Sparkling Wine - It Goes with Everything!

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As we continue through the holiday season, the question of ‘which wine to buy?’ is constantly on our minds. And, the answer in any situation can always be ‘Sparkling wine!”

Yes, sparking wines are maybe the most versatile wines out there. For brunch, sparking wine is an obvious answer. If you are having an early evening hors d'oeuvre party featuring anything from popcorn to caviar, sparking wine is the answer. A steak, chicken, pork or seafood dinner - they all work with sparkling wines. And, yes, desserts go great with sparkling wines.

By the way, try serving your sparkling wine in a white wine glass. After all, it’s a white wine. And a standard white wine glass will allow you to enjoy the sparkling wine while also allowing you to experience all the wonderful aromas that a flute precludes.

So, whether you are splurging on the real-deal Champagne from France, or simply opening a bottle of Cava, Prosecco or any other sparkling wine, know that it will go with everything this holiday season, and all year long. Cheers!

How to Pick the Right Sweetness of a Champagne or Sparkling Wine

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The wine world is confusing enough. Then, you find yourself standing on the wine aisle trying to figure out what the different styles of Champagne and sparkling wine mean. And, it’s not straight forward.

Champagne and most sparkling wines will have words on their labels to indicate their sweetness level.

So, here’s your quick guide for choosing the one that best fits your palate:

Brut Nature - This style is bone dry. It has little or no sugar content (0–3 g/L sugar).

Extra Brut This style is also bone dry but, it can have up to twice the sugar level of Brut Nature (0–6 g/L sugar). But, this little bit of sweetness creates a wonderful balance with Champagne’s naturally high acidity.

Brut This is the most common style. While considered “Dry” this style can have twice the sugar of Extra Brut (0–12 g/L sugar).

Extra Dry This is the one that always confuses people. This style is sweeter which actually makes it also taste a bit Fruity (12–17 g/L sugar).

Dry The confusing continues. This style is getting up there in sweetness (17–32 g/L sugar).

Demi-Sec Now you’re talking Sweet (32–50 g/L sugar). This style works well with desserts or cheeses.

Doux This one, while very rare to find, is SWEET (50+ g/L sugar).

Ever Wonder What 'Expedition Liqueur" Is?

While recently reviewing a sparkling Rosé Brut from Chile, the tech notes mentioned the addition of 'Expedition Liqueur" after fermentation. It might come as a surprise to some that 'liqueur' is added to sparkling wine. But, it's actually a common practice used in the making of Champagne and other sparkling wines.

So first let's do a review of the making of Champagne and sparkling wine. Both begin like all wines, with traditional fermentation of the juice of the grapes to produce a still wine.  After this first fermentation is complete, the wine is bottled and a small amount of yeast and sugar are added to the bottle.

In the past, this process was referred to as the "Champagne method" or "Méthode Champenoise". But these terms were outlawed in 1994 for all wines other than those produced in the Champagne region of France. Now, if this process is used anywhere outside of the Champagne region of France, it must be referred to as the "traditional method". You may also see it referred to on labels as "méthode traditionnelle", "méthode classique", "classic method", or simply "bottle fermented".

Regardless of what it's called, this addition of yeast and sugar to the bottled wine leads to a second fermentation, this time occurring in the bottle. Because the bottle is tightly sealed, the carbon dioxide (CO2) produced during fermentation remains dissolved in the wine. This gives the wine its carbonation.

Once this second fermentation is completed, the bottle is unsealed and the dead yeast is removed (disgorged). But just before the bottle is sealed for the final time with the traditional Champagne-style cork and wire cage (muselet [myz-le]), a small amount of sugar and/or alcohol is added to the bottle.

The added sugar can come in several different ways. Typically, it is in the form of a sweet wine, but it can also be a mixture of sugar and wine. It's a rare practice, but if the sparkling wine needs its alcohol level raised a bit, additional alcohol may be added from a spirit, such as Cognac. Regardless, this final addition of ingredients determines how sweet the final product will be and its final alcohol level.

This final addition of sugar, and sometime alcohol, is most commonly known as 'dosage,' but the added liquid may also be referred to as expedition liqueur (or Liqueur d’expédition in French). So, yes, your Champagne, or sparkling wine, will have 'liqueur' added to it if is made in the traditional method. Cheers!

Consider a Cava for the Holidays

Looking for a good, affordable bottle of bubbly for the holidays? Consider Cava.

Cava is a sparkling wine from Spain with a lot of similarity to French Champagne. In fact, the Spanish bubbly was called Champaña in Spain until the 1970s when French regulations were put into place to limit the use of the word Champagne to only those wines produced in the Champagne region of France.  So, the Spanish re-named their sparkling wine for the caves or cellars where the sparkling wine was kept for aging. Thus came the name Cava.

Like Champagne, Cava is produced in the 'Traditional Method' where secondary fermentation is done in the bottle. This is how the bubbles are naturally formed since this second fermentation also converts sugar to alcohol using yeast, but the resulting CO2 is trapped in the bottle, producing the carbonation.

Unlike French Champagne, Cava is produced with the Macabeu, Xarello and Paralleda grapes.  But Cava surprisingly has a very similar taste to Champagne, much more so than the highly popular Prosecco.  But the best thing about Cava is its price. You can find a nice bottle for under $20.

Like Champagne, Cava is produced in various levels of sweetness:

  • Brut Nature -- Up to 3 grams of sugar/liter
  • Extra Brut -- Up to 6 grams/liter
  • Brut -- Up to 15 grams/liter
  • Extra Seco -- Between 12 - 20 grams/liter
  • Seco -- Between 17-35 grams/liter
  • Semi-Seco -- Between 33-50 grams/liter
  • Dulce -- More than 50 grams/liter

You can also find Cava Reserva which is aged an additional 6 months (for a total of 15 months) over the standard Cava (9 months of aging) and Cava Gran Reserva which is aged a total of 30 months.

Cava is a great alternative to Champagne and a wonderful sparkling wine to enjoy during the holidays (and year-round!).  Chill a bottle and enjoy. Cheers!


What is Pét-Nat?

Have you heard of "Pét-Nat?"  Well, it's actually pétillant-naturel but it seems to be more affectionately known as “pét-nat."

Pét-Nat is a natural sparkling wine made using the ancestral method.  Whereas the Champagne method involves a secondary fermentation by adding sugar and yeast, the ancestral method allows the initial fermentation to finish in the bottle without any additives, imparting carbonation by trapping the carbon dioxide that is naturally produced during the fermentation process.

So what you get is a lighter, low alcohol, refreshing sparkling wine without additives.  But, because the yeast remains in the bottle, it tends to be a bit cloudy or hazy.

Pétillant-naturel got its start in France’s Loire Valley, pre-dating Champagne. Today, you'll find it everywhere. And, you are very likely to find it sealed under a crown cap instead of a cork.

Since the wine is named for the method used to produce it, as opposed to the grape type, it can be white, rosé or red, but typically you'll find sparking whites and rosés. The great news is that Pét-nat is typically lower priced (typically under $30) than entry-level Champagnes. 

Pét-nat is viewed as having crossover potential with appeal from beer and cider drinkers who haven’t explored wines, since it has similar flavors to dry ciders and some beers.

It's uncertain if this style of sparkling wine will ever become widespread, but if you find a bottle or have an opportunity, be sure to try it. It isn't a wine meant for aging, so drink it sooner rather than later. Cheers!