Bubbly for the Holidays: Champagne & Beyond
Bubbly for the holidays? Yes, please! But guess what – you don’t have to break the bank. Of course, I am a huge proponent of real deal Champagne (from the Champagne region in northern France.) However, the holidays often mean larger crowds and more palates to quench. So feel free to think beyond Champagne!
Here’s a quick primer to bubbly for easy navigation of your local bottle shop.
As mentioned, true Champagne must come from that region in northern France. It must also be made according to Méthode Champenoise, which is a time consuming process that results in a complex, yeasty, sparkling wine but also demands a higher price. Make no mistake -- there is magic that is only found in the famed chalk soils of Champagne. More on this at a later date! P.S. If you are splurging on Champagne I would highly recommend seeking out one that is made by the grape grower – these are known as grower Champagnes, and in my humble opinion, they have a lot more going on than the flashy, big “house” names.
Now moving beyond Champagne, there are several other styles of sparkling wine that can add plenty of flare to your party for half the price. The first style that jumps to mind would be known as Cremant.
Sparkling wines made in France but outside the famed region of Champagne will often be made in that Champagne method. However, outside of Champagne it cannot be called Méthode Champenoise but rather Méthode Traditionelle. These wines are often labeled as Cremant – like “Cremant de Bourgogne” if the wine is from Burgundy or “Cremant de Loire” if the wine is from the Loire Valley. A wide variety of grapes can be used for these wines. Some of my favorites are made in the Loire from Chenin Blanc (like the one pictured above.) Chenin just seems to work particularly well as a sparkling wine due to its natural high acidity, but then again I am biased because I simply LOVE Chenin!
Cremants come in white and rosé forms and are usually between $20 and $30.
We cannot discuss Méthode Traditionelle without mentioning Cava. This is sparkling from Spain made according to the time intensive method of Champagne. The most famed region for great Cava is the Penedès – just south of Barcelona. The issue is that legally a wine made in this style can actually come from anywhere in Spain. Thus, there are sadly a lot of second rate Cavas. These are fine if you are making Mimosas or Champagne Cocktails, but suffice it to say they bear no resemblance to Cavas made from grapes grown with care on the best sites. For outstanding Cava look for names like Gramona or Pepe Raventós. This Raventós (there are several) has actually quit labeling their bubbly as Cava because of their disdain for the loose rules regarding labeling. Their wines truly drink like Champagne, and some of them can be priced accordingly!
Within the wine nerd world it’s easy to take knowledge of Pétillant Naturels (aka Pet Nats) for granted, as they have been quite the trendy drink for a year (or more in uber hip places.)
In short, they are sparkling wine made the old fashioned way where the secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle (like Champagne) but very often there is no fancy end procedure that clarifies the wine. Consequently, these Pet Nats will very often be cloudy and even have substantial sediment in the bottom! They are also definitely more rustic in flavor than the clean, precise lines of Champagne. But this rusticity is part of their fun. You can find Pet Nats from around the world – France, Italy, Spain, California, Oregon…you name it! They are usually between $20 and $30, and their offbeat nature can be a great way to liven up the party. Just be forewarned, some can be on the funky side – so probably not the best choice for your grandparents (unless they are Kombucha loving grandparents!)
Here’s where we head away from Méthode Champenoise. Prosecco (sparkling wine from Veneto, Italy.) It is made in a way that is much less time consuming and consequently less expensive. The secondary fermentation occurs not in bottle but in tank. This means there is less contact with the yeast that gives the previous styles their unique aroma and flavor (reminiscent of fresh baked pastries!)
Prosecco is meant to be more fruit forward and easy on the palate. The issue once again arises that there is simply a lot of mediocre representations. For quality Prosecco ask your local wine shop if they have any small, family producers. These do exist, and the quality difference is pretty mind blowing, especially as they still hover around $20.
This is just a brief intro to sparkling wine styles without getting too geeky but feel free to dig deeper and look for future posts down the road!
P.S. You might notice that in this photo I am enjoying bubbly out of a white wine glass rather than a flute. While flutes are indeed pretty, they do your bubbly zero favors as they trap all the delectable aromas with their narrow shape. Occasionally, I break out my flutes for their flashy appeal, but generally I turn to my Riedel Sauvignon Blanc glasses that seem to be the perfect size! They allow the wine to breathe a little without dispersing the bubbles too much!