Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bubbling Over with Holiday Cheer - A guide to buying and serving sparking wine

You say "Champagne" but you might be buying "Sparkling Wine." So, what's the difference? Chef Erin gives a quick overview of sparkling wine, how to open and serve it, and a recipe for a champagne cocktail.




video
 

You've heard the old saying, "location, location, location" when it comes to real estate or business matters but how about wine? Well, it's the same for a number of wines including champagne. The French state that you can't call your sparkling wine champagne unless it comes from the champagne region of France. Although we use the term interchangeably, true champagne must come from the Champagne region of France. Other countries produce champagne-style wines but in deference to France call them by different names: Spain makes Cava, Italy makes Spumante or Prosecco, Germany has Sekt and America makes sparkling wine/but I've also seen some labels that call themselves "California champagne."

 

The cheaper the champagne the larger the bubbles. There are a number of different methods to get the bubbles into sparking wine. With cheaper sparklers, carbonation is shot into the bottle with a pump. Quality sparking wines are made in the traditional French method called méthode champenoise or méthode traditionelle-- a time-consuming process that allows the bubbles to form through natural fermentation.

 

Like any other wine, champagne varies in body from light to full. It also varies in sweetness from dry to sweet. The driest champagnes are called extra brut, followed by brut, extra dry, sec, demi-sec and doux. Each of these terms refers to the residual sugar in the wine. Extra Brut wines have 0 to 0.6% sugar while a Doux style will have more than 5% sugar. Everything else falls in between.

 

Champagne should be served chilled between 40 and 50 degrees F. Cold subdues the flavors in the wine so cheap sparklers should be quite chilled while better vintages can be served at 50 degrees F. A good champagne should be refrigerated for about 2 hours prior to serving. That should ensure just the right temperature.

 

Although it's fun to "pop" a bottle of champagne the proper method of opening sparkling wine is to twist the bottle gently to release the cork. There is a demonstration in the video.

 

To open a bottle of sparkling wine:
  • Pull the zipper (the serrated foil around the neck of the bottle) and remove the foil.
  • Twist the tab and remove the metal cage from the cork.
  • Hold the cork and twist the bottle (not vice versa). You'll hear a quiet hissing sound as the cork release. Frenchman say that opening a bottle of champagne should sound like the contented sigh of a woman. Those Frenchman...gotta love 'em.
  • To pour, hold the bottom of the bottle. Your thumb should rest in the punt (the dent in the bottom of the bottle.
  • Pour each glass half way full. Once the bubbles have settled, fill the glass the rest of the way.
Some notes serving:
  • Using flutes (tall, slender wine glasses) keeps the bubbles from dissipating too quickly. Old-fashioned wide-mouthed champagne glasses let the bubbles get away twice as fast.
  • Be sure that your glasses are free from dust and soap scum. Both destroy the bubbles in the wine.
  • You might want to invest in a metal champagne stopper. It will keep the bubbles in place for another day.
I can't always afford an expensive sparkling wine, so I like to make a champagne cocktail.

 
All you need is a bottle of sparkling wine. I usually use brut or extra dry, myself - a few sugar cubes and a bottle of Angostura Bitters. Drop a sugar cube into a champagne flute, add two dashes of bitters and top with sparkling wine. Delicious!

 

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