Here’s to Champagne, Prosecco and Sparkling Wine
Tis the season to celebrate. Nothing elevates an occasion more than popping open some sparkling wine or Champagne. There is such a wide range of prices and styles that a tutorial on how Champagne and sparkling wine are made and why there is such a discrepancy may be helpful.
The Basics of Champagne:
First and foremost, Champagne is a region in France, and any sparkling wine from a different region or country is just that — sparkling wine. Champagne is made in the méthode champenoise (also called the traditional method) from just three grapes — pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay. The traditional method begins with making still wine: sugar + yeast = alcohol + carbon dioxide.
When making still wines, the byproduct CO₂ is released. Then the wine is bottled and a secondary fermentation takes place within the bottle by adding more sugar and yeast and then trapping the CO₂, creating the bubbles. Next, the spent yeast needs to be removed. This is done by a process called riddling, and in many Champagne houses it is still done by hand, and takes up to 10 weeks. Basically the bottle is wiggled and turned daily until the sediment ends up in the neck of the upside-down bottle. It is then frozen and removed and the bottle topped off. This process is very involved and results in finer fully integrated bubbles. Champagne is truly handcrafted, and the price tag is a reflection of that workmanship.
There are other methods to getting the bubbles in wine. Charmat, or the tank method, does both fermentations in a large pressurized tank, then filters off the dead yeast and bottles the sparkling wine. The most recognizable wine utilizing charmat is Prosecco, made from the glera grape. The final and least desirable method is carbonating the wine just like a soda is carbonated; this process results in large bubbles that are not integrated into the wine. Both of these methods are considerably less expensive than the méthode champenoise, which is why you can find a bottle of Prosecco for $10 and a bottle of Champagne in the hundreds.
Why choose bubbly?
Whether you choose Champagne or another sparkler, one of the greatest assets to sparkling wine is its ability to pair with anything from fried food to sushi. The bubbles act as a palate cleanser, making each bite fresh and new. It also makes any event feel more celebratory and special. So the next time you are celebrating, why not make it truly exceptional and pop open the bubbles. Cheers!
The Evolution of Champagne Stemware
The original Champagne glass — a short, shallow saucer — is rumored to have attained its shape when Marie Antoinette, queen of France during the late 1700s, had the glasses fashioned from casts of her breasts so courtiers could toast to her health from them. It was only in the last 30 years that the flute — a stem glass with a tall narrow bowl — became the glass of choice due to its ability to keep sparkling wine’s effervescence for a longer period of time than a saucer.
- Champagne Coupe
The coupe was fashionable in France from its introduction in the 1700s until the 1970s, and in the United States from the 1930s to the 1980s.
- Champagne Flute
The flute is evolving during the nineteenth century. From a relatively basic form, it became a much more complex glass. It can be excessively elongated with a very sharp bottom, but can also be “in trumpet,” that is, particularly wide-mouthed.
- Champagne Tulip
The tulip is similar to a flute but with greater bowl space: a slim base opens to a widening bowl which then narrows slightly toward the aperture (the shape of a tulip flower). The wider bowl is beneficial as it allows a little more room for aeration of the wine.