Guide to Sparkling Wine
Almost every country and wine region in the world makes a sparkling wine using locally produced grapes. From the international varietals of Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir, to Shiraz in Australia, Moscato, Prosecco, and Lambrusco in Italy, to Macabeo and Parellada in Spain, you will find a diverse group of grapes that will lend themselves to sparkling wine production.
Why Sparkling Wines Sparkle
What puts the sparkle in the wine? It’s Carbon dioxide. How it gets there is another story. History tells us that this style of wine was accidentally discovered as the result of dual fermentation occurring within bottles and kegs. Today, this welcomed secondary fermentation takes places under two methods: the old fashioned Méthode Traditionnelle or the newer Charmat Method. The Méthode Traditionnelle was the first process in which Champagne was purposefully made, but demand for the product as well as production costs forced less labor-intensive methods to be explored. Today, the Charmat Method is also popular because it has the ability to produce the second fermentation in stainless steel tanks. This allows for increased production at lower costs. While the Charmat Method is more efficient; truly high-quality and complex sparkling wines can only be produced using the traditional method.
Serving Sparkling Wine
Most sparkling wine should always be served very cold, from 39 to 44 degrees. Nonvintage Champagne should be served a little warmer, from 43 to 48 degrees, and superpremium Champagnes from 46 to 51 degrees. Do not chill your bubbly in the freezer because it tends to lose its effervescence. For quick chilling, place the bottle in a mixture of ice and water for 15 to 20 minutes. Time permitting, lay the bottle down in the refrigerator for three to four hours.
Opening a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine may be a bit tricky the first time and caution should always be exercised. It is wise to remember that this wine is bottled under pressure of 90 pounds per square inch—three times greater than that of an automobile tire. Watching the cork explode from the bottle into a frenzy of froth and fizz punctuated by a loud “pop” is fine if you have just won the Superbowl, but for the average consumer, it only means the waste of a superb product!
To open a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine, begin by pointing the bottle neck away from guests, windows, the cat, etc. Unwrap the foil surrounding the wire cage. With one thumb firmly placed on the top of the wire cap (yes, even at this early stage, safety is a factor) begin twisting the wire and loosen the cage. Gently remove the wire, immediately replacing your thumb on the exposed cork. Now place the rest of your hand firmly around the rest of the cork and counter-twist the cork and bottle gently with your other hand. The idea is to resist the pressure of the cork, holding it down as it naturally pushes its way out of the bottle. Allow the cork to gently free itself from the bottle with a quiet sigh, leaving the bubbles and wine well maintained within the bottle. The glasses used should be in the shape of a long-stemmed tulip or a fluted glass to reduce the amount of air coming in contact with the wine surface. Wide-bowl saucer glasses look great in old movies, but they tend to let the bubbles dissipate too quickly, causing the Champagne to lose its effervescence.
Sparkling Wine and Food
Sparkling wine is as versatile at the dinner table as it is varied in styles. Brut or Blanc de Blancs is appropriate as an aperitif or as a reception wine, while Blanc de Noirs or Rosé Champagne pair well with full-flavored main courses and entrees. Sweeter styles may be served with dessert or just prior. Salty foods or foods fried in oil are particularly good matches for Champagne, as the bubbles provide a refreshing palate cleanser after the food. Puff pastries, cheeses, nuts, mini-sausages and other finger foods are good choices for receptions since these foods are both salty and oily. Chinese, Thai, or Japanese delicacies are also good matches with Champagne because the blend of spices, flavors and textures work so well with the wine. Of course, there is a large contingent of consumers who feel that sparkling wine needs no particular meal or reason to be enjoyed and the appropriate time to consume it is whenever the mood strikes and wherever a glass is handy!