Tonight I will be posting many recommendations and food pairings too. These will be available to you by Sunday’s dawns early light. The current information is through and extensive. If you read this post you will be an empowered consumer of Champagne, Sparkling Wine, Cava, and Prosecco.
This week WineGuyMike™ is going to be talking about bubbly Valentine’s Day. First off I’m going to be discussing what the differences are between Champagne, Sparkling Wine, Cava, Prosecco, and Spumante. Then I will suggest what might be great for your Valentine’s Day. Now let’s dig in and get to the bottom of all of this.
What is the difference between Champagne and Sparkling wine? Well let’s take a look and find out. Sparkling wines and champagne are still wines that have been infused with carbonation. True Champagne is made in France will be noted by the capital letter “C”on the label. Other sparkling wines called Champagne will by designated as “champagne”, notice no capitalization. Three grapes are used in Champagne, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. It’s white because only the juice of the grapes is used.
There are four methods of Sparkling wine production:
1. Carbon Dioxide Injection – soft drinks and inexpensive sparkling wines are produced using this method. It produces large bubbles that dissipate quickly.
2. Charmat Process – wine undergoes a second fermentation in large bulk tanks and is bottled under pressure. Prosecco and Asti are produced utilizing this method, smaller longer lasting bubbles result from this method. Many Sparkling wines are made using this method.
3. Méthode Champenoise – this process takes place in the bottle and requires hands on attention. During the second fermentation the carbon dioxide stays in the bottle and this is where the bubbles come from.
4. Transfer Method – the cuvee is bottled for the second fermentation which adds complexity. But the wine is then removed and stored in large tanks after it has spent the appropriate amount of time on yeast.
The Champagne region of France not only produces some of the finest sparkling wines in the world, but some of the finest wines in the world too. Typically there are three grapes used in the blend for sparkling wines; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Different vintages are used to create the blend or better known as the “Cuvee”.
Champagne is expensive due to the traditional method of how it is made, Méthode Champenoise and techniques known as second fermentation. This process takes place in the bottle and requires hands on attention.
Pink Champagne is strained through the Pinot Noir grape skins, truly a delight. Méthode Champenoise is the true French fermentation process. The wine is fermented twice, once in an oak barrel, and the second time the wine developes carbonation in the bottle while aging a minimum of one year.
Blanc de Blancs is true French Champagne, it is produced entirely from the Chardonnay grape. Blanc de Blancs fermented using the Méthode Champenoise process, producing white Champagne.
Designations of quality:
This Champagne is the highest priced and is available only in small quantities. It is designated “Prestige” because the grapes come from the best grapes from the highest rated villages, it is made from the first pressing of the grapes, produced only as a vintage, and will have been aged longer than vintage and non-vintage Champagnes.
Some select years produce an outstanding grape harvest. The Vintage Champagnes are aged for at least three years. Here are an example of a few companies who produce these Vintage Champagnes; Veuve Clicquot, Perrier-Jouet, Moet & Chandon, and Taittinger.
Remember a Vintage Champagne will be identified by an actual year marked on the label, but expect to pay a premium for this.
The majority of Sparkling wine on the shelf of a store is non-vintage. These are a blend of wines aged for two years.
How to Select your Champagne
- Brut is Dry
- Extra Dry is Semidry
- Sec is Semisweet
- Demi-sec is Sweet
Quality Champagne Cellars:
Ayala, Billecart-Salmon, J. Bollinger, Canard-Duchene, Deutz, Charles Heidsieck, Heid sieck Monopole, Henriot, Krug, Lanson, Lauret Perrier, Mercier, Moet & Chandon, Mumm Perrier-Jouet, Joseph Perrier, Piper Heidsieck, Pol Roger, Pommery, Louis Roederer, Ruinart, Salmon, Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot
Other sparkling Wine Regions:
Loire Valley of France produces Crémant, while the Asti region of Italy produces Asti Spumanti, and Prosecco comes from the Veneto region. The Catalonia region of Spain produces the world’s most popular sparkling wine, Cava.
Prosecco is an Italian wine, generally a dry sparkling wine, usually made from grape variety Glera, which is also known as Prosecco. The Veneto region of Italy is where Glera/ Prosecco is grown and produced.
Prosecco is mainly produced as a sparkling wine in either the fully sparkling (spumante) or lightly sparkling (frizzante, gentile) styles. Prosecco spumante, which has undergone a full secondary fermentation, is the more expensive style. The various sparkling wines may contain some Pinot Bianco or Pinot Grigio wine. Depending on their sweetness, Proseccos are labeled “brut”, “extra dry”, or “dry”, with the brut being the driest.
Unlike Champagne, Prosecco does not ferment in the bottle consequently the wine goes off or gets old quickly and should be drunk as young as possible, preferably within one year.
Prosecco is Italy’s answer to refreshing, well-made, sparkling wine that is low in alcohol, about 11 to 12 percent by volume. Created from predominately Prosecco grapes in the northern Veneto region of Italy in the foothills of the Alps. Prosecco is light, affordable, and fun. This Sparkling wine is aromatic and crisp, with nuances of yellow apple, citrus, pear, white peach, and apricot. Today’s Proseccos tend to be dry and very bubbly and typically will present itself as light, fresh, with an initial intense bouquet/aroma, but simple and straight forward compared to Champagne.
Prosecco is made using the Charmat method rather than the Champagne method, the French method of making sparkling wine. The Charmat method is a second fermentation in pressurized tanks rather than in individual bottles. The shorter, tank fermentation is preferable for Prosecco because it preserves the freshness and the flavor of the grapes.
Asti Spumante is a sweet sparkling wine with a mellow effervescence. It is produced in the province of Asti and made from the Moscato grape. Spumante is a fruit forward sparkling wine that is grapy, and has a low alcohol content usually around 8% . Moscato d’Asti is a sparkling wine that is frizzante in style and for my palette I find these wines to be more refined than the Asti Spumante.
Cava originated in the Catalonia region at the in the late 19th century. Originally the wine was known as Champaña until Spanish producers officially adopted the term “Cava” (cellar) in 1970. Cava wines are fermented and aged in the bottle in underground cellars. Today 95% of Spain’s total Cava production is from Catalonia.
Cava is produced in different styles ranging from dry to sweet; Brut Nature, Brut (extra dry), Seco (dry), Semiseco (medium) and Dulce (sweet). Under Spanish Denominación de Origen laws, Cava can be produced in six wine regions and must be made according to the Traditional Method with second fermentation in the bottle. The grapes used to produce Cava are Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel·lo, Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Malvasia. The Chardonnay grape is a late comer to the scene despite being a traditional grape used to produce Champagne. It was not introduced in the production of Cava until the 1980s.
In order for the wines to be called ‘Cava’, they must be made in the traditional Méthode Champenoise. Wines made via the low-cost Charmat process may only be called ‘Spanish sparkling wine’. A rosé style of Cava is also produced by adding in small amounts of red wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha or Monastrell to the wine.
Cava made by the Champagne method, is a very acceptable alternative to French champagne. Cava is usually made by the Coupage method, whereby must, a.k.a(grape juice) from different grape varieties is subjected to the first fermentation which is blended until it is consistent with the wine that the winemaker wants to produce . After the Coupage, the wine is put into bottles and yeast and sugar added. It is then cellared for the second fermentation and aging.
Crémant is produced in the Loire Valley of France and is the largest producer of sparkling wines outside of the Champagne region. Crémant has to be aged for at least one year and it is handpicked. The producers are also limited as to how much can be harvested, this all according to the French A.O.C.
There are seven French appelations that carry the Crémant designation in their name:
- Crémant d’Alsace
- Crémant de Bordeaux
- Crémant de Bourgogne
- Crémant de Die
- Crémant du Jura
- Crémant de Limoux
- Crémant de Loire
Crémant de Loire’s are a blend of the Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. In Burgundy, Crémant de Bourgogne, must be composed of at least thirty percent Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris while Aligoté is often used to complement the blend. The Languedoc region in the south of France produces Crémant de Limoux. This Sparkling wine is produced from the indigenous grape Mauzac, with Chenin blanc, and Chardonnay rounding out the wine in small amounts.
The Crémant Sparkling Wines are pressurized less than Champagne and therefore have a larger looser bubble as a result.
California Sparkling Wines:
Sparkling wines from California use a few grape varietals such as Berger and Chenin Blanc to blend with the traditional Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.
Producers to look for in California; Hacienda, Domain Lauier, Roederer Estate, Domaine Carneros, Domaine Chandon, Codorniu-Napa, Iron Horse, Jordan, Mumm-Cuvee Napa, and Schramsberg.
Remember the name “Champagne” can only be used in Europe on bottles that actually are produced in the Champagne region of France.
After all this your head is probably spinning and you haven’t even opened a bottle of sparkly yet, I know mine is. So here we go with a few recommendations, but remember with the information WineGuyMike™ has provided you with you should now be able to approach the shelf as an empowered consumer. You will be able to make the best purchase in your desired price range with this information. Now for the Champagne and Sparkling Wine recommendations.
Champagnes and Sparkling Wines
Schramsberg 2007 Brut Rosé is flavorful, complex and dry, making it both versatile with food and delicious by itself as an apéritif. The character of the wine is most strongly influenced by bright, flavorful Pinot Noir grown in Carneros, Anderson Valley, and the Sonoma and Marin coastal areas. A few small lots of Pinot Noir are fermented in contact with their skins to add depth and subtle color to this unique sparkling wine. Chardonnay gives spice, structure and length on the palate.
Hand picking, careful handling and gentle pressing produce a wine of delicacy, free of skin and seed tannin. Following the fall harvest and base winemaking period, an extensive process of blending trial and refinement is carried out in the spring. The finished blend is aged on the yeast in the bottle for about two years, just enough to achieve refined effervescence and toastiness without diminishing its refreshing, vibrant appeal.
“Juicy strawberry jumps out of the glass, followed by raspberry and cherries. The berry bouquet is complimented by mandarin orange and papaya. The palate has exotic flavors of mango and cantaloupe, followed by mouthwatering citrus. A juicy viscosity leads to a long, lingering finish.”
– Winemakers Keith Hock and Hugh Davies
Enjoy this rich, delicious sparkler on almost any occasion: at your favorite restaurant, a special dinner at home, at a beach picnic or a backyard barbecue. A very versatile wine; try it with sushi, salmon, rock shrimp, pizza, roast chicken, BBQ ribs, burgers, chocolate raspberry tarts and creamy cheeses with summer fruits.
L’ERMITAGE 2002 – ($45.00)
L’ERMITAGE is Roederer Estate’s special Tête de Cuvée, which has consistently been rated one of California’s top sparkling wines since its debut in 1989. Taking a cue from owner Champagne Louis Roederer, Roederer Estate produces its sparkling wines in the traditional French methode
champenoise and adds special oak-aged reserve wines to each blend. L’ERMITAGE is made only in exceptional years, of pre-selected grapes that come from the very best lots.
Fine tiny bubbles and a long lasting mousse are the usual footprints of the L’ERMITAGE cuvée. This cuvée from the palindromic vintage 2002 is showing great notes of “tarte tatin”: baked apples and buttery crust, with notes of apricot and delicate vanilla bean. The mouthfeel is creamy, expresses flavors of quince and bread crust, with a clean and crisp yet long finish.
The 2002 vintage was typical of the Anderson Valley cool climate. A dry spring and summer, with very few days of frost or heat, led to a beautiful set of the crop. The pinot had small berry size which led to some concentrated and very aromatic wines. Harvest start dates were August 23rd for Pinot Noir and September 4th for the Chardonnay.
Roederer Estate wines are made with juice from just the cuvée pressing; no première or deuxième taille is used. The concept of the vintage L’Ermitage is the same one that is used in Champagne: Only the best of the vintage is selected. These are exceptional wines that create a “noble” (special) blend that allows for longer aging, which produces a fine wine with elegance and finesse. Four members of the blending team include winemakers from Champagne Louis Roederer in France and Roederer Estate in California, together totaling over 130 years of experience. The wine for the dosage added to the 2002 L’ERMITAGE was 2002 wine liquor aged for 5 years in a French oak cask. Following disgorgement, L’ERMITAGE was aged an additional six months (minimum) on the cork prior to release.
· Argyle 2007 Brut – 90 PT. Wine Spectator Rating, 63% Oregon Chardonnay, 37% Oregon Pinot Noir, Sparkling Wine Knudsen Vineyards, Lone Star Vineyard Willamette Valley AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($25.00) Prepare to be fascinated by this alluring sparkling vintage. The aromas are a weaving together of the best that fine sparkling wines deliver. Look for vanilla spiced pear fruit with very floral citrus blossom scents. A lovely yeastiness blends nicely with fresh baguette bouquet. There’s a hint of Fresca-like citrus in there too. The palate is VIBRANT and chock full of tiny bubbles. Pear to red apple fruit folds nicely into vanilla spice. The texture is creamy-plus, providing amazing richness while remaining zippy and citrusy. The yeast flavor has evolved into filo dough right out of the oven. These flavors go on and on after the wine is gone.
- Saint-Hilaire($12.99) – Blanquette de Limoux is probably the oldest sparkling wine in the world. We know that in 1531, the Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire were already producing Blanquette de Limoux which certainly makes it France’s Oldest Sparkling Wine preceding Champagne by more than a century.
By 1794 Blanquette de Limoux was well known and appreciated throughout France. About that time, it was discovered by a famous American, Thomas Jefferson.
Among his other talents, the third American President was an expert on French Wines and Blanquette de Limoux, one of his favorites, was an integral part of his wine cellar. In fact, President Jefferson was probably the first person to bring the wine to America.
Today, Blanquette de Limoux has won the acclaim of knowledgeable wine enthusiasts throughout the world.
It is sold in the United States under the name SAINT-HILAIRE in honor of the monks who first created the wine more than 475 years ago. One taste of SAINT- HILAIRE quickly reveals why France’s Oldest Sparkling Wine is also its’ best.
The Limoux vineyards are located in Languedoc, in Southern France, at the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains. The grapes are selected from clay-limestone plots that capture both the Oceanic and Mediterranean influences.
All of the grapes are picked by hand and the wine is produced using the Traditional Method of secondary fermentation in the bottle….the same method used for Champagne. Minimum 12 months of horizontal aging in the bottle
Dry, toasty, smooth and clean SAINT-HILAIRE truly captivates with an attractive yeasty aroma and luscious creamy texture. The palate is light and crisp with citrus and apple flavors and the body is just hefty enough.
- Crémant d’Alsace Brut Lucien Albrecht – Grape: Pinot Auxerrois and Pinot Blanc.
Origin of the grapes: the vineyards on clay-chalky soil are all in the Orschwihr commune, a large vine-growing area in Southern Alsace which has an early micro climate.Analytical characteristics:
- 12° proof
- completely malolactic fermentationCrémant d’Alsace Brut Lucien Albrecht is only produced from the cuvée (only the first pressings from the press).Characteristics:
- attractive sober colour, flowery nose, fine and persistent head, very elegant and balanced mouth.
- Banfi Rosa Regale – In 1979, John and Harry Mariani, family proprietors of Banfi Vintners, acquired a mid-18th century winery, known as Bruzzone, revitalized it and renamed the facility Vigne Regali. Here, with the same detailed care as a century ago, our skilled winemakers produce “Rosa Regale” Brachetto d’Acqui D.O.C.G. This rare Brachetto, a semi-dry, red sparkling wine cherished by the courts of Europe over two centuries ago, owes its reincarnation to Banfi.
Rosa Regale is created in one of Italy’s smallest production zones, the Brachetto d’Acqui Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, commonly referred to as DOCG. It is crafted from 100% Brachetto grapes grown exclusively at the La Rosa Vineyard in the town of Acqui Terme located in the Piedmont region of Italy. The label features a single red rose, representing the wines origin from this single vineyard La Rosa estate.
Rosa Regale has a delicate bouquet of rose petals and offers sensuous flavors of fresh raspberries and strawberries. Its effervescence is softer than that of champagne, yet it yields a persistent and delicate pink froth. Its lively garnet color makes other sparklers pale in comparison. Served chilled and with a low alcohol content, it serves as the perfect partner throughout the entire meal, beginning as an elegant aperitif, moving to a savory appetizer and ending with a sweet dessert. No wine pairs better with chocolate than Rosa Regale. The bright fresh berry flavors complement the sweet velvet of the chocolate. Rosa Regale is a seductive red sparkler that turns any occasion into a celebration.
Rosa Regale is produced using the Charmat process. This method forces the second fermentation to happen in large stainless steel tanks prior to bottling, rather than in the bottle like the traditional méthod champenoise. This process is best used on sparkling wines that are meant to be enjoyed young and relatively fresh.
Cava, Prosecco, and Asti Spumante
Saracco Moscato D′ Asti ($15.00’ish) - Perfume of fresh peach, pear and aromatic white flowers. A gentle sparkle brightens the fruit and a tingle of sweetness hints of candied fruits. This wine is perfect as refreshing aperitif or a light finish to a meal. Saracco has perfected the balance of acid and residual sugar to make an incredibly light and floral sparkling wine.
- Cordon Negro Brut – 87 POINTS, BEST BUY(under $10.00)
“This is your quintessential simple quaffamong brut cavas.lt’s clean, lime-tinged and soda-like on the nose, with a correct, no-issues palate that pushes zesty apple along with sweet papaya, mango and banana flavors. It’s slightly sweet and tropical, but still it holds onto its crisp qualities and dryness. No complaints for the money.”
- Wine Enthusiast Magazine, December 15, 2010
- Cordon Negro Extra Dry – 86 POINTS(under $10.00)
“Clean and approachable, with lemon-lime aromas leading to an easy, mildly crisp palate with lemon, lime and honeydew flavors. Sweet in accordance with standard extra dry guidelines,and also good for ap~ritifs and sparkling cocktails.”
- Wine Enthusiast Magazine, December 15, 2010
- Brut Nature – 88 POINTS(under $15.00)
“Crisp as it should be, with fit aromas of apple, fresh lettuce and honey. The palate is crystal clear in its delivery of lemon, apple and green banana, while the finish is vivacious and runs the distance. Quite satisfying and fairly serious given its under-$15 provenance.”
- Wine Enthusiast Magazine, December 15, 2008
Segura Viudas Brut Reserva – ($5.99) Segura Viudas Brut Reserva, created from a blend of reserve and non-vintage wines, is clean and delicate, yet rich in flavor. A cuvée of Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo grapes grown in the renowned Alt Penedès region of Spain, the wine is vinified according to méthode champenoise technique and is aged in the bottle for a minimum of three years.
This fine cuvée is fairly crisp with an interesting floral note and mouth-pleasing sensation of creaminess.
- Brut Rose′ Cava – 60% Pinot Nior, 40% Trepat(under $10.00)
Beautiful scents of raspberry and cherry on the nose with fresh, clean strawberry and cherry flavors in the mouth and a consistent bead. The finish is clean and crisp and invites another sip.
Cristalino Brut Rose Cava is an excellent match for fried appetizers such as calamari or light desserts such as creme brulee. It is also excellent on its own or with fresh fruit.
Brut Cava($5.99) – Straw color, smooth and fresh aromas; fine and fruity palate with a dry aftertaste. Clean, dry and crisp with citrus and apple flavors.