It’s a fact that more than three-quarters of all Champagne sales occur between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy good bubbly year-round.
Well-made, dry sparkling wines are among the most versatile in the world. They pair with summer foods, appetizers, and picnic fare especially well.
Sure, real Champagne (from the Champagne region of France) is often a cut above cheaper bubbly from elsewhere. But some very fine sparklers, at everyday prices, are available from other parts of Europe and many regions in the New World.
In Spain the sparkling wines are labeled cava, in Germany sekt, in Italy spumante. When made according to the Champagne method (fermented in the individual bottle), the process is complex, and time- and labor-intensive.
That doesn’t always make the wine more expensive; right here in Washington you can easily find Domaine Ste. Michelle’s sparkling wines, all fermented in the bottle, selling for around $10. Or, try Spokane’s Mountain Dome sparkling wines ($15), also made with the traditional Champagne method. What the méthode champenoise does guarantee is a better wine than almost anything done in a vat.
Chill your sparkling wine more than other table wines, but don’t freeze it. If it is too cold, all aroma and much flavor is lost.
Tall flutes are still the preferred serving glass, but in summer weather I just as often use café-style tumblers. If your fizz is bubble-challenged, remember that some glasses may be too smooth for the bubbles to get a grip. Try pouring the wine into another glass; you might also scratch the bottom of the obstinate flute with an ice pick.
When opening the wine, have a clean dish towel at hand. Remove the foil, revealing the wire cage. Before you loosen it, drape the towel over the bottle top, then carefully untwist the wire. If the cork decides to launch itself the towel will keep it contained. Most of the time, the wire cage can be removed without incident.
Keeping the towel in place, grip the cork with your left hand and twist the bottle with your right hand. Ease the cork gently out, with the bottle tilted at a 45-degree angle. If you do this correctly, a slow hiss will indicate that the pressure is gently escaping, and the wine will not come frothing out.
When pouring, also tilt the glasses at a 45-degree angle; this will keep the wine from foaming excessively.
Some of the most bone-dry sparkling wines come from Spain; these are especially refreshing in hot weather. The MPX brut and brut rosé ($12) are good examples, made with Spanish grapes: macabeo, parellada and xarel-lo for the brut, and monastrell (with a little pinot noir) for the rosé.
The brut is yeasty and bracing, a perfect foil for smoked chicken, while the cherry flavors that run through the rosé might be interesting when set against a cold salmon entrée.
The Bronco Wine Company is known for such gems as Two Buck Chuck, but hidden among the literally dozens of brands they make is the Domaine Laurier brut, chardonnay-based and priced around $12. That’s a pretty good deal – it’s a little sugary, but clean as a whistle.
Rotari is a well-known Italian brand, and offers traditionally made sparkling wines from a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir.
The Talento brut ($13) is a clean, lemony, slightly waxy wine, perfectly refreshing. The Talento riserva brut ($16) is well worth the extra bucks. It’s creamy, nutty and deep, with a streak of butterscotch running through the finish.
Prosecco is a summertime favorite – low in alcohol, slightly less fizzy than most other sparklers, and intensely fruity. The lower the alcohol, the sweeter the style; I prefer them fairly dry, so I look for alcohol 11 percent or higher.
Mionetto ($13) is a quality offering, with green apple flavors highlighted by scents of fresh orange peel. Caposaldo ($13) is also widely available, made by the Charmat (tank-fermented) method, perfectly fine on its own or as a base for Bellinis.
The best new entry into the low-cost bubbly sweepstakes this year comes from Cupcake Vineyards. This popular line of still wines recently added two new sparkling wines to its portfolio. Both are made in France’s Loire Valley.
The Cupcake Vineyards NV Blanc de Blanc ($16) is quite light and lively, all chardonnay, and just 12.5 percent alcohol. The Cupcake Vineyards NV Rosé ($16) is pure pinot noir, a lovely pale sunset color, and comes close in flavor to some rosé Champagnes costing three times as much.