Sparkling wines and celebrations just seem to go together.
Toasting a success, a birthday or a holiday with anything else, is simply not in the festive spirit. What is it about sparkling wine or Champagne that makes it such a perfect companion to a celebration? When Dom Perignon first tasted Champagne, he famously said “I am tasting stars” – which sums up the experience well – who doesn’t love the taste and the sensation of those tiny bubbles dancing on the palate? It’s just happiness in a glass.
Indeed, studies have shown that when people drink sparkling wines from Champagne flutes, they tend to stand up taller, feel more confident and even talk more seductively, says Charlie Loxton of Premier Wines and Spirits.
Christmas is a season filled with opportunities to celebrate, so what kind of bubbles should you be stocking up on?
It all depends on whether you specifically want Champagne, or are happy to explore the wider (and frequently more affordable) world of sparkling wines. Either way, add a little sparkle to the holidays with a few bottles of fizz.
All sparkling wines – Champagnes included, because all Champagnes come under the wider umbrella of sparkling wine – start out as regular wine, but bubbles are then added. This may occur during a second fermentation, when a little sugar and yeast is added. Over time this mixture turns into carbon dioxide (in the form of tiny bubbles) which dissolve into the liquid. Alternatively, the bubbles are injected into the liquid, which is the method used to make most sparkling wines fizz, Charlie says.
The size of the bubbles is a good indication of the quality of the sparkling wine or Champagne, she adds. The smaller the bubbles, the better it is considered to be.
Champagne refers to the wine grown specifically in the Champagne region of northern France, and is made from three specific grape varietals – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, says Sarah Howard, wine sales associate at Jacques Scott. In order to be called champagne it must also be produced according to the Methode Champenoise – a method that is both time and labour intensive. Sparkling wines produced elsewhere in the world may use the Methode Champenoise – and this will be printed on the label – but unless the grapes were grown in Champagne, France and the wine made there, it cannot technically be called Champagne.
It is not only the time and manpower required that makes champagne costly to produce, Sarah says. “The vines, the vineyards and the land they are grown on are more expensive in the Champagne region than elsewhere, so you are often paying the price of the real estate,” she explains.
The experts recommend….
Champagnes can certainly be hard on the wallet, but that’s no reason not to enjoy some bubbly during the holidays.
Charlie recommends the Laurent Perrier Brut as a good, solid and affordable Champagne, on a par with Veuve Cliquot or Moet et Chandon. The Laurent Perrier Rose is a good sparkling rose in the mid-price range, she says, but if you’re really splashing out the Roederer Cristal 2002 is considered one of the best available.
At almost a quarter of the price, however, Sarah says she would take the Roederer Brut Premier over the Crystal any day. Perfect with oysters or as an aperitif, she adds.
Alternatively, and in the same price range, the Taittinger Brut Reserve is one of the most elegant and delicate Brut champagnes. For the price it’s hard to beat, Sarah says. For those looking to try something new in the world of champagne, Howard suggests the Billecart-Salmon Rose – a small, family-owned champagne house that has become know for its delicate rose.
… sparkling wines
Most wine producing countries are now producing their own respectable sparkling varieties, so a bottle of good quality fizz need not break the bank. Look out for Cremants (sparkling wines from other regions of France), Prosecco from Italy or Cava from Spain. Sarah recommends Marquis de Latour Cremant Brut from France, Zardetto and Lunetta Proseccos from Italy and the Freixinet Cordon Negro Brut and Segura Viudas from Spain. All are fun, fresh and festive and particularly suited to mixing for mimosas, bellinis and other cocktails.
In the New World, a range of excellent sparkling wines are being produced very inexpensively, Charlie says. The Isla Negra and Cono Sur sparkling wines from Chile are both excellent examples. At a somewhat higher price point the Gloria Ferrer Brut Rose is a sparkling wine produced according to the Methode Champenoise in the United States.
Whatever your budget and your taste, there’s a sparkling wine or champagne to suit you. Add a little festive sparkle to the holidays this year with the experts recommendations.