photo by Tony Blay ( http://goo.gl/Bo6Th )
The title track to the new Robert Earl Keen holiday release CD. REK is playing in Houston Dec 28th, Dallas Dec 29th and Ft Worth Dec 30th…….
Why wait till New Years to open a bottle of bubble. We should celebrate every day… Nice thought.
Well, New Years is upon us and for those people who only drink Champagne or sparkling wine at the stroke of midnight each year, this could be a guide for you.
I drink sparkling wine throughout the year and Champagne, the real deal, as often as possible.
It has been a busy final weeks with two hotels in particular, in San Antonio raising the bar this past week, with excellent wines with Champagne dinners. I was fortunate to be asked to speak at both dinners.
The first dinner was at the Westin La Contera in the Francesca dining room. Stephen Krueger, Sommelier and Ernie Estrada, Chef de Cuisine of this fabulous resort property. They know how to put on a show.
Can lighting strike twice in the same town? Well, it did a week later at the JW Marriott San Antonio resort. Sarah Conklin, manager of 18 Oaks, the restaurant that is the watering hole for the TPC golf crowd, has a dining room that is pure comfort with a steakhouse and seafood menu. They hosted a 10 course, top champagnes on the planet dinner. It is a special dinner when the first course starts with Dom Perignon and is followed by Cristal, Dom Ruinart and Grand Dame and finish with Krug…… both the MV (Multi-vintage) and vintage. Wow.
What makes champagne – Champagne?
There are several methods used to put the sparkle in wine, the most common way is to make the wine and then make the wine into sparkling wine.
This is accomplished by taking a still wine, like a chardonnay or Pinot Grigio, and then making it into a sparkling wine by fermenting it a second time with the addition of more yeast and sugar in a closed container. This yeast sugar mixture can be added to a large pressurized tank or placed in a strong, heavy glass bottle to withstand the pressure generated by the capturing of the gas.
The yeast eats the sugar and creates CO2 gas, the bubble in the wine. The yeast cells, after consuming sugar, multiply and then form sediment in the bottle or tank.
In the Tank method, the yeast will fall to the bottle of the pressurized tank and be removed by drawing it off. This is the most popular method for inexpensive bubbly, like Prosecco. The wine is held under pressure and bottled after 30-60 days in the tank. The wine is filtered and bottled in one step and sent to our waiting palates.
As with any wine, if you use inferior grapes, you will have an inferior product. The worldwide production of high quality grapes has improved dramatically over the past 15 years, making the grapes used for this style of sparkling wine better than ever. We have never lived in a better time for drinking good quality wine from all parts of the world. It is becoming hard to find a really Bad bottle of wine.
I used to flinch when I saw some of these low end sparkling wines, but now look forward to drinking them. You can also blending them to make two of the most famous popular cocktails, like a Mimosa or Bellini. I have also been known to put a drop or two of St Germain or cassis to make a Kir Royal.
The ancient method of producing sparkling wine is to bottle the wine before it finishes the first fermentation, trapping the gas. This was probably the way sparkling wine was invented, and was probably an accident. It is still a debate among different regions in France. The process is still used today in some regions. The resulting wine lacks the intensity and elegance of what we know today.
The method traditional, or champagne method, has the bubble produced in the bottle. The second fermentation is started by the small addition of sugar and yeast to the bottle and a crown cap placed on the bottle to prevent the gas escaping as in the first fermentation. The bottle has to be strong to withstand the pressure, six atmospheres, (your tire pressure is 2.5). The wine takes several months to develop the intensity of sparkle, for Champagne it is 15 month, for Spanish Cava it is 9 month.
The length of time the wine is held increases the intensity of the bubbles and drives up cost.
It is all about time and money
Time, because the longer you leave the yeast with the wine, the more intense the bubbles and the longer they will linger in the glass and on the palate.
Money, because in the traditional method, the process of making wine once and then again, is a labor intensive process and in Champagne, you are paying for some of the most expensive grapes in the world. The additional expense of aging, for non-vintage, the minimum is 15 months; vintage is 3 years and for Reserve or Tete de Cuvee, 5 or more years. The current release of Dom Perignon is 2002.
Where has the wine been for 10 years? It has been carefully blended, aged and crafted to be the finest expression of champagne. Who would be drinking a 10 year old Chardonnay these days?
I mention Chardonnay because it is one of the three primary grape used in Champagne. The other two are Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. You have heard of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but Pinot Meunier is rarely found outside of the Champagne region of France.
Champagne, real Champagne, comes from one place, the region of Champagne in France, located northeast of Paris, about a two hour drive. Until recently, Americans used the term Champagne to describe any wine with bubbles. With agreements with the European Union, we no longer use the term Champagne on our sparkling wine. Producers who had used it, will be given time to transition out of the use of the term. Champagne, the region, is recognized as the premier area of the world for producing sparkling wine. All other wine producing countries recognized the term champagne and use different terms to call their sparkling wine.
There are other exceptional areas such as Franciacorta in northern Italy, Cava from Spain, Anderson Valley and Carneros in northern California and other regions of France, that produce Cremant sparkling wines, such as Alsace, Burgundy, Limoux and Loire.
The styles of Champagne are, starting with the driest: Brut (there is extra Brut and Brut Savage or Brut Zero), Extra Dry, not really that dry and Demi Sec, which is moderately sweet. There is Doux, which is really sweet, but not found here very often.
Champagne can be made in the various styles with additional colors.
They come in Blanc de Blanc (Chardonnay only), Blanc de Noir (mostly Pinot Noir and some Pinot Meunier) and Rosé, a blend of red and white wines. Champagne is the only region in France that allows for the blending of red with white wines to make rosé wine. The others must use grape skin contact to achieve the pink color.
So when you are ready for Confetti, try some of these highly recommended wines:
France: Non-Vintage Brut:
Moet & Chandon Imperial Brut, Roederer Brut Premier, Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut, Pol Roger Brut, Laurent Perrier Brut, Bruno Paillard, Pommery Brut Royal, Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top, Delamotte Blanc de Blanc, Ruinart, Deutz Brut Classic
The Best of the Best:
Veuve Clicquot -La Grande Dame
Moet y Chandon – Dom Perignon
Krug Vintage and MV
Roederer – Cristal
Pol Roger- Cuvee Sir Winston
Cremant: French, but not from Champagne:
Albrecht Brut Rose
Simonnet Febvre Brut & Rose
Chateau Moncontour , Sparkling Vouvray
Freixenet Black Bottle
Franciacorta: Contadi Castaldi, Brut, Rose & Saten
Prosecco: LaMarca, Bisol, Maschio, Valdo, Zonin
Roederer Estate, Domain Chandon