BERGER: Champagne season is near
Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 4:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 4:01 a.m.
I have never been able to figure out why Champagne is seen primarily as a celebratory wine. It's so nice with the right food that it could easily be served year-around with a wide array of dishes.
Indeed, there is more myth than fact surrounding sparkling wines, which will sell more quickly from now to the end of the year than it does for the rest of the year. We are seeing far more bubbly than ever, with the advent of wines called sparkling Moscato, which are both bubbly as well as pretty sweet.
Many U.S. wineries make sparkling wines, but only a small handful of top-rate producers exist. One reason for this is the high cost of making the stuff. It's true that there are a lot of inexpensive bubble-laced wines out there, but those that sell for about $5 or so typically are made by a bulk (or Charmat) process that creates the bubbles in a few weeks. Usually such wines are made from inexpensive grapes with little character, and the wines are typically made sweet enough to have a built-in market: cola drinkers.
When made using the traditional French-devised method, it takes years, two separate fermentations, special aging, and calls for using high-caliber grapes, usually chardonnay and pinot noir. It's no wonder that the best Champagnes are well over $100 a bottle, and why more and more California sparkling wine makers are releasing "tete de cuvée" wines that are nearing the $100 mark -- to wide acceptance.
I spoke with three sparkling wine makers over the last two weeks, each of whom is making an ultra-high-priced wine. Each man said sales of the high-end stuff (all three are priced at $80 to $100 a bottle) said sales of these wines have been brisk.
"With the economy the way it is?" I asked.
Said one in response, "There's an old saying: you can tell business is preparing for an upturn in six months when sales of high-end bubbly sells go up. People are celebrating something."
Celebrating with sparkling wine or Champagne is still the way it is most widely used, but when served with food, it offers superb balance for seafood dishes done with lemon or lime, as well as other lighter dishes.
Tip: Never open a bottle until it is already chilled. Opening a room-temperature bubbly and then chilling it robs the wine of some of the precious bubbles.
Tip: Never use a corkscrew to remove the cork. Best bet is to place a towel over the cork, loosen the wire while keeping pressure on the cork, and then with the bottle pointed away from people and breakables, slowly turn the bottle to loosen the cork.
Tip: With fine bubbly, a loud pop is bad form. It shows expertise to let the cork slide out of the bottle with a subtle hiss.
Tip: Flutes are nice, but many experts prefer a standard tulip glass since it allows for the fruit aroma to be accessed more easily.
On another topic, the Five Nations Wine Challenge, a competition in Australia among five southern hemisphere nations, has added the United States to its 2013 event, rebranding the event to the Six Nations Wine Challenge.
The event began in 2003 with only three nations, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, and later added Chile and Argentina.
"It had been my goal for the last several years to grow this to create an event in which the results would represent the new world champions," said SNWC president Judith Kennedy.
"When we went from three to five nations, the judges worked so well together and the results were so good that we began to realize that we needed to add the states. Now I think we have achieved the full branding I have desired for the longest time."
I have been asked to be the sole U.S. judge for the event in which some 600 wines will compete in an invitation-only featuring 16 classes.
The judges, all wine journalists, each will select 100 wines from their own countries for the blind judging, which will take place next August in Sydney.
The other judges for 2013 are Huon Hooke (Australia), Michael Fridjhon (South Africa), Bob Campbell MW (New Zealand), Eduardo Brethauer (Chile), and Fabricio Portelli (Argentina).
Awards include Country of the Show, Wine of Show, White Wine of Show, Red Wine of Show, as well as Double Gold and Gold medals.
Wineries may not enter the competition without an invitation. For details, see the web site www.boutiquewines.com.au. Invitations will be mailed out early in 2013.
Wine of the Week: NV J Cuvée 20 Sparkling Wine, Russian River Valley ($28) -- Lime, traces of lemon and a delicate complexity from aging on the yeast lees. This terrific sparkling wine is a Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend that has just a slight bit of sweetness in the mid-palate.
Dan Berger lives in Sonoma County, Calif., where he publishes "Vintage Experiences," a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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