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Discovering the world of champagne and sparkling wine


Sparkling like a beautiful winter sky over the canals of Venice, Prosecco is Italy?s answer to champagne and the sparkling collections of the world. Produced in Veneto, Prosecco is a late ripening varietal and can be frizzy and delicious. Prosecco is harvested in a cooler region of Italy in late October or early November.

It tends to have a little bitterness at the finish. Lovely with cheeses or shellfish, there are great values to be found in Prosecco.

Using traditional sparkling wine-making techniques, the Spanish have made their footprint on the bubbly world with a delectable of their own that they call Cava. This term was first used in the 1970s, when the Spanish agreed to abandon the use of a term that could be misleading ? Champana.

Cava translates to cellar and originates in Catalonia, where it is mostly produced. It is primarily made of the three grapes, Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-Lo. Macabeo makes up about half of the blend. The indigenous Xarel-lo is the second most important part and gives Cava its distinctive earth tones. Total production of this lovely wine is around 1.5 million gallons a year.

The best Cavas must adhere to the rigors of the champagne method. It must spend at least nine months on its lees before disgorgement and meet a minimum of 10.8 percent by volume. Cava is best paired with cheeses and oysters, but will work wonderfully with a turkey dinner. It is very inexpensive and can be found at most wine shops.

The premier sparkling of Europe, champagne, comes from the Latin term campania, used to describe the rolling open countryside north of Rome. In the early middle ages the term was brought to northeast France, where it has carved itself a name into greatness and permanency despite only producing one in 12 bottles of sparkling wine made in the world today. Champagne?s dirty little secret that renders it better than that produced in the rest of the world is a combination of its latitude and precise position. Its latitude is higher than most all growing regions on Earth except for that of England, which produces only marginal bubbly.

Far from the equator but close to the sea, it ripens just wonderfully. Its position means that the early ripening used to make champagne reach the proper levels of sugar and acidity before autumn sets in. Global warming is altering this and could soon have a terrible impact on not only champagne but all the wine regions of the world. For anyone who doesn?t believe in this, I encourage a meteorology course at the Santa Rosa Junior College.

There are also many other parts of the world that are producing some wonderful sparkling wine, including a sizeable industry right here in California. They pair fantastically with salty french fries, melons and berries, and, of course, my favorite ? oysters.

For this, Vine and Barrel will be hosting the third annual champagne and oyster tasting on Dec. 13 from 3 to 5 p.m. There will be 20-plus houses of champagne, Cava, Prosecco and sparkling. Pat?and steak tartare will be served, along with some fine cheeses, and the Sift Cupcakery will share some of the world?s best cupcakes. There will be live music. Cost is $30 per person.

(Jason Jenkins is the owner of Vine and Barrel, a wine shop at 143 Kentucky St. He offers Wednesday night wine education classes from 6 to 8 p.m. and Saturday tastings from 4 to 7 p.m. He can be contacted at 765-1112. The Web site is www.vineand barrel.com)