Tiny bubbles in the wine.

Most people only think about sparkling wine (aka Champagne) around New Year’s Eve or when they are planning a wedding. No surprise then that most people don’t know much about those tiny bubbles (did you know that some people estimate that a bottle of sparkling wine can have up to 250 million bubbles! No wonder it goes straight to your head)! So in honor of NYE and all those awesome 2009 weddings coming up, I thought I would give a quick and simple sparkling wine primer.

(This is Penny and Shannon from a their New Year’s Eve wedding several years ago – there was lots of bubbly at their wedding!)

Regional Varieties:
Champagne – dates all the way back to the 14th century and is often used as a blanket term for all sparkling wines but technically it refers only to the wine from the Champagne region in France. Champagne often comes with a higher price tag than other sparklers so if you are just looking for the bubbles, try another variety. It can be a good money saver, especially if you are doing a ‘champagne toast’ at your wedding and very, very few people will ever know the difference.

Cremant – sparkling wine made in France in regions other than Champagne.

Cava – sparkling wine from Spain.

Prosecco, Spumante, Asti – different varieties of sparkling wine originating from Italy.

Sekt – sparkling wine from Germany.

Cap Classique – sparkling wine from South Africa.

Sweetness:
Extra Brut or Brut Naturale – really, really dry
Brut – dry and the most common sweetness among Champagne
Sec – dry with a touch of sweet, the middle of the road
Demi-Sec – sweet
Doux – basically desert in a bottle

Grapes:
Traditional sparkling wines are made from some combination of three types of grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. If you know wine, you know that Chardonnay is a white grape and the Pinots are red. The combination of these grapes give the wine their flavor and color. The bottle can give you a clue of what grapes were used.

Blanc de Blanc – ‘white of white’ in French. Chardonnay grapes are the only ones used.

Blanc de Noir – ‘white of black’ in French. This is a pale champagne made from either only Pinot Noir or both Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. During the wine making process, the red grape skins are pulled before they can tint the wine red.

Rose – ‘pink’ in French. Contains some percentage of the Pinot grapes which tints it pink. Pink Champagne on ice, anyone? (can you name that song?)

Vintage versus Non-Vintage:
Put simply, Vintage wines are usually made in small batches and are not blended. Non-Vintage wines are the most common and generally blended for consistency – vintners may blend different batches to recreate the same taste from year to year.

Enjoy your bubbly and Happy New Year! I hope that 2009 is the best year yet!

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