines from Champagne must be full-sparkling whites and rose wines...but most of them are.
"Grower Champagne"-- AKA "Recoltant-Manipulant" (Grower-Producer), "Farmer Fizz". Champagne that must be produced from 95% estate fruit (producer's land) or greater. These are my passion. There will be a little "RM" on the bottle noting it's stature. Ask me next time you're in and I'll show you how to hunt down those two little letters. These are the men and women who actually grow the wine in Champagne, and also make Champagne. Most in the market are Negociants (buyers), who make a bid on grapes and are not fully involved in producing the high-quality grapes needed to produce the highest quality wines.
Think of it this way, the grower's whole reputation is on the line as a producer of crop. They make a lot of their money by selling their grapes to others, so they are going to show their best work on the release with their name on it. It's like getting the show cars that never go full production...it's kind of like when Mercedes, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, etc show off what they can do on their show cars, so people will invest or buy their tech. With wine. And it's relatively affordable!
Special Club/Club Tresor-Founded in 1971, only Grower Champagne is allowed, the wine must be 100% estate made 100% on their premises/cellars. 2 blind tastings, once at first fermentation, then after production (3 years aging on lees). Only allowed in outstanding vintage years (currently some of the best vintages to get are '05, '08, '09, and '12). Then voted into the club by their peers. There are currently 29 members. These are some of the best wines in the world. Not the best sparkling wines, but overall wines. You don't know how good the category is until you've sampled Special Club Champagne. The only equals they have are already in the club, or applying to get in.
Raventos i Blanc
Suggested Retail: $24.99
OUR PRICE: $19.99
"Pepe Raventós farms his vineyards with biodynamic practices, blending this from macabeo (45 percent, the vines planted in 1999), xarello (40 percent, the vines dating to 1986) and parellada (the oldest parcel, from 1971). In 2013, the cool season emphasizes this wine's liveliness, its bubbles seeming to levitate on the tongue, rising over the fresh flavors of peaches, apples, spices and minerals. It's not imposing in its structure or substantial in weight, but its flavor depth lends the wine impressive length. " - Wine & Spirits Magazine
My Take: The best value Traditional Method dry wine in the lineup. $20, nearly unbeatable. This is a grower Spanish sparkler, that won't even claim Cava, as they don't feel it is what it used to be. Back the rebel.
2014 Rive de Soligo
Suggested Retail: $14.99
OUR PRICE: $12.99
"Delicate scents of pressed white flowers, chamomile, Bartlett pear and a whiff of almond lead the nose on this elegant sparkler. The creamy, scintillating palate delivers crisp apple, citrus zest and mineral alongside vibrant acidity and small, persistent bubbles that lead up to a dry, refreshing finish." - Kerin O'Keefe, Italian Editor for Wine Enthusiast
My take: Estate grown 100% Glera varietal for $12.99? Yeah, I got that. And you should get it, too. This is the wine to bring to a brunch. Light, easy, breezy and extremely likeable.
Blanc de Blanc
Ay Grand Cru Grower Champagne
Suggested Retail: $55.99
OUR PRICE: $47.99
"Though Aÿ is generally a pinot noir town, the Chiquets grow a distinctly fragrant chardonnay in its chalky soils. The green apple scent is tight and earthy, while the flavors are pure, with a pristine, chamomile-flower length. Firmly structured, it feels cool, zesty and tense." - Wine & Spirits
My Take: BUY THIS. I can't express enough how ridiculous of a deal this is. It will absolutely crush almost any other highly-advertised sparkling wine up to about $70. It's a bright, beautiful Chardonnay with a gorgeous mousse, lively aromatics of white flowers--freesia, daisies, fresh lilacs, with clean and exceptionally crisp cut apple scents. A beautifully dry palate stays focused then broadens as orchard fruit fills the mouth and finishes with a citrus zip.
If this isn't your style, we have options. I have a couple dozen Grower Champagnes to fit any flavor profile a bubbly drinker could like, or someone just getting into them.
Various Club Tresors (Special Club)
Grower Champagne Releases
My Take: If you want the best, accept no substitute. As much as I want to list out every one, we don't have enough of each to advertise. I simply want to express the beauty of Special Club Champagne. I've had Tete de Cuvee (the best releases of big houses) that are completely outshone by the more humble Club Tresor showings. It's boggling the level of quality you get compared to some wines that go for hundreds. Don't get me wrong, as Tete de Cuvees are absolutely delicious as a rule, but there's something...special about Club Trésors, besides the literal translation. We have all starts, like Henri Goutorbe 2005, Mousse et Fils 2012, Pierre Gimonnet et Fils 2009 & also their very first Oger Grand Cru--the recently released 2012 Vintage. Come on in and I'll give you my run-down on what they bring to the table and why their so special.
All available (while supplies last, limited availability) in our reserve room.
"Red Only" Drinkers, thanks for either reading or scrolling through to the bottom for this, I appreciate your patience. I kept something special for you, hope you like it!
2013 Reserva Malbec
Suggested Retail: $24.99
OUR PRICE: $14.99
"Smoky, charred aromas of blackberry and blackened spices set up a bold palate with energy to spare. Blackberry and cassis flavors are rich, toasty and chocolaty, while the finish of this full-bodied, ripe Malbec is lengthy and moderately complex. Drink through 2021." -Michael Schachner, South American & Spain Editor, Wine Enthusiast
My Take: Delicious, moderate weight, dry yet fruit-forward and quite complex for the pricing and definitely easy to like! This is a fantastic red for any Malbec fan. It is a must with burgers, BBQ and other grilled or smoked meats. Just in time for Chief's season!
Thanks again for reading, and as always, I love getting your general responses, opinions, questions. Let me know what you would like me to address next.