Champagne, Prosecco & Sparkling Wine
Champagne, Spumanti, Prosecco and Sparkling wines are synonymous with any type of celebration. It has launched millions of ships into the sea, it has been present at countless weddings and fetes, and of course, it’s a staple for everyone’s New Year’s Eve party.
The holiday is amongst us and if you want to celebrate in style, either with fine French champagne, Italian Prosecco or Spumanti or any other national sparkling wine tonight is the night. Choosing from among more than 12,000 brands of champagne and sparkling wine can be daunting. Read on for a brief history and some facts about bubbly, as well as my recommendations, that will help make your celebration memorable.
The story of champagne dates back to the 17th century, because of a relatively short growing season for grapes, monks in the French region of Champagne — about 150 miles east of Paris in northern France — were faced with the problem of excess carbon dioxide trapped in their wine. For these monks, the fizzy wine wasn’t a luxury product, but something that was indicative of poor wine making. Often called “mad wine,” the bubbly product was something to be prevented and not enjoyed.
In 1688, the monks appointed Pierre Perignon to oversee their wine making and cellars; it was Dom Perignon’s duty to refine their wine-making process to offer the French royal court an alternative to the heavy red burgundy wines that were so common in that day. And while he was never able to get rid of the champagne fizz, he did manage to create a certain type of white wine that stood up well to the bubbles and was well received by French royalty. When he had finally perfected his new technique, he famously exclaimed, “Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!”
The rest, of course, is history. The wine was a hit with royalty in France and England, and was soon exported all across Europe. Today, champagne is enjoyed all over the world by all manners of people. In honour of Dom Perignon’s contribution to the wine-making process, Claude Moet — who founded what would later become the world’s largest champagne house — named his signature vintage after the late monk.
Champagne vs. Sparkling wine
By law, only producers in the Champagne region of France are allowed to call their product “champagne`. Sparkling wine produced anywhere else in the world must, therefore, be called a “sparkling wine.” or any other name. And while some wine snobs will undoubtedly turn up their noses at the thought of drinking an “inferior” sparkling wine, the fact is that some excellent sparkling wines which can hold their own in a taste test against some of Champagne’s finest are produced in the United States, Canada and in other parts of the world.
Wine experts say there are actually noticeable differences between champagnes and sparkling wines. These differences are said to stem from the soil conditions and climate particular to that region of France versus those in other regions of the world. This can lead to profound distinctions in the taste of the wine, such as its degree of sweetness, its complexity of taste and its fruitiness. As with all matters of wine appreciation, however, this is largely subjective. What should matter most too any casual drinker is taste and personal preference.
As is the case with any white wine, champagne should be served chilled, but only slightly; the ideal temperature range is between 43F and 48F, as colder temperatures will kill the subtle taste of the wine. Cooling the wine properly is an art in itself. Experts recommend that the unopened bottle be placed in an ice bucket containing half ice and water. Wait for 20 to 30 minutes. The wine can also be refrigerated for three to four hours and should never be chilled in the freezer.
Champagne should be served in tall flute glasses that are designed to improve the flow of the bubbles and the aroma. The glasses themselves should not be chilled.
When opening the bottle, the saying goes, “The ear’s gain is the palate’s loss.” The champagne cork should never be popped, but rather eased off to avoid losing any of the precious bubbles. Finally, leftover champagne can be stored for several days with a proper champagne bottle stopper that can be found at your local kitchen gadget store.
Here are just a few champagne and sparkling wine suggestions for your next celebration. You can pay just about any price for a sparkling wine or champagne from $20 to $2,000 a bottle, so it’s important to have a good idea of what you like and how you’re going to serve it.
Classical Champagnes for 2016:
Louis Roederer Cristal Rosé Champagne
Moet et Chandon
Pascal Doquet Blanc de Blancs Coeur de Terroir 1er Cru Champagne
Dom Ruinart Rosé Champagne
Jacques Selosse Blanc de Blancs Brut Substance Champagne
Nicolas Feuillate Palme D’or Grand Cuvee
Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut
Jansz Premium Cuvee Brut
Krug Grande Cuvee Champagne Brut
Bollinger Special Cuvee
Asti Spumanti-Martini & Rossi