Ah bubbly, champs, champers, pop bottles, sparkling… whatever you call the stuff, it’s delicious. And while most people reserve the fizz for special occasions and New Year’s Eve, I’ve come to enjoy it all year ’round, just when I’m in the mood for something fantastic.
So, I’m taking it upon myself to share what I know, in hopes that you can find yourself a fabulous bottle of bubbly, whether it’s to celebrate 2015, or just to enjoy whenever — because this is a treat for the masses.
The titles: Champagne, Prosecco, & sparkling wine — what’s the difference?
Champagne comes from grapes in the Champagne region of France — this is strict. It cannot be called Champagne if it didn’t come from Champagne! Because of the strict rules, Champagne is considered to be high brow, above all other sparkling wines.
Prosecco comes from the Northeast region of Italy (Venice, Verona). Prosecco is one of the main DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin) wines in Italy, meaning their labels must state their zone of origins and those wines must meet a certain standard when it comes to planting, cultivation, fertilizing, and even production.
Everything else is usually called sparkling wine — doesn’t mean it’s any less tasty, it was just grown in a different region of the world.
The prices: Is all bubbly going to break the bank?
Heck no! Champagne tends to be expensive (at least $30 per bottle) just because of its high standards. But, as I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t have to be Champagne. You can absolutely find a fantastic bottle of sparkling wine for $12.
I wouldn’t recommend going much cheaper though. While it may taste great, or be good for mixing a cocktail, you (or your guests) are going to suffer the following day. Cheap bubbles (which usually equals more sugar) lead to killer hangovers.
The pairing: What should I enjoy with my champers?
This part is kind of up to you. Many “experts” say bubbly should only be enjoyed with delicate foods, but hell with it — there’s way more food to be enjoyed next to a glass of fizz.
Modern wine enthusiasts say buttery, rich foods that are high in fat are really what we should be eating with our bubbly. Don’t mind if I do! Here are some ideas:
— Rich greens: avocado, asparagus, mint
— Seafood: scallops, clams, oysters, smoked salmon
— Berries: fresh, cakes, pies, tarts
— Nuts & cheese (includes fried mozzarella)
— Game: duck, rabbit
— Salty snacks: potato chips, fries, popcorn
The pop: What’s the right way to open a bottle?
A majority of the sparkling wines you’ll encounter will have a cork, along with a wire cage and a foil cover. Start by removing the foil and carefully removing the wire.
Next, point the bottle away from everyone and any valuables (you never know!), and hold the cork in place while twisting the bottle. I’ve heard that it helps to have your other thumb under the bottle in the center’s groove.
Remove the cork with ease. Contrary to popular belief, there should be no pop — a pop sends a shock throughout the wine, and often ruins the bubbles! If possible, let the air out by tilting the cork to one side.
Serving & storing: How do I get the best out of my bottle(s)?
Serve sparkling wine in a wine glass or a flute. If you don’t have a flute, go for the standard wine glass. Store it away from light, in a climate-controlled fridge, if possible, or just the fridge. Hold the glass from the stem as to not warm the wine with your hands.
Don’t purchase bottles that have been displayed near a window (even 30 minutes of sunlight can turn a sweet rose into a garlic buffet, seriously).
If, and this is a big IF, there is any wine leftover, store it using a spring-loaded cap to keep the bubbles in-tact.
Recommendations: What should I look for?
Of course, we’re going to have differences in taste when it comes to wine and bubbly, but I’ll share some of my favorites. Perhaps my all time favorite is from Ponte Winery in Temecula, California (which I had the pleasure of visiting).
It’s their Moscato, which has very light bubbles and refreshing flavors of apple, and even a hint of lemon. A real treat!
I also love the Almond Sparkling Wine from Wilson Creek Winery (another one I’ve visited) — though it’s rich, and sweet, so it is meant to be enjoyed in small amounts.
Any Prosecco I usually love. Zardetto is actually one of the first companies to distribute Prosecco in Italy and has really smashed the market. You’ll probably recognize the bottle and would be able to find it in your local liquor store for under $15.
If you’ve got a good wine shop nearby, keep your eyes open for a bottle of Passione Brachetto d’Acqui — sounds fancy, runs for about $28/bottle. Completely delicious.
I was lucky enough to taste this in a wine class I took years ago, and it turned out to be one of the recommended wines of 2009 by the Washington Post. It is a red wine, but still features fizz, and although it has a berry flavor, it is spiced with nutmeg and clove. Yum!
If you’re looking for a bubbly that meets the expectation of any occasion, look for etoile Rose ($45/bottle). It’s basically a sparkling wine with a hint of pinot noir added in — hence the name. A very good, exclusive wine that’s definitely worth the extra cash.
And for my final recommendation, it’s got to be the Royal Cuvee by Gloria Ferrer ($27/bottle). It has a unique, crisp mix of berries and apple, which results in a long, delicious finish.
…Well, that does it for my Bubbly Basics! I know it was a long read, but I hope you learned something about one of my favorite varietals. May you have a year full of fizz and fun! Cheers!
Do you know what Dom Perignon said after inventing champagne? He called out to his fellow monks, ‘Come quickly: I am tasting the stars.’
—The Fault in Our Stars