No occasion calls for something sparkling more than New Year’s Eve. From amateurs to experts, we’ll all most likely grab something with bubbles to celebrate. So, before you purchase something to “pop” — here’s some Q & A to help make your last (wine) decision of 2016 a remarkable one.
Ready!? Here we go…
Q: What’s the difference between champagne and sparkling wine?
A: “Sparkling wine” is the umbrella term for all wines with bubbles. In order to be champagne, the wine must be produced in Champagne, France, using the traditional method of champagne production, aka, méthode champenoise, as well as the traditional grapes for making it — pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay. Wines produced anywhere else in the world, even if they are produced using the same method — think cava from Spain — are not technically champagne.
Bray’s pick: While there’s no hiding from the ubiquitous “yellow label” of Veuve Clicquot Brut, I strongly recommend checking out Paul Goerg Brut NV at the Knife & Fork Inn in Atlantic City for $15 a glass.
Q: Where exactly do the bubbles come from?
A: There are two main methods of producing bubbles. The first is the traditional or champagne method, where the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation during which added yeast and sugar form CO2 bubbles — the yeast eats the sugar and expels alcohol and CO2. This process allows the wine to gain complex, biscuity flavors. In addition, the bubbles will be smaller, less aggressive and last longer. The second method is the charmat method, where the wine undergoes secondary fermentation in pressurized stainless steel tanks. The pressurized environment allows the yeast/sugar mixture to create CO2 more quickly, and the process is thus much more cost effective — think prosecco from Italy.
Q: Why is prosecco so popular?
A: Because prosecco uses the charmat method, it keeps labor and price down and it tastes great. Prosecco wines are made from the prosecco grape, which is also known as glera. These wines are produced in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy. They are typically marked by aromas of flowers and stone fruit — peach and nectarine are good examples — with touches of vanilla. These wines are dry, although they do taste slightly sweeter than traditional champagne.
Bray’s pick: At $15 per bottle, Bele Casel Prosecco, found at Circle Liquor in Somers Point, is a must try.(tncms-asset)78675926-c7be-11e6-ab97-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Q: Is cava more like champagne or prosecco?
A: In terms of taste, cava is far closer to champagne because it is made in the traditional method. Usually dry and comprised of indigenous varieties of macabeu, xarel-lo and parellada, Cava reveals characteristics of a toasty and yeasty mid-palate with vibrant and sometimes racy fruit.
Bray’s pick: The beauty of cava is in the price. An outstanding example is Dibon Cava found at Passion Vines for $12 per bottle.
Q: What does “non-vintage” mean, and why are so many sparkling wines non-vintage?
A: If a wine is “non-vintage,” or NV, it means that that wine has been produced using grapes from multiple harvest years. Champagne houses and sparkling wine producers create NV wines by blending juice from different harvests in order to produce a house-style that is consistent each year. If a producer recognizes that they’ve enjoyed a particularly spectacular harvest, they may choose to create a vintage wine that year. These wines will be more expensive since they are produced from a smaller and more elite group of grapes.
Bray’s pick: No matter where you’re celebrating, you can count on seeing Dom Perignon. If you choose Bobby Flay Steakhouse at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, you’ll find the 2006 vintage for $470.
Q: How do I know if a sparkling wine is sweet or dry?
A: The terms used to designate the level of sweetness in sparkling wines are a bit confusing. The most common terms you’ll see on bottles are Brut Nature, Brut and Extra Dry. Brut Nature is the driest of the bunch — “bone dry” is an accurate descriptor here; Brut is still very dry as well, as the most common style you’ll encounter; and Extra Dry is still dry, but not as dry as Brut. If you’re not satisfied and want to know a bit more, here’s the complete list of terms, in order from driest to sweetest: Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec, Demi-Sec, Doux. The ripeness of the grapes and the amount of sugar added during dosage will impact the sweetness of the finished wine.
Bray’s pick: A must-try wine is Gruet Brut from New Mexico, made in the traditional method, found at Downbeach Liquors in Margate for $15 per bottle.
Q: What’s the difference between Blanc de noirs and Blanc de blanc?
A: Blanc de noirs literally translates as “white from black.” This indicates champagne made from “black” grapes, such as pinot noir and/or pinot meunier. Juice obtained from dark grapes is still white; due to some contact with the dark skin of the grapes, this juice will take on a slightly yellower color than champagnes made with white grapes. Blanc de blancs literally translates as “white from whites.” This term is used to designate champagne made entirely from chardonnay grapes. Lastly, there is also rosés. These are produced either by allowing the clear juice of black-skinned grapes to macerate on the skins for a brief time or, more commonly, by adding a small amount of still pinot noir to the batch of sparkling wine. Rosé champagne is one of the few wines that allows for the production of rosé by the addition of a small amount of red wine during blending.(tncms-asset)59166c64-c940-11e6-9b67-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Bray’s pick: An excellent example of Blanc de blanc is 2013 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs which can be purchased at Joe Canal’s in Egg Harbor Township for $33.99.
That’s the quick sip when it comes to bubbles. I hope, as a part of your visioning for 2017, that you include some “wine goals” in your plan. Better yet, I hope I have the privilege to share a glass with you. Cheers to making 2017 the best year yet!
Michael Bray is the founder of Passion Vines Wine & Spirit Co. in Somers Point and Egg Harbor Township. He has an incredible passion for the world of wine. Over time, he and his team have turned Passion Vines into a full-service, award-winning liquor store that specializes in the world’s greatest wines, spirits and beer. Email Bray at Michael@passionvines.com. Go to PassionVines.com.