New Year’s Eve is coming up quickly and there is nothing that says celebration quite like something bubbly in a glass, and in my case, we are talking wine, of course.
The most famous form of sparkling wine is champagne. This label belongs specifically to the wine coming from the region of that name in France.
Hundreds of years of brand recognition and exclusivity means that champagne is likely the most expensive sparkling wine you will see on the shelves.
For many, including me, a high quality champagne is good value and money well spent.
Champagne is made by first fermenting a still, dry wine.
That wine is bottled with the addition of sugar and more yeast so that a secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle.
One of the byproducts of fermentation is the release of CO2 gas — the bubbles.
The sparkling wine is then aged for a period of time with the dead yeast (the lees) still in the bottle and adding flavour elements to the mix.
When the wine is ready for market a nifty process is used to bring the lees to the neck of the bottle where it is frozen and removed. Before the final cork is placed, a dosage tops up the bottle and sets the sugar content at the desired level for the style.
This method is used in many places around the world including other regions of France, Spain (cava), Italy and California.
Sparkling wines made using this method (and the quite similar “transfer” method) include flavours from the lees with descriptions such as “bread,” “toast” and “nuttiness” in addition to the more usual citrus and fruit labels.
Charmat is the other popular method for good sparkling wine and is used for Prosecco, sekt from Germany and inexpensive sparklers from just about everywhere.
In this method, the secondary fermentation takes place in a large stainless steel, pressurized vat instead of individual bottles. There is less contact with the lees, so the resulting wine shows more of the fresh, fruity and flowery flavours of the grapes used.
There are no shortages of Champagne from which to choose, with over 25 selections available ranging from $26.26 for a half bottle of Bouchard Reserve Champagne to $272 for a Krug Grand Cuvee! Those extremes aside, most of these selections will set you back between $45 and $75 a bottle.
Champagne method wines from other places range from $15 to $30 with such examples as the cava Freixenet Carta Nevada Extra Dry ($15.49), Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose ($21.49) and Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut from California ($30.47).
Switching to the Charmat method wines we find an even wider, and more affordable selection. Moscato has suddenly become quite popular and is characterized by its sweetness and exuberant fruit and flowery aromas. Most of these are in the range of the Wolf Blass Sparkling Moscato at $15.49.
Simple Prosecco can sometimes be purchased in a can, similar to a can of pop, and is probably about as interesting. The best Prosecco is going to be labelled with the Valdobbiadene place of origin designation, but even so would not set you back very much: Santa Margherita ($20.47), Col de ’Salici ($22.95), and Caneval ($26.79).
There are quite a number of other sparkling wines in the $12-$25 price range made from a variety of grapes including Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Pinot Grigio and chardonnay.
Over the years I have had occasion to sample some of them and spotted ones I enjoy (I prefer drier styles).
With some of the above in hand, bring on New Year’s Eve!
Steve Delaney is a member of the Opimian Society. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org