Wine Ink column: Sparklers for the Fourth of July
With the Fourth of July coming, when someone says “sparklers,” you likely think of those long, thin, metallic fireworks that emit shiny sparks in the night when lit. These are, of course, fun and beautiful to watch, but they can be crazy dangerous.
So, instead, think of “sparklers” in terms of sparkling wines. They, too, are beautiful, taste great and are much more mellow than holding a flaming stick of metal in your hand. Leave the fireworks to the professionals this year, and get yourself some bubbles to celebrate Independence Day.
Champagne is perhaps the world’s most famous wine. The effervescence of the bubbles and the creamy taste has made champagne the official wine of celebration. And don’t forget: For much of the American Revolution, the French were our allies as we sought our independence from the British. Vive la France!
There are a few things you should know about champagne. First, it can only be made in the Champagne region of France. And it must be produced from just three sanctioned grapes — pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier — which also must be grown in the region. And it must be made using the Méthode Champenoise, the time-honored technique for the production of champagne.
In the Méthode Champenoise, grapes are pressed gently with the juice separated from the skins to make still wines. The different wines are blended to the winemaker’s specifications before being placed in a bottle, where a shot of yeast and a shot of sugar are added to the blend. Once capped, the yeast and sugar begin to make magic, as fermentation begins and carbon dioxide is formed.
The wine will remain in the bottles for an extended period of time, being turned with regularity until dead yeast eventually settles in the neck of the bottle. The wine bottles are then dipped into freezing brine to expel the yeast. This is called disgorgement. They are then corked and, ultimately, sent out into the world to play their special role in our special occasions.
This is a hands-on and expensive process and, coupled with the price of land in Champagne and the image that has been created for the wines, accounts for the high price one pays for fine champagne.
There are other places in the world that specialize in the production of sparkling wine, and one of the best is northeastern Italy in the Veneto region. There, Italian winemakers use an indigenous grape called glera to make sparkling wines that undergo a secondary fermentation in stainless steel tanks, rather than in the bottles themselves. The process, known as the Charmat method, provides for a little greater control and is less expensive.
In a twist, Zonin, the pre-eminent maker of prosecco, recently has introduced a new line of limited-release prosecco under the “Dress Code” label. These wines take advantage of a change in the DOC, or Italian wine rules, that allows the use of up to 15 percent of the wine to be made from the juice of other grapes. There are three different Dress Code bottlings: a White Edition, which blends glera with pinot bianco; a Grey Edition that includes a hit of pinot grigio; and a Dress Code Black Edition that combines pinot noir with the glera.
These unique cuvees were created to provide interesting and differing flavor profiles to match and pair with both different foods and different moods. That is so Italian. Selling at just $17 a bottle, the Dress Code collection is a great addition to your summertime sipping.
And then there are the Spanish. Their most famous sparkling wines come from the Penedes area in Catalonia, with a small village, Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, being home to many of Spain’s largest production houses. With names such as Freixenet and Codorniu, the production of sparkling wine is the main industry in this community not far from Barcelona.
Unlike champagne, cava is produced from three native Spanish gapes varieties: macabeu, parellada and xarello. But, like champagne, the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle. This is referred to as the “metodo tradicional,” or traditional method. Despite this hands-on treatment, cava is very inexpensive and a great value.
There is also a move to improve the quality of cava, and, just this month, the CRDO del Cava (Cava Regulatory Board) announced a new category of cava called cava del paraje, which provides a premium class designation for those wines that are produced from single estates.
Try one … try them all. Summer is a time to sparkle.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and black Lab, Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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