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tiny bubbles are BIG on flavor: an introdcution to Champagne and other sparkling wines

I plan to ring in my New Year's with a bang, though not a crash!

I will ring in the New Year with some bubbly.

Most people associate champagne with New Year's Eve and other special occasions. I adore a good bubbly and drink it all the time. There are many sparkling wines to be enjoyed. Champagne is a sparkling wine, though not all sparkling wines are champagne. A sparkling beverage can only be called a champagne if the grapes are harvested in the Champagne region in France. Only grapes from this region may be called champagne. It used to be that Champagne was superior to all other sparkling wines. Luckily for us this is no longer true. There are other lovely sparkling beverages from Italy, Spain and California that are superior, delicious and often carry a much more desirable price tag.

Here's a little lesson for you all.

Many sparkling wines and all chamapgnes are made using the Methode Champanoise (Champagne method).

The Méthode Champenoise process starts by making wines, usually white. Grapes most often used are chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot gris. Usually champagne is made from a blend of grapes, but it can also be made using solely the chardonnay grape. The grapes are used to form a "cuvée", which just means a blend of wines. Blending is considered by most experienced winemakers to be the key to the art of méthode champenoise.

Once the cuvee has been formed the creating the tiny, delicate bubbles is the next order of business. They are produced by a natural process in the best Champagnes. A "liquer de tirage"(a mixture of yeast and sugar) is added to the cuvée, bottled, stoppered, and laid up "en tirage" to trap the carbon dioxide gas produced by the yeast as it consumes its food-- the sugar.

When the yeast has consumed all of the sugar and produced the coveted natural tiny CO2 bubbles the now carbonated wine will clear and leave a deposit of yeast. It is now ready for "riddling".

A-framed racks called "riddling racks" house the bottles as a process known as "remuage" takes place. Remuage is a slow and laborious process of dropping the yeast deposit into the neck of the bottle, is performed over several weeks to several months.

When the Champagne is yeast-free, a little sugar can be added to offset the dryness of the disgorged Champagne. The amount determines the sweetness, or the lack of it preserves the natural dryness of the Champagne. Most Champagnes tend to be quite acidic. Dry BRUT is very slightly sweetened, but is still drier than a so-called "Extra Dry," which is really not at all dry. DEMI-SEC is slightly sweet, and our DOUX is medium sweet and luscious.

This is the oldest and most traditional way to make sparkling wine. It was supposedly developed by Dom (Pierre) Perignon, a Benedictine Monk in the Champagne district of France, born in1638, and is known as Méthode Champenoise.

Other methods cost a good deal less and are less labor and time intensive. These apply to Cavas and Proseccos. The Cava is a sparkling wine that hails from Spain, and the Prosecco hails from Italy. Prosecco is made by utilizing the Metodo Italiano, otherwise known as the Charmat process.

The Charmat, Metodo Charmat-Martinotti (or Metodo Italiano) hails from Italy, but developed by a French man, where it was invented and is most used. Here wine undergoes secondary fermentation in stainless steel tanks or steel vessels covered with vitreous enamel rather than individual bottles, and is bottled under pressure in a continuous process. Many grape varieties, including Prosecco, are best suited for fermentation in tanks. Charmat method sparkling wines can be produced at a slightly lower cost than méthode champenoise wine.

This method follows the first steps of "methode champenoise" in that after primary fermentation the cuvee is transferred to bottle to complete secondary fermentation. When the secondary fermentation is complete and the wine has spent the desired amount of time in bottle on yeast lees (six months is the requirement to label a wine 'bottle fermented') then the individual bottles are transferred (hence the name) into a larger tank. The wine is then filtered, the liqueur de dosage (sugar solution) added, and then filled back into new bottles for sale. This method allows for complexity to be built into the wine, but also gives scope for blending options after the wine has gone into bottle.

So there is your mini lesson. Interesting, isn't it?

I adore Champagne. Likewise I have found other good bubbly that I adore just as well. With a lower price tag I can enjoy a nice bubbly throughout the year with no reason whatsoever!

In the past Champagne was really considered to be the only sparkling beverage to drink. But there are many wonderful alternatives to try. And I do suggest you have fun and try them all!

For a special moment, or if you really feel like splurging you can never go wrong with the following Champagnes:

The original methode, Dom is as good as it gets! The $150 price tag means that most of us can only enjoy this for the most special of occasions.


About $125 a bottle, this fabulous champagne makes a wonderful gift for a truly special occasion. The hand painted bottle is a treasure in itself.


For less than $50, and often around the $40 this champagne is reasonably affordable. It is also one of my absolute favorites and most likely what I will be sipping on New Year's Eve!

It's no secret that I love Prosecco. Here is a little more about Italy's contribution to the sparkling wine.

Except for the bubbles, Prosecco has no similarity to Champagne. It's as different from Champagne as Sauvignon Blanc is from Chardonnay. Champagne is yeasty and serious. Prosecco is fresh, fruity and flippant. (I'm fresh, fruity and flippant too! We make a perfect pairing!) Champagne, especially vintage Champagne, is meant to age. Prosecco should be consumed as young as possible. Prosecco is rarely vintage-dated and when it is, the specific year carries no special significance. Brut Champagne (the driest) outshines Extra-Dry Champagne (Extra Dry, paradoxically, is sweeter than Brut despite its name). The opposite is true for Prosecco. Even Prosecco labeled Brut has a touch more sweetness than Brut Champagne. In addition to being a great aperitif, Prosecco is a wonderful "celebratory" drink and an excellent choice for spicy Asian food.

Prosecco is the name of both the grape and the wine. But as with most Italian wines, matters rapidly get more complicated. The grape's 'natural habitat' is a series of hills in between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene in the Veneto, just North of Venice. The hills are key because the elevation-900 to 1300 feet-of the vineyards results in excellent day-night temperature differences that enhance the engaging floral character of the grapes and hence, the wine.








Above are three wonderful and highly rated bottles of Prosecco. All are priced between $10 and $20 which makes it possible to be enjoyed frequently. The Rustico is one of my personal favorites.

Perhaps you would like to dress up your Prosecco. Well, Prosecco was the original sparkling wine used for Italy's famed Peach Bellini!


The Bellini is a famous champagne cocktail created by Giuseppe Cipriani, proprietor of Harry's Bar in Venice. Cipriani named his drink after Giovanni Bellini, his favorite Italian painter, because the color of the champagne cocktail matched the color Bellini used in one of his paintings for a saint's toga. The Bellini has become one of the most famous and popular of all wine cocktails or champagne cocktails. It's also difficult to make because of the scarcity of pureed peaches.

We served these at my wedding. Perfect for my light, fruity and flippant personality!

For a Basic, Traditional Bellini Recipe

You will need:
2 parts (4oz) extra dry sparkling wine
2oz) peach puree (approximately 1 pureed peach)
Mix:
Pour the peach puree at the bottom of a champagne flute.
Add a dash or two of grenadine or raspberry puree on the top, if you want.
Gently pour dry sparkling wine to full the glass.
Not to be shaken or stirred!


And one final tip for you all!

How to preserve your Champagne once you have already opened your bottle:

If you find yourself wanting to open a bottle of bubbly but you know that you won't finish it in the same night you can trap the bubbles so that you can enjoy your beverage for up to 36 hours after uncorking!

All you need is a piece of Saran Wrap and a good rubber band.

Simply place the plastic wrap over the mouth of the bottle and seal tightly. You will instantly see it rise. The air and bubbles have now been trapped. Using a rubber band, secure the plastic wrap in place as tightly as possible. Place the bottle back into the refrigerator for later consumption!

My grandmother, La Jolie Grandmere, taught me this trick and it works like a charm! It is absolutely fool proof!


Happy New Year Everyone! I hope you enjoy your tiny bubbles!


The above information was made possible from the following websites: Wikipedia, WineSparkle, Wine Intro, A Taste of Wine, and Micheal Apstein's article on Prosecco for Wine Review Online

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