Sparkling Wine for the New Year

Everywhere around the world people will be celebrating the new year in a way that includes a glass of bubbly. Sparkling wine has the great ability to pair with almost any food and any event. When you are not sure which wine to serve with dinner, reach for the sparkling wine and you cannot go wrong. The wine grapes most commonly used in the production of sparkling wine are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and/or Pinot Meunier. I'm using the term "sparkling wine" and not Champagne because all wine that has bubbles can be called sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine can be called Champagne. Almost all sparkling wine is nonvintage, where multiple vintages are blended together to form a house style wine. To create wine that sparkles, a second fermentation takes place in the bottle triggered by the addition of yeast and sugar. The bottles then go through the process of riddling, where the bottles are periodically turned, and disgorgement, where the dead yeast cells are expelled before the bottles are topped off. This is called the traditional method. You are left with a bottle of sparkling wine. I've had the great opportunity to taste many of the following sparkling wines in a recent wine class taught by Dr. Vino. Here are my recommendations, which I hope will help you in choosing an excellent bottle of bubbly.

For the so-called real thing, here is a bottle of Champagne. This Chartogne-Taillet St. Anne brut is fresh and well balanced with the aromas of brioche. It is 50% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, and 10% Pinot Meunier. Brut is a term that means the wine contains less than 15 grams of sugar per liter. Other common terms include extra brut, which is slightly drier than brut; brut zéro, which is the driest; extra dry, which is between dry and sweet; and sec or demi-sec, which is sweet and semi-sweet respectively. This wine is of interest because the estate is family run and the wine is produced on site. Typically small estates sell their grapes to négociants (wine merchants) who produce and bottle the wine for sale under their own name.

American Sparkling Wine
More and more Champagne houses from France are opening vineyards in California. This Roederer Estate Brut, from the House of Louis Roderer in France, which also produces the rapper-favorite Cristal, is made in the Anderson Valley. It is 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. Crisp with the flavors of pear and nuts, this sparkling wine is just as good as the real thing. You might even call it American Champagne, a name that many American sparkling-wine producers are still allowed to use.

Sparkling wine that is made outside of the Champagne region in France is called Crémant. Some of the regions that specialize in crémant include Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Limoux. This Louis Bouillot Crémant de Bourgogne brut rosé is a wonderful specimen of crémant and rosé with a beautiful salmon color, raspberry aromas, and a dry finish. It is 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay, grape varieties most common to Burgundy. Rosé is created by allowing the dark skins of the Pinot Noir grape to come in contact with the juice for a short period of time after pressing.

The Spanish name for sparkling wine is Cava, grown in areas around Spain but mainly in the Penedès region in Catalonia. Originally called Xampany before the European Union ruled that only sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France could be called Champagne, Spanish sparkling wine was rebranded Cava after the tradition of storing the wine in caves. A prime example of an excellent Cava is this Juvé & Camps brut rosé made from Pinot Noir grapes. It features aromas of strawberry along with a crisp acidity and lively bite. It is one of my favorites.

Italian sparkling wines include Asti, made from the Moscato Bianco grape in the Piedmont region and Prosecco, made from the grape of the same name in the Veneto region. Prosecco was popularized by Harry Cipriani of Harry's Bar in Venice, where the Bellini cocktail was created using the sparkling wine and white-peach purée. This Vincenzo Toffoli, as many Prosecco wines, is characterized by crispness and aromas of apple and pear. Prosecco is more often dry than sweet and is either fully sparkling (spumante) or semi-sparkling (frizzante).


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