Good for any occasion: a sparkling idea

August 21, 2012 by John Brown

While rooting around for something to pair with the spicy baby back ribs we were going to enjoy for Sunday dinner, I grabbed a bottle of sparkling wine. And not just any sparkler, but a bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Champagne.

But doesn’t true Champagne deserve to be paired with foie gras or caviar – or at least be used to celebrate a special occasion such as a birthday, anniversary or holiday? Well, in my estimation, every day spent above ground is a reason to celebrate.

And, hey, don’t you think that that if they could, the baby backs would be thrilled to be consumed with something other than beer? Anyway, my surprised meal mates were certainly happy and I was too.

There is no question that sparkling wines are underused. We seem to forget how good they are with everyday meals, especially those that are spicy, rich or salty. And you really do have a wide variety of reasonably priced domestic and international wines from which to choose such as Cava from Spain, Prosecco from Italy and Champagne-like wines from just about every wine-producing country including the US.

You may have heard the mythical story of the monk Dom Perignon who is credited with inventing Champagne. If not, here is how that story goes.

As a Benedictine monk and winemaker living in the Champagne region of France in the late 1600’s, Dom Perignon noticed that many of his wines would re-ferment in the bottle when the weather began to warm in the spring.

Instead of allowing this second fermentation to be completed, Dom Perignon came up with the idea of corking the wine and capturing the resultant effervescence. After years of experimentation, which included developing the blend of wines comprising the final product, he is credited with creating Champagne.

The process supposedly developed by Dom Perignon and still used today is called methode champenoise or the Champagne method. Every truly great sparkling wine employs this costly and labor intensive process.

The three grapes making up the traditional Champagne cuvee (blend) are pinot noir, pinot meunier (both reds) and chardonnay. These grapes are used to make three separate wines, which are then blended by the winemaker into his final cuvee.

Nicolas Feuillatte – great with baby backs!

Once blended, yeast and sugar are added to each bottle which is then secured with a crown cap. The wine is allowed to ferment a second time in the bottle and, depending upon the quality of the cuvee, it is usually aged from two to four years.

Before the sediment arising from the second fermentation can be disgorged from the wine and a final cork secured, each bottle is turned, shaken slightly (this is called riddling) and put in a successively more vertical position for several weeks.

Once the solids are in an upside down position and in the top of the bottle, dry ice is used to freeze the sediment in the neck, the crown cork is popped and the solids are disgorged. A small amount of sugar, wine and brandy are then added back to the bottle ( this is called the “dosage”) and the Champagne cork is secured.

Other, less expensive ways of making sparkling wine have been developed, but none can compare with the complexity and quality of the traditional Champagne method.

Champagne is priced from the mid twenties to upwards of hundreds of dollars a bottle while sparklers from other places can be acquired from around $10 to $30 a bottle.

Here a few of my favorite Champagnes priced under $50: Nicolas Feuillatte; Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut; Moet & Chandon White Star; Veuve Cliquot (Yelow Label; and Perrier Jouet Grand Brut.

Sparkling wines (those made outside France, but using the Champagne method) priced under $30: Gloria Ferrer Brut; Schramsburg Brut; Domaine Carneros; Mumm Cuvee Napa; Domaine Chandon Reserve; Piper Sonoma Brut; Ste. Michelle Brut; Freixenet Cordon Negro; Dibon Cava.

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