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Something Bubbly This Way Comes!

December 22, 2010

What a great time of year to enjoy something bubbly! But I do believe it my duty to point out: sparkling wine doesn’t have to be just for holidays and celebrations. Bubbly wine is versatile, delicious, and can make any day or event feel special. So pop those bottles more often!!

But since it is a holiday, sparkling wine is on a lot of shopping lists for dinners, parties and gifts. What to get? Here’s a quick guide.

First, remember that sparkling wine is not on the same scale as still wine (non-bubbly) when it comes to the sugar content. A dry wine has no residual sugar, but dry on a sparkling wine bottle is slightly sweet. Since sparkling wine tends to be more acidic than other wine, leaving more sugar behind made it more drinkable. But people who wanted ‘dry’ to resemble still wine, someone made sparkling wine drier (but still with a bit of residual sweetness) and called it “Extra Dry.’

Better, they said, but still not dry enough. So sparkling wine with less sugar (basically, dry tasting on the palate, though still with some sugar) was made. So a smart person came up with a new moniker, Brut. It’s easy to remeber this way: Brut is drier than Extra Dry, or ‘brutally dry,’ which became just Brut for short.

So, there’s champagne of course, where bubbly wine was born. The best champagnes aren’t necessarily the most expensive or most well-known. Most producers in Champagne are large houses that make lots and lots of wine produced by grapes purchased from the thousands of grape growers in the region. A real special bottle would be the ‘Grower Champagne,’ so called because the wine is made by the same domaine that raises the grapes. The thought here is that these producers know their own land, vines and harvests better than anyone, so that they are also the producers of the wine gives them the innate ability to make fantastic wines.

Most of these grower Champagnes are in the $40 – $70 range, still less than some of the big, international brands that everyone is familiar with. Their not available at all stores; you’ll need to ask if they’re available where you shop. (Yes, we have some where I work at Canal’s Bottle Stop. Six different grower champagnes, in fact!)

Now, if spending that kind of money isn’t what you’re after, than look to some domestic sparkling wine or some from regions other than Champagne, but still made in the same, traditional method as Champagne (look for “Made in the traditional method” on the bottle).

A couple of great examples:

Varichon & Clerc – a blanc de blancs (made from 100% chardonnay) from the southwestern part of France. Delicous, crisp and a steal at $9 (found at Canal’s Bottle Stop, Route 70 in Marlton where I work).

Gruet – very interesting because it is well-made, also done in the traditional method, and moderately priced. More so because this is from New Mexico.

Alma Negra – a really interesting bubbly found by Pinot wine class attendee Courtney Moorhead (thanks, Courtney!). It is made from Malbec in Argentina, and is lightly sparkling. This is a darker rosé style wine that has big flavor to it and a creamy texture. And for only $14 you are sure to have a bottle that no one else is likely to have brought to the party!

The final word is more general but no less useful a tip: Cava from Spain and Prosecco from Italy have almost universal appeal and much easier price tags than Champagne. Prosecco is generally less effervescent but still bubbly enough to be fun and the perfect choice for Mimosa’s or other blended drinks calling for sparkling wine. Cava is crisp and goes with a variety of foods, especially with small-plate appetizers. Most places have several good choices from $9 to $15.

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