Wine Ink: Bubbles for your troubles (column)
October 24, 2018
So we all know that nothing says celebration like a glass of Champagne. There is just something about the rising of the bubbles in a flute, the tickle on the nose and the smooth, creamy taste in the mouth that makes a special occasion better.
But I contend that even an average day, even one that has its share of wobbles, can be improved with a bit of the bubbly. There is simply no way that one cannot help but feel better after a sip of Champagne or even any other kind of sparkling wine. The next morning? Well that may be a different tale. But more on that later.
Sparkling wines for special occasions are a worldwide tradition. Throughout the world, different wine regions have their own special sparklers. In most cases, they are made to be served at weddings, on anniversaries and local holidays, or just about any other event that calls for people to get out and drink. But there are some that are also perfect for everyday consumption. No celebration needed.
In France there are over 20 regions other than Champagne where sparkling wines are made. Crémant wines are especially delicious and generally sell for peanuts compared to the wines from the major Champagne houses.
In Germany there are wines known as Sekt that sparkle and shine. The Aussies make a sparkling Shiraz which is quite nice. And then there are the Spanish. Their most famous sparkling wines, cava, come from the Penedès area in Catalonia, with a small village, Sant Sadurní d'Anoia, being home to many of Spain's largest production houses. With names like Freixenet and Codorniu, the production of sparkling wine is the main industry in this community not far from Barcelona.
Unlike Champagne, which is made from mostly chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, cava is produced from three native Spanish grape varieties: Macabeu, Parellada and Xarello. But, like Champagne, the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle. This is referred to as the "método tradicional," or traditional method. Despite this hands-on treatment, cava is very inexpensive and a great value.
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In Italy, sparkling wines are made in just about every region, especially in the North. You may have had the slightly frizzante style wines (slightly sparkling) made with Lambrusco, an Italian red grape variety. It is made in a number of areas, but specifically near Bologna in Emilia-Romagna. These wines can be frothy and a bit sweet, but when well made, they are heavenly bubbles. Then there is Spumante, or Asti Spumante from Piedmonte, and Franciacorta, also from Northern Italy.
The most well-known Italian sparkling wines in America are the affordable and endearing Prosecco wines made from a grape called Glera. Italian winemakers often use the Charmat method to produce these sparkling gems. In this process, wines undergo a secondary fermentation in stainless steel tanks before they are bottled. It is this second fermentation that produces the bubbles.
In the Veneto region, specifically the Conegliano Valdobbiadene, DOCG region, the finest of Prosecco is made under the méthode champenoise. Both time consuming and labor intensive, the méthode champenoise sees the wines undergo their secondary fermentation in the bottles themselves. This is how Champagne (and some cava) is made as well.
The méthode champenoise is the time-tested way of making the finest sparkling wines. To begin, the grapes are harvested, pressed and fermented separately to make still wines, just like regular non-sparkling wines. The winemaker then makes decisions on blending those wines together for the style to be produced.
It is here where the magic begins. The blend of wines is bottled and a mixture of yeast and sugars are introduced into each bottle to start the secondary fermentation. The bottles are sealed with a cap and over time the chemical interaction of the yeast, the sugar and the wines produce carbon dioxide, which create the bubbles in the blend. Yes, it is magic, but it is very much based on nature and science.
And about that headache. There are those who swear that they feel a bit worse for wear after drinking Champagne or other sparkling wines. It may well be true. While some blame sugar levels or sulfites, the real culprit, at least according to studies, are the bubbles themselves. It seems that CO2 in the bubbles have a tendency to allow for faster absorption of the alcohol into the bloodstream. This means that it will, as they say, go straight to your head.
Sip slowly my friends. But celebrate often.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at email@example.com.