Wednesday, December 30, 2009


This is the time of year when people tend to bust out the Champagne or other sparkling wines to celebrate the holidays and the New Year. But I will say you don’t need a special occasion to open a bottle of bubbly. Champagnes are great food wines and can be enjoyed throughout a meal as well as great everyday wines. But since most Americans feel that Champagnes and other sparkling wines are meant for special occasions, I don’t see them making them into everyday wines anytime soon.

Crash course: Most people think that all sparkling wines are called Champagne, but that is not true. Champagne is only produced in the French wine region of Champagne. Everything else that has bubbles is considered sparkling wine. This includes the Italian Proseccos, the Spanish Cavas and many different domestic sparkling wines produced in the states. Champagne is most often a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier grapes, but the there are also some made with just one type of grape. Blanc de blancs “white of whites” is all Chardonnay and blanc de Noir “white of blacks’ is entirely made of black Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier grapes. These tend to be a little more expensive then the blended bottles. Also, most champagnes are non vintage, meaning they are made up of different batches of grapes from different harvests. So you won’t find many with a vintage year on the bottle.

Production: The traditional method of producing Champagne is called Methode Champenoise, which basically means that after primary fermentation and bottling, a second alcoholic fermentation occurs in the bottle. Dom Perignon, who was a Benedictine Monk, created this method. Adding several grams of yeast and several grams of rock sugar induces this second fermentation; this determines the dosage (sweetness) of the wine.

There are different levels of sweetness for champagnes; here is the order from dry to sweet:

Brut Natural or Brut Zéro (less than 3 grams of sugar per liter)
Extra Brut (less than 6 grams of sugar per liter)
Brut (less than 15 grams of sugar per liter)
Extra Sec or Extra Dry (12 to 20 grams of sugar per liter)
Sec (17 to 35 grams of sugar per liter)
Demi-Sec (33 to 50 grams of sugar per liter)
Doux (more than 50 grams of sugar per liter)

I prefer the drier, less sweet champagnes but each person is different. So pop a cork this New Years Eve and celebrate the coming of the New Year by “drinking the stars”! Then continue drinking champagne or sparkling wines throughout the year. I assure you, it will make you smile when you have a glass full of bubbles any day of the year!

Cheers and Happy New Year!

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