Come quickly, I am tasting the stars
With New Years coming up I thought it fitting that I should confess to my adoration for Champagne. I think like the famous monk i’ve quoted, I was in love from the moment the bubbles first hit my tongue. Fortunately, I have discovered a few inexpensive sparkling wines that do a decent job at captivating your palette.
So first of all here’s some savvy lingo!
Champagne VS Sparkling wine To be called Champagne the wine must come from this region in France. A sparkling wine from any other region including another french region is just that, a sparkling wine. The great news is that several other areas make sparkling wine in the traditional champagne method and can be just as tasty yet inexpensive.
Method Traditional or Method Champenoise Wine is fermented in stainless steel or oak. The first fermentation produces a bubble free wine called vin clair. Next the vin clair is blended from different grapes, regions, and vintages into a cuvee. A sugar yeast solution is added, the cuvee is bottled and laid to rest on its lees (dead yeast) for a minimum of 15 months. As it ages, bubbles and alcohol are produced from the sugar and yeast. The longer the bottles age the smaller the bubbles become and the higher the quality. After the aging the wine maker uses a process called riddling to extract the dead yeast into the neck of the bottle and removes it. A caged cork is placed on the bottle, and it is ready to be sold.
Tank method or Charmat method The sparkling wine undergoes its second fermentation in stainless steel tanks rather than the bottle and is then bottled, corked and ready for sale. Although it is the method used for higher volumes of sparkling wine it does not mean that it is an inferior method. In fact some aromatic sparkling wines such as an Italian Proseco or Muscato actually benefit from this method because there is less contact with the lees, resulting in the preservation of the fruity nose.
Vintage A term used when a particular years grapes were of such high quality that the winemaker has chosen to include only that years vin clair in the blend.
Non vintage A blend from the vin clair of different years. This again does not suggest it is inferior. In fact the great houses all make a non vintage champagne that can even exceed their vintage champagnes in quality but because it is not restricted to a single vintage yield it is usually a better value.
Cuvee A term used to describe that the juice has come from the gentle pressing of the grapes which in the traditional method extracts the best juice. Most Champagne houses pride themselves in using only the Cuvee.
Taille The remaining pressing of the grapes which the extracted juice tends to have coarser characteristics.
Brut The term refers to the level of dryness to the wine. Brut Natural is the lowest with less than 3 grams of sugar per litre, Extra Brut has 3 to 6 grams, and Brut has 6 to 12 grams of sugar.
A Few to Try
Veuve de Vernay 14.99
This is a french sparkling wine, pale straw in colour, fresh and fruity. This is my house bubbly, perfect for mixing for cocktails, or on its own. Like cream and eggs a my fridge would never dare to be without it!
Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Rose Perle D’Aurore 26.99
This one’s for the ladies, so men pay attention when you want to impress someone. What could be more feminine then a pink sparkling wine. This wine is from the Burgundy region of France and offers a hint of strawberry in the mouth with a clean finish.
Pol Roger Cuvee de Reserve Brut 65.99
The famous french magazine La Revue du Vinde, recently listed the house of Pol Roger number 2 in their revue of the top 50 houses of Champagne. This was also the house chosen to be served at the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. It was the house favoured by Winston Churchill who was famous for his words ‘Remember Gentlemen it’s not just France we are fighting for it’s Champagne’. This wine is truly elegant with flavours of Brioche and nut and almost mushroomy to the nose.
Louis Roederer Cristal Brut 277.00
Cristal is the most sought after Champagne in the world. It was originally created for Tsar Alexander the II and to this day the house still makes it according to the strictest criteria selecting only the best grapes from the vintage, village and cru (area of vineyard) . It has a golden hue, with the texture of the lightest foam and silk, while it seduces you with tastes of white chocolate and caramel. This is Champagne at it’s best, truly elegant and refined.
Sparkling wines are exciting bottles of luxury and fortunately are available in every price range. If the Cristal seems a little extravagant, just remember we may not all be able to jet set off to some exotic location or buy a Rolls Royce, but I believe that at some point in our life we all should have an opportunity to taste the stars!
Happy New Year!