The holiday season is here, and nothing says "celebration" better than a glass of champagne or sparkling wine. Americans tend to drink champagne only to celebrate, but it pairs nicely with a variety of foods. Since most of us save the pleasure of champagne for only these few times each year, there’s often confusion when choosing the most appropriate style of this wine. But with a few facts, you’ll almost become an expert.
The first thing to understand is that champagne and sparkling wine differ only in name-they’re produced in different regions of the world. For a bottle of wine to truly be called "champagne," it must have been produced in the Champagne region of France. Therefore, the quality of the wine isn’t determined by name or region, but by the individual producer. This allows you to find many great sparkling wines that use other terminology, including Sparkling Wine, Method Champenoise, and California-style champagne.
The champagne produced in France has a long history as the world’s supreme sparkling wine. Champagne wasn’t always a sparkling wine, as it received its name from the Champagne region in France-not from its effervescence. The bubbles in champagne first developed as a natural accident that’s now carefully fostered.
One product of fermentation is carbon dioxide gas. The gas remains in the wine while it’s under pressure, but it appears as bubbles or froth once the pressure is released. It was the development of bottles and corks that made sparkling wine possible. Once the bubbles were tamed, champagne became the first global wine-a symbol of celebration in every country.
Although Americans view champagne and sparkling wine as mainly celebratory, these wines pair wonderfully with an assortment of foods. Since sparkling wines and champagne come in a wide variety of styles and flavors, they can make the most mundane meals feel special. Familiarize yourself with these styles, and you’ll find the perfect sparkling wine for your holiday meal.
They’re classified using French terminology. The classification system uses five "style" and six "dryness" categories based on the grape composition and the residual sugar content of the wine. The most common categories are below with recommended brands or producers:
- Traditional Method. Sparkling wine made with the traditional French blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Pinot Munier grapes. Medium to full bodied with rich fruit, a silky texture, and an aromatic profile. These wines pair well with both salty and fatty foods: Domaine Chandon Brut and Veuve Cliquot Brut.
- Blanc de Blanc (White from White). Sparkling wine made from 100 percent Chardonnay grapes. They’re light and crisp with apple and citrus flavors. Their racy acidity and lively flavors make them an excellent choice for seafood, cream sauces, or other rich entrees: Domaine Ste. Michelle.
- Blanc de Noir (White from Black). Sparkling wine made exclusively from Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Munier grapes. These full-bodied wines with rich, ripe berry flavors are exceptional with tangy barbeque, pork roast, salmon, fresh fruit, and chocolate desserts: Gruet.
- Rose. Sparkling wine made from either blending red and white wine or from allowing white grapes to lie in skin contact with red grapes before pressing and fermentation. The resulting wines take on a blush color. These are the richest and fullest bodied of all sparkling wines. They offer a rare combination of earthy aromas, rich red fruit, and crisp acidity. Roses are perfect with wild mushrooms, game dishes, and other robust foods: Pommery and Laurent Perrier.
- Cremant. Sparkling wine that has half of the carbonation of a normal sparkling wine. These wines are often fruity and sometimes even slightly sweet with a light, refreshing texture. The low carbonation makes them perfect for an aperitif or greeting wine: Toad Hollow.
The following is a listing of the "dosage" or residual sugar content of traditional sparkling wine from the driest to the sweetest categories:
- Brut Natural-bone dry.
- Doux-very sweet.