Sunday, December 6, 2009
Bringing Home the Bubbly
As we draw to the end of another year and a new decade (how did that happen?), many of us are searching for the right kind of sparkling wines with which to ring in a new and hopefully better year.
As every fashionista who ever heard of Yves Saint Laurent knows, Champagne is a wine growing district in France-- not a perfume and certainly not a sparkling wine grown in any other part of the world. Real French Champagne from the Champagne region is always written with a capital 'C'.
Otherwise, it's not Champagne nor is it champagne. In Spain, it is 'cava' and in the U.S. it is usually 'sparkling wine'...even if the root stock came from the Champagne region.
For obvious reasons-- shipping alone-- French Champagne costs more than American made, so in the spirit of economy, and with the excuse to sip my way through Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties, I have put together a small list of possibilities for your new years' toasts. Call it the Bubbly Blog and turn up the Michael Buble.
Note that the month of December is usually filled with wine and bubbly promotions-- if you like to lay down this sort of thing, this could be your chance to fill up the wine cave. And for those of you who haven't apprenticed in Reims as I have, a few shopping notes to remember while you are making your choice:
* Unlike wine, sparkling stuff does not have a long shelf life. For non-vintage (NV), three years is the average life span. Vintage can last 10-12 years, but don't push it.
* Like wine, the flavor in the bottle-- and the color-- is related to the type of grapes used, the blend and the length of time the skins were left in the mix. This means pink sparkling wine is a reflection of grape skins.
* Sparkling wine is most traditionally bottled in a, uh, bottle-- but there are small bottles called 'pop' that are the size of a small bottle of Coca Cola or soda pop and allow you to sip with a straw and even cans (Sofia) for added novelty.
* An unfinished bottle of sparkly should be capped with a spring-type bottle cap, which can be bought in most liquor stores. If all else fails, lay the curvature of a spoon -- basin side down--over the open bottle top to seal. When properly placed, the spoon will be balanced.
* For NV wines, French imports will be approximately $10 more than US made. For vintage years and specialty bottles or cuvees, anything goes. You can buy bubbly for $10.99 from a fairly well-rated house or you can pay $60, or more.
Finally, if you have a favorite or two, don't assume that a tasting at the vineyard will enhance your appreciation of the wine or the brand. I just went to one of my favorite French/ American brands' tasting in Mendocino and found it depressing and unfriendly (and they weren't even French). I will continue to buy that label, but only from a store. For the most part, wineries build their tasting rooms to impress and want you to enjoy your visit.
if you are in the area, check out:
*Gloria Ferrer (www.gloriaferrer.com); Sonoma
* Korbel (www.korbel.com); Guerneville
* Domaine Carneros (www.domainecarneros.com); Napa
* Mumm Napa (www.mummnapa.com); Napa
* Schramsberg (www.schramsberg.com); Calistoga
* Jeriko (www.Jeriko.us) Hopland
* Scharffenberg (split from the chocolate family years ago); Mendocino
* Domaine Chandon (www.chandon.com); Yountville