Valentine’s Day, Champagne, Sparkling wines, and a few pairing ideas made simple with WineGuyMike™


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WineGuyMike™ is going to explain a very complex area of wine as simply as I’m able to.  Do not let this topic be overwhelming but please take a moment to read this blog post, it will give you the information you need to filter through all the minutia and have the knowledge to make wise purchasing choices for your special Valentine Day celebration.  At the very end of this blog post I will have a list of wines for you to consider along with a few pairing suggestions.

You might ask what are Champagnes and Sparkling Wines?  These wines as I will refer to them are just that, although they have been carbonated in some way shape or form.  This is process that you need to know about, it is an important part of your decision making process when it comes to actually making a purchase.  

The other important thing that you need to know is; what is the “compromise” style of sparkling beverage that my Valentine and I will both enjoy on this all important day of romantic celebration.  So let’s dig in and let me give you the scoop on what you need to know to go to the store and walk up to the shelf with confidence and make that choice.

Champagne is from the Champagne region of France.  This regions entire focus is on just that and that is why it is so good.  There are three grapes that they use in their Champagne; Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay.  The juice from these grapes from different years are blended together, bottled, taken care of by hand and laid down in cool caves to become what we know as the bottle of Champagne we drink for special occasions in our lives.

Champagne that has a slightly pink color is still terrific to drink.  This occurs during the fermentation process.  The juice of the pinot noir grape is left with its skins for a short period of time and the skins impart a slight coloration to the grape juice.  This is how they create the color in Pink Champagne.  Champagne known as Blanc de Blancs is made from 100% Chardonnay and is one of WineGuyMike’s™ favorite Champagnes.

Now we know there are three different types of Champagne but what are the different types? 

  • Brut is Dry
  • Extra Dry is Semidry 
  • Sec is Semisweet 
  • Demi-sec is Sweet 

This is where the compromise comes in when celebrating a special occasion with your Valentine.  Nothing dampens an intimate celebration of your relationship faster than a wine that is to dry or to sweet for you or your partner.  So please consider this prior to making your purchase.

Let’s talk about the quality of the bottle you are purchasing and what information you need to know about this.  There are three things you need to know and on the label it will mention or not a few things that speak to the quality of the wine which will be reflected in the price.

  • Prestige cuvee or Tête de Cuvée – this is the very best juice that has also been aged the longest of all Champagnes.  This is also going to be the most expensive. 
  • Vintage Champagne – some years produce an outstanding grape harvest and there will be a Vintage Champagne as a result.  These bottles have been aged at least three years.  This will actually be noted on the label as it will have the vintage or year that it was produced on the label.  These are also expensive bottles of Champagne. 
  • Non-Vintage Champagne – The majority of Sparkling wine on the shelf of a store is non-vintage.  These are a blend of wines aged for two years.  These are typically what I and the general consumer drink.  These are still incredible Champagnes because they are produced in the traditional method or as it is known in the wine industry; Méthode Champenoise.

ethode Champenoise is industry term that signifies the traditional method of making Champagne.  The wine is fermented twice, once in an oak barrel, and the second time the wine developes carbonation in the bottle while aging a minimum of one year.

Sparkling Wine is also carbonated wine that is not produced in Champagne France.  The quality of this wine can vary widely depending on how it is produced and what the intent of the production was.  Sparkling wines may use some of the three traditional Champagne grapes; Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay.  Typically a wine maker will also use grapes that are common to the region in which they are located; this does not mean that it won’t be good quality.

The best Sparkling Wines will be made using what will be noted on the label, “traditional method”, ethode Traditionnelle or you may see ethode Champenoise but that term is becoming less popular to use on Sparkling wine labels.  So this and the information we covered in the Champagne section of this blog post is really what you need to know about Sparkling wines.  Remember the same terms, quality designations, and types of wines apply to Sparkling Wines apply to your purchasing decisions.

Now we are going to talk about “other” Sparkling wines.  There are three that I’m going to address for you.  The three that are important for you to know about are Prosecco, Cava, Asti Spumante, and  Moscato d’Asti.

 Prosecco is an Italian wine, generally a dry sparkling wine, usually made from grape variety Glera, which is also known as Prosecco.  The Veneto region of Italy is where Glera/ Prosecco is grown and produced.

Prosecco is mainly produced as a sparkling wine in either the fully sparkling (spumante) or lightly sparkling (frizzante, gentile) styles.  Prosecco spumante, which has undergone a full secondary fermentation, is the more expensive style.  The various sparkling wines may contain some Pinot Bianco or Pinot Grigio wine.  Depending on their sweetness, Proseccos are labeled “brut”, “extra dry”, or “dry”, with the brut being the driest.

Prosecco is made using the Charmat method rather than the Champagne method, the French method of making sparkling wine.  The Charmat method is a second fermentation in pressurized tanks rather than in individual bottles.  The shorter, tank fermentation is preferable for Prosecco because it preserves the freshness and the flavor of the grapes.

Unlike Champagne, Prosecco does not ferment in the bottle consequently the wine goes off or gets old quickly and should be drunk as young as possible, preferably within one year.

Prosecco is Italy’s answer to refreshing, well-made, sparkling wine that is low in alcohol, about 11 to 12 percent by volume.  Created from predominately Prosecco grapes in the northern Veneto region of Italy in the foothills of the Alps.  Prosecco is light, affordable, and fun.  This Sparkling wine is aromatic and crisp, with nuances of yellow apple, citrus, pear, white peach, and apricot.  Today’s Proseccos tend to be  dry and very bubbly and typically will present itself as light, fresh, with an initial intense bouquet/aroma, but simple and straight forward compared to Champagne. 

Asti Spumante is a sweet sparkling wine with a mellow effervescence.  It is produced in the province of Asti and made from the Moscato grape.  Spumante is a fruit forward sparkling wine that is grapy, and has a low alcohol content usually around 8% .  

Moscato d’Asti is a sparkling wine that is frizzante in style and for my palette I find these wines to be made in a more refined style than the Asti Spumante.  The Moscato d’Asti is an aperitif or dessert wine though and will definitely be on the sweet side.  I use this wine as an opener or a closer but not an all evening drink of choice.

Cava originated in the Catalonia region at the in the late 19th century.  Originally the wine was known as Champaña until Spanish producers officially adopted the term “Cava” (cellar) in 1970.  Cava wines are fermented and aged in the bottle in underground cellars.   Today 95% of Spain’s total Cava production is from Catalonia.

Cava is produced in different styles ranging from dry to sweet; Brut Nature, Brut (extra dry), Seco (dry), Semiseco (medium) and Dulce (sweet).  Under Spanish Denominación de Origen laws, Cava can be produced in six wine regions and must be made according to the Traditional Method with second fermentation in the bottle.  The grapes used to produce Cava are Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel·lo, Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Malvasia.  The Chardonnay grape is a late comer to the scene despite being a traditional grape used to produce Champagne.  It was not introduced in the production of Cava until the 1980s.

In order for the wines to be called ‘Cava’, they must be made in the traditional Méthode Champenoise.  Wines made via the low-cost Charmat process may only be called ‘Spanish sparkling wine’.   A rosé style of Cava is also produced by adding in small amounts of red wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha or Monastrell to the wine.

Cava made by the Champagne method, is a very acceptable alternative to French champagne.  Cava is usually made by the Coupage method, whereby must, a.k.a(grape juice) from different grape varieties is subjected to the first fermentation which is blended until it  is consistent with the wine that the winemaker wants to produce .  After the Coupage, the wine is put into bottles and yeast and sugar added.  It is then cellared for the second fermentation and aging.

Crémant is produced in the Loire Valley of France and is the largest producer of sparkling wines outside of the Champagne region.  Crémant has to be aged for at least one year and it is handpicked.  The producers are also limited as to how much can be harvested, this all according to the French A.O.C.

There are seven French appelations that carry the Crémant designation in their name:

  1. Crémant d’Alsace
  2. Crémant de Bordeaux
  3. Crémant de Bourgogne
  4. Crémant de Die
  5. Crémant du Jura
  6. Crémant de Limoux
  7. Crémant de Loire

Crémant de Loire’s are a blend of the Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. In Burgundy, Crémant de Bourgogne, must be composed of at least thirty percent Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris while Aligoté is often used to complement the blend.  The Languedoc region in the south of France produces Crémant de Limoux.  This Sparkling wine is produced from the indigenous grape Mauzac, with Chenin blanc, and Chardonnay rounding out the wine in small amounts.

The Crémant Sparkling Wines are pressurized less than Champagne and therefore have a larger looser bubble as a result. 

WineGuyMike’s™ recommendation is to determine your price point for your purchase and  with all the information you have learned from this post you will be able to make a knowledgeable selection and not just a guess.  One of the very best bangs for the buck is Cava.  It is a terrific Sparkling Wine that is made in the “traditional method”, or ethode Traditionnelle.  For me this is a great budget selection.  You will be able to find great selections from $6.00 to $15.00 that are sure to satisfy. 

Champagne and Sparkling Wine list:

Schramsberg 2007 Brut Rosé is flavorful, complex and dry, making it both versatile with food and delicious by itself as an apéritif.  The character of the wine is most strongly influenced by bright, flavorful Pinot Noir grown in Carneros, Anderson Valley, and the Sonoma and Marin coastal areas.  A few small lots of Pinot Noir are fermented in contact with their skins to add depth and subtle color to this unique sparkling wine.  Chardonnay gives spice, structure and length on the palate.

“Juicy strawberry jumps out of the glass, followed by raspberry and cherries. The berry bouquet is complimented by mandarin orange and papaya. The palate has exotic flavors of mango and cantaloupe, followed by mouthwatering citrus. A juicy viscosity leads to a long, lingering finish.”– Winemakers Keith Hock and Hugh Davies

L’ERMITAGE 2002 – ($45.00)

L’ERMITAGE is Roederer Estate’s special Tête de Cuvée, which has consistently been rated one of California’s top sparkling wines since its debut in 1989.  Taking a cue from owner Champagne Louis Roederer, Roederer Estate produces its sparkling wines in the traditional French methode champenoise and adds special oak-aged reserve wines to each blend.  L’ERMITAGE is made only in exceptional years, of pre-selected grapes that come from the very best lots.

Roederer Estate L'ERMITAGE Brut 2002

Roederer Estate L'ERMITAGE Brut 2002

Fine tiny bubbles and a long lasting mousse are the usual footprints of the L’ERMITAGE cuvée.  This cuvée from the palindromic vintage 2002 is showing great notes of “tarte tatin”: baked apples and buttery crust, with notes of apricot and delicate vanilla bean.  The mouthfeel is creamy, expresses flavors of quince and bread crust, with a clean and crisp yet long finish.

Gosset Champagne Brut Grande Reserve

 
 

Gosset Brut Grand Reserve Champagne

Gosset Brut Grand Reserve Champagne

 The non-vintage Gosset Brut Grande Reserve Champagne is delicious, dry and flavorful, sporting citrus, spice, apple and pear flavors on a firm, lightweight frame

Argyle 2007 Brut – 90 PT. Wine Spectator Rating, 63% Oregon Chardonnay, 37% Oregon Pinot Noir, Sparkling Wine Knudsen Vineyards, Lone Star Vineyard Willamette Valley AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($25.00) Prepare to be fascinated by this alluring sparkling vintage.  The aromas are a weaving together of the best that fine sparkling wines deliver.  Look for vanilla spiced pear fruit with very floral citrus blossom scents.  A lovely yeastiness blends nicely with fresh baguette bouquet.  There’s a hint of Fresca-like citrus in there too.  The palate is VIBRANT and chock full of tiny bubbles.  Pear to red apple fruit folds nicely into vanilla spice.  The texture is creamy-plus, providing amazing richness while remaining zippy and citrusy.  The yeast flavor has evolved into filo dough right out of the oven.   These flavors go on and on after the wine is gone.   

Argyle Brut

Argyle Brut

Saint-Hilaire($12.99)Blanquette de Limoux is probably the oldest sparkling wine in the world.  We know that in 1531, the Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire were already producing Blanquette de Limoux which certainly makes it France’s Oldest Sparkling Wine preceding Champagne by more than a century.  The Limoux vineyards are located in Languedoc, in Southern France, at the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains. The grapes are selected from clay-limestone plots that capture both the Oceanic and Mediterranean influences.

Dry, toasty, smooth and clean SAINT-HILAIRE truly captivates with an attractive yeasty aroma and luscious creamy texture. The palate is light and crisp with citrus and apple flavors and the body is just hefty enough.

Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux

Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux

Crémant d’Alsace Brut Lucien Albrecht – Grape: Pinot Auxerrois and Pinot Blanc.

Origin of the grapes: the vineyards on clay-chalky soil are all in the Orschwihr commune, a large vine-growing area in Southern Alsace which has an early micro climate.  Crémant d’Alsace Brut Lucien Albrecht is only produced from the cuvée (only the first pressings from the press).
Characteristics:
– attractive sober colour, flowery nose, fine and persistent head, very elegant and balanced mouth.

Antech Limoux Cuvee Expressions Cremant De Limoux Brut

 
 

Antech Limoux Cuvee Expressions Cremant De Limoux Brut

Antech Limoux Cuvee Expressions Cremant De Limoux Brut

 Notes of fresh toast, fresh apple and a hint of peach.  This full-bodied and very wine-like bubbly combines flavor with a ton of finesse.

Cava, Prosecco, and Asti Spumante

Saracco Moscato D´ Asti ($15.00’ish) – Perfume of fresh peach, pear and aromatic white flowers. A gentle sparkle brightens the fruit and a tingle of sweetness hints of candied fruits.  This wine is perfect as refreshing aperitif or a light finish to a meal.  Saracco has perfected the balance of acid and residual sugar to make an incredibly light and floral sparkling wine.

Saracco Moscato D' Asti

Saracco Moscato D' Asti

Adami Prosecco ($13.00)           

Moderately fine, persistent, and frothy mousse. Lovely, elegant scents of green apples, white wildflowers, minerals, and glazed almonds. The palate is dry but still generous with flavors of yellow cherries and tropical fruits, and a very long finish.  This Sparkling wine is aromatic and crisp, with nuances of yellow apple, citrus, pear, white peach, and apricot.

Adami Garbel Prosecco

Adami Garbel Prosecco

Banfi Rosa Regale  is crafted from 100% Brachetto grapes grown exclusively at the La Rosa Vineyard in the town of Acqui Terme located in the Piedmont region of Italy.  The label features a single red rose, representing the wines origin from this single vineyard La Rosa estate.

Rosa Regale has a delicate bouquet of rose petals and offers sensuous flavors of fresh raspberries and strawberries.  Its effervescence is softer than that of champagne, yet it yields a persistent and delicate pink froth.  Its lively garnet color makes other sparklers pale in comparison.  Served chilled and with a low alcohol content, it serves as the perfect partner throughout the entire meal, beginning as an elegant aperitif, moving to a savory appetizer and ending with a sweet dessert.  No wine pairs better with chocolate than Rosa Regale.  The bright fresh berry flavors complement the sweet velvet of the chocolate.  Rosa Regale is a seductive red sparkler that turns any occasion into a celebration.

Freixenet

Cordon Negro Brut – 87 POINTS, BEST BUY(under $10.00)
“This is your quintessential simple quaffamong brut cavas.lt’s clean, lime-tinged and soda-like on the nose, with a correct, no-issues palate that pushes zesty apple along with sweet papaya, mango and banana flavors.   It’s slightly sweet and tropical, but still it holds onto its crisp qualities and dryness.  No complaints for the money.”
Wine Enthusiast Magazine, December 15, 2010 

Cordon Negro Extra Dry  – 86 POINTS(under $10.00)
“Clean and approachable, with lemon-lime aromas leading to an easy, mildly crisp palate with lemon, lime and honeydew flavors.  Sweet in accordance with standard extra dry guidelines,and also good for ap~ritifs and sparkling cocktails.”
Wine Enthusiast Magazine, December 15, 2010 

Brut Nature – 88 POINTS(under $15.00)
“Crisp as it should be, with fit aromas of apple, fresh lettuce and honey.  The palate is crystal clear in its delivery of lemon, apple and green banana, while the finish is vivacious and runs the distance.  Quite satisfying and fairly serious given its under-$15 provenance.”
Wine Enthusiast Magazine, December 15, 2008 

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva – ($5.99) Segura Viudas Brut Reserva, created from a blend of reserve and non-vintage wines, is clean and delicate, yet rich in flavor. A cuvée of Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo grapes grown in the renowned Alt Penedès region of Spain, the wine is vinified according to méthode champenoise technique and is aged in the bottle for a minimum of three years.

This fine cuvée is fairly crisp with an interesting floral note and mouth-pleasing sensation of creaminess.

Cristalino

Brut Rose´ Cava – 60% Pinot Nior, 40% Trepat(under $10.00)

Beautiful scents of raspberry and cherry on the nose with fresh, clean strawberry and cherry flavors in the mouth and a consistent bead. The finish is clean and crisp and invites another sip.

Cristalino Brut Rose Cava is an excellent match for fried appetizers such as calamari or light desserts such as creme brulee. It is also excellent on its own or with fresh fruit.

Brut Cava($5.99) – Straw color, smooth and fresh aromas; fine and fruity palate with a dry aftertaste. Clean, dry and crisp with citrus and apple flavors.

What to eat and enjoy with your Champagne and Sparkling Wine

Here is a link to my wine and recipe pairing application you will find useful if you plan to dine in.  Consider oysters, shell fish and gently seasoned lighter fish when you search for recipes with my Wine & Dine app. to pair with your Sparkling Wine or Champagne choice.  http://winendine.snapapps.com/default.aspx?ctrl=FoodRecipePairing

As for a dessert to pair with your beverage selection stay with a lighter fair as this will work very well with the Champagnes and Sparkling Wines.  Fresh non-citrus fruits will work very well as a pairing, think about chocolate covered strawberries and melon type fruits.  They are fantastic as a light dessert to go with your wine selection.

The whole idea is to really enjoy your evening with your date.  WineGuyMike™ recommends choosing a nice beverage that’s within your price range.   With the information we have learned about in this Valentine’s Day blog post you will be able to make good choices.  Don’t drink too much, it will compromise the enjoyment of your evening.  Eat light, you don’t want to feel sluggish or to full and weighed down.  Enjoy yourself but approach the evening with moderation of drinking and eating your evening will be much more memorable.  Be safe and have a Happy Valentine’s Day.

"from my table to yours"

"from my table to yours"

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