You can’t beat that sparkle

There’s more to sparkling wine than Champagne

“I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes, I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it if I am; Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.”
— Madame Bollinger, one of the “grande dames” of French Champagne (1884-1977)

I’m drinking stars, I think, considering the ribbons of bubbles in my glass. It’s glorious Champagne, of course, or more correctly, sparkling wine. Mere adjectives can’t reasonably describe the dance of the famous wine on the palate: perlante, frizzante, pops, whoosh, hiss, chatter, tingle.

There is probably not a more universally known wine than Champagne, nor have I ever met a person who could turn away a glass. It’s celebratory and elegant, exciting and festive. So what better time to enjoy it than the holiday season?

I unreservedly believe that sparkling wine (it’s only called Champagne when it’s from Champagne, France) is the universal pairing wine – it matches effortlessly with food, especially holiday fare, which can be tremendously varied. Bring bubbles to the office party, or give an exciting toast at your Christmas or Hanukkah dinner. Let’s give it as gifts, or drink it to commemorate the New Year. The possibilities are endless. Take a bottle to your best employee or your greatest friend! Just opening a bottle of bubbly is an exciting production and will immediately spark(le) some conversation.

My preferred sparkling wines tend to be from California – sorry, Champagne – and I also have a deep love affair with rosés. No, a rosé does not automatically portend sweetness; not every pink wine is white zinfandel. In fact, most rosé sparkling wines are more exclusive than their counterparts in the same winery. So yes, a rosé will be a little more expensive (+$10-$20) and well worth every penny. Rosés tend to have a greater structure than traditional sparklers because of the greater influence of red grapes. Typically a winemaker will blend a small percentage of red wine into the base white wine, before the secondary fermentation (which is when the bubbles are produced). Though rosé sparkling wine doesn’t taste remarkably different from traditional brut, there is a hint of strawberry, cherry and raspberry that makes all the difference, clinching the win.

Some hints on what a label will indicate:
Extra (or Ultra) Brut: means super dry – not a hint of sweetness within miles; its lack of sugar is a bonus if you are counting your macros.
Brut: It’s dry; there is a little bit of sugar in there, but really you can barely detect it.
Extra Dry/Dry: I know, so confusing, but it has more sugar than the previous two.
Demi Sec: It’s getting sweeter in this bottle, but still not dessert-wine sweet.
Doux: This translates to sweet in French. It’s the sweetest category of Champagnes.

Here are my favorites and suggestions, from “girl/guy on a budget” to “this is your inheritance:”
Gran Sarao Cava Rosé Non Vintage, Spain, $10; Mumm Napa Brut Rosé NV, Napa, $25; Schramsberg Brut Rosé 2012, Napa, $45; Laurent Perrier Brut Rosé NV, Champagne, $80; Dom Perignon Rosé 2003, Champagne, $350

First appeared in the December 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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