We all associate sparkling wine and champagne with joyous celebrations. However, recently, many people have recognized that sparkling wine can provide a bargain accompaniment even for an everyday meal.
Making Sparkling Wine and Champagne
If you see the words 'traditional method' or 'methode traditionelle' on a bottle of champagne or sparkling wine, then it has been made using the methods originally developed in the Champagne region of France.
The first step in making sparkling wine is to create a base wine that is very acidic. Secondly, the base wine is put in a bottle with some extra yeast and sugar and sealed. A word of warning, if you are planning to make your own, the seal must be VERY strong as the build-up of carbon dioxide can be extremely powerful!
Finally, the bottle needs to be tipped forwards so that the sediment sinks into the neck of the bottle. In traditional champagne houses, the bottles are turned daily and tapped for a period of up to three months to remove the sediment. However, the more modern approach is to freeze the neck, release the sediment and then re-cork the bottle.
Only wines produced in the French region of Champagne are allowed to carry the label 'champagne'. Therefore, we are seeing a lot of sparkling wine on our shelves that is of excellent quality. Not only must champagne be produced in the Champagne region, but it must also be made from the chardonnay, pinot noir or pinot meunier grape varieties. Even the bottling method is unique to the Champagne region.
A champagne label will tell you about the sweetness of the particular champagne. For example, rich or doux champagne is very sweet with over 50g of sugar per liter, demi sec has between 17 and 35g of sugar per liter, extra dry is a label used for champagne containing between 12 and 20g of sugar per liter, brut is dry champagne with less than 15g of sugar per liter and extra brut is very dry champagne with under 6g of sugar per liter.
If you want a very special bottle of champagne look for the words “tête de cuvée” on the bottle as this refers to a premium champagne which is normally made from a single harvest.
Choosing and Serving Sparkling Wine
Sparkling wine or champagne is a popular choice for those trying to choose wine for non-wine drinkers. Champagne is known as the quality bubbly; good champagne is expensive and deservedly so. You'd be wise to avoid the cheaper end of the market as it will be at best a disappointment and at worst undrinkable.
For a cheaper alternative, often of similar quality, look for sparkling wines from areas such as Australia, New Zealand and California. France also produces some excellent sparkling wines from regions other than Champagne, for example, Saumur in the Loire Valley. Other worthy alternatives include the sparkling offerings from Italy, including the light Prosecco and the sweet Asti varieties. If you are looking for a very good value sparkling wine then consider Spanish cava. Whilst nowhere near the same quality as champagne it is a well-priced, drinkable alternative.
Sparkling wine and champagne should be served at 6 Degrees Celsius (43 degrees Fahrenheit); therefore, an ice bucket is essential from the moment the bottle of sparkling wine leaves the refrigerator. A final word of caution, when you open a bottle of bubbly, there will be a large release of gas so make sure that the cork is controlled and not pointed at anyone!
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