The holiday season is again fast upon us and now comes the stress and indecision– what to serve? Although, there are a vast array of beverage options, for me, nothing makes a festive occasion pop more than a little fizz in the glass.
What can be better than sipping on this magical elixir with its perky bubbles that tickle the palate pleasingly? Not only are well-made versions of fizz fun to drink, but most are also very food friendly and can pair with everything from oysters to poultry ending on dessert. Of course, drinking fizz solo can be magic, too.
The Traditional Way
Some sparklers are made in the ”Traditional Way” or what used to be referred to as the Méthode Champenoise, the method used to make Champagne. In Champagne, the effervescence is produced by adding a mixture of yeast, sugar and wine, known as “Liquor de Tirage” to the bottles of dry still wine. The addition of sugar and yeast causes a secondary fermentation in the bottle, which creates the bubbles.
Other Methods of Bubble Making
The Charmat Method, used notably in Prosecco and Asti production requires putting wine into tanks where it undergoes a secondary fermentation and then is later bottled under pressure.
The Transfer Method similar to the traditional method involves putting a mixture of wine, yeast and sugar (liquor de tirage) into a bottle for its secondary fermentation. The main difference between the traditional method and the transfer method is that after the wine has gone through its secondary fermentation, it is then transferred into a larger pressurized tank where the sediment is filtered out and the dosage is added. This is a cheaper process than the traditional method where each individual bottle needs to be disgorged (the sediment removed) and dosage(sugar+wine) needs to be added.
Other sparklers are made by simply injecting carbon dioxide (CO2) to a still wine, the same process used to make soda
What is Dosage?
The addition of the “Liqueur d’Expédition” is used in sparklers made using the Traditional or Transfer method and is a solution of cane or beet sugar mixed into a small amount of reserve wine. Liqueur d’Expédition is added to the wine just after disgorging, a process by which the lees are removed. The amount of sugar in the Liqueur d’Expédition or grams of sugar per liter added to the wine is referred to as dosage and determines the category of champagne, which is based on sweetness level.
The dosage determines the sweetness level of the resulting Champagne. Bone dry “Brut Nature” or “Zero Dosage” or “Non-Dosé” styles, roughly 0-3 grams sugar, to Extra Brut at around 0-6 grams, Brut (0-15 gram residual sugar), Extra Dry or Extra Sec (12-17 g/l RS), Sec or Dry, which has perceptible sweetness (17-32 g/l RS) and at the end of the spectrum to the sweetest Demi-Sec ( 32 to 50 g/liter RS) and Doux styles more than 50 grams/liter Residual Sugar.
Non-Vintage (NV) Versus Vintage
Most sparklers are a blend of different vintages and are referred to as NV or non-vintage blends. It is common in Champagne, Cava and other regions where the traditional method is used to find sparklers made with wine from a few different vintages or over several vintages used in its blend. This adds a richness and complexity to the resulting sparkler and masks potentially weak vintages with better one. The goal of most Champagne houses is to have a style that they replicate through the years and blends over multi-vintages often allows this.
Only the best grapes are chosen for vintage sparklers and usually are sourced only in better or superior vintages depending on the producer. Vintage wines are usually aged longer than non-vintage wines, too.
Grape Varieties Used
Sparkling wines are made using a variety of grapes. Typically, Champagne from France is comprised of one or all of the three main grapes grown in the region; Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Although, .3% of Champagne is planted with White Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris and are among the other grapes allowed in the making of Champagne, these varietals aren’t often seen in the large brands most people are familiar with.
Outside of Champagne, one can find fizzes made with all sorts of grape varietals, namely everything from Riesling, Macabeo, Xarel-lo, Glera to red varietals such as Syrah/Shiraz.
The bottom line, sparkling wines come in all flavors and sweetness levels. There is sure to be one that fits the occasion and palate of any guest.
Below are some Great examples of sparkling wine options for the upcoming holidays:
2011 Cuvee Memoire Brut Nature Blanquette de Limoux, France
It is thought by some historians that the first traditional method sparkling brut wine in the world came from Limoux, and more precisely, was discovered by the monks of the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire, long before Champagne was discovered. Blanquette de Limoux is mostly (about 80% at least) made up of the traditional Mauzac grape with often a bit of Clairette, Chardonnay and/or Chenin Blanc added to the blend.
This example of Blanquette de Limoux comes from a 4th generation run family estate located by the foothills of the Pyrenees. Made from organic grapes, this sparkler has zero dosage and a blend of Mauzac and Chardonnay. The wine spends 8 months on the lees and is aged 24 months on the laths, it is a rich and minerally with some pear notes.
Montlouis Cremant de Loire NV, France
Made in the traditional way with 100% Chenin Blanc, this cremant has about 7 grams of residual sugar and exhibits lots of apple, honey dew and nectarine flavors.
Paul Berthelot Libertine NV, Champagne, France
There is something fun about Champagnes made with 100% Pinot Meunier, such as this one. Often fruit forward with red fruit flavors like juicy wild strawberries, this is just a fun wine that is somehow serious all at the same time. Coming in at around 7 grams of sugar, this is in the middle range of Brut.
Paul Berthelot Libertine NV Brut Zero, Champagne, France
This 5 generation grower Champagne producer made this Champagne by sourcing Chardonnay grapes from 35 year old vines and then leaving for a minimum of 3 years on the lees; zero dosage added. Toasty vanilla, citrus, custard with some mineral notes.
Pure Prosecco NV Veneto Spumante, Italy
Very fruity, floral, mineral peach notes. Simply yummy.
2009 Armilla MCC Avondale Paarl, South Africa
Made with 100% Biodynamic/organic Chardonny grapes, 3 years on the lees, this is a bold sparkler with ripe baked apple, quince, toasty vanilla and hazelnut flavors.
Louis Barthelemy Brut Zero Topaze NV Chardonnay, Champagne, France
Made from 20% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, and 40% Pinot Meunier, this Champagne is a blend of mostly the 2008/09 vintage. Grapefruit, lemon with mineral notes.
Cave Jean Bourdy Cremant du Jura NV Trousseau, France
Made with 100% Trousseau grapes this wine exhibits rose petals floral notes along with juicy strawberries and raspberries along with slight oxidative quality, this has spent 4 months on the lees.
Cave Jean Bourdy Cremant du Jura NV, France
Made from 100% Chardonnay this cremant has spent 4 month on the lees. Displaying some oxidation, this sparkler has some custard, stone fruit, citrus, salty minerality characteristics.
2010 Hoffmann & Rathbone Blance de Blanc, England
Made from a boutique producer in East Sussex this Blanc de Blanc is made from 100% Chardonnay. After 4 years on the lees and 7 grams dosage this is a complex sparkler, with citrus