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Bubblies for New Year’s

Hi everyone, Tina here again, this time to talk about wines with bubbles in them for your holiday enjoyment. First let me get back up on my soapbox and preach the gospel about how Champagne goes with everything, and all occasions, from the weeknight dinner to the Sunday brunch to the holidays. I just love the stuff. We need to de-snobbify bubbly wines and learn to enjoy them more often!

Okay, so some background on sparkling wines here. Champagne originated in France, in the actual region of that country called Champagne, so you see the wine is named after the place. Sparkling wines from all other parts of the world, because the French are total sticklers about this, are not supposed to be called Champagnes. But the word Champagne is so well-known that almost anyone refers to a sparkling wine as Champagne. That’s fine; just be aware that you’ll see California wine labels, and many others, where the wine is called Sparkling wine instead of Champagne, and either way, you’re getting the same basic product—a wine with bubbles in it.

We have Foodwinos on the list who can talk you through the various methods of making sparkling wine in a later Foodcast. I’ll just explain so you’ll understand what I say later on, that sparkling wines are primarily made from three grapes—pinot noir, chardonnay, and a little-known grape called pinot meunier. How do red grapes make these usually golden-colored wines? Because the skins are removed from the grape flesh for primary fermentation. If left on the red skins for a bit, the resulting bubblies are blush pink in color.

So what would you like to drink for the holidays? Let’s start inexpensive and work our way upward in price. Now I know some people will laugh at me, but there is a $5 bubbly out there that snobs can turn their noses up at, but is perfectly fine for the un-initiated bubbly drinkers. It’s called Ballatore Spumante, and is made in vast quantities and available at most supermarkets and liquor stores nationwide. I use it for mimosas, that delicious combination of orange juice and champagne; for bellinis, a peach and champagne drink that you can easily find a recipe for on the Internet; and for champagne cocktails. After all, if you are going to adulterate your Champagne by using it in cocktails, why on earth would you use the expensive stuff? Ballatore Spumante is ideal for this purpose.

Next up the price ladder is a lovely sparkling wine for about $8-10/bottle from Chateau Ste Michelle in Washington State. The wine is Blanc de noirs, meaning the skins were left in contact with the grapes during crushing, long enough to give off a lovely pink color—this is a Pink Champagne. I got mine at Trader Joe’s markets on the advice of a friend and she was right. Light, crisp, fruity and very easy to drink, this uncomplicated wine will please almost anyone.

Another widely-available family of sparkling wines are from Korbel Winery in Sonoma county, California. Korbel makes three bubblies I can recommend in the $12-$15 price range; their Korbel blanc de noir, Korbel Natural, and Korbel Chardonnay Champagne—all of them slightly richer wines in the mouth and still with a very fruity “California” style to them.

A word about style that may help you when choosing a sparkling wine that you’ll like. I speak in vast generalizations here, but you’ll forgive me for that, I know. California and other western US states produce sparkling wines in a rather typical American fashion—they aim for bright flavors, a lot of fruit in your mouth, friendly wines that in the lower price ranges, don’t bother to aim for complexity. This appeals very much to most casual wine drinkers.

French Champagne style is generally much richer and fuller in the mouth, often with a smell or taste of yeastiness, and they let the fruit come along a little bit later in your mouth. French Champagnes pride themselves on striving for complexity, so you can bet they are hoping when you sip their bubblies, a LOT will go on in your mouth by the time you swallow. This fuller, richer style is not for everyone, and I’ve heard complaints that the style masks the fruit, but that’s up to the individual taster. I absolutely adore the French style.

The Italians and the Spanish make sparkling wines as well, and on our price ladder, those come just about now. Italian Prosecco is a semi-sweet (demi-sec) sparkling wine made by a different method from traditional French “methode champenoise” double-fermentation. Proseccos sold in the US run from about $10 to as high as $25 a bottle, and are absolutely perfect for newcomers who think Champagnes might be too dry for their taste. The touch of sweetness makes them delightful and easy sipping, and you cannot beat them for a summer picnic OR a holiday party.

Spanish sparkling wines are known as “Cavas,” and though I have tasted several in the course of my work, I am not so familiar with them and will defer to our Mustang Winemaker, Penny, to talk about them another time. The ones I’ve had were delicious but very unlike sparkling wines I’m used to, so ask a good wine merchant to help you if you’d like to know more about them.

And now, on to the $20-$35 bubblies, my favorite category. Many of my favorite bubblies are made by French companies who started American sparkling wine operations in Napa and Sonoma counties in California, often with the same names as the parent French company. These hybrids, if you will—French style and method champagnes produced with fine California grapes, are a perfect marriage.

For instance, GH Mumm has Mumm Napa Valley winery, and they have been producing Mumm NV California, a non-vintage (meaning blended from grapes from several different harvest years) $14 bubbly that is absolutely delicious. Incredibly rich and complex, the wine won a Gold Medal at the State Fair wine competition a few years ago, beating out hundreds of other California bubblies in blind tasting.

Moet et Chandon of France operates Domaine Chandon winery, also in the Napa Valley, whose Australian winemaker makes this a truly international effort. Domaine Chandon’s Etoile sparkling wine is a steal at $25. Moet also imports a wine called Moet White Star, which my friends and I, ahem, have been known to drink in excess on more than one New Year’s Eve.

And now, for my all-around favorite bubbly, we get away from the Napa Valley and look to the Anderson Valley, in the far north reaches of Sonoma county, California. There, French firm Louis Roederer has set up house in some of the best Pinot noir growing areas in all of California. Simply called “Roederer” on the label, their California sparkling wines are rich, full, very bubbly, slightly yeasty, complex beautiful things that I cannot say enough wonderful things about. My mouth is watering just thinking about Roederer sparkling wine, I kid you not.

So for Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and beyond into the everyday reaches of your New Year, go out and get some Sparkling wines, and enjoy them often with family and friends. And if you need to find the names of any wines I’ve mentioned here, just click on our website, Cyberfeasts.com, for more information. Cheers from the Foodwine List!

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