Everything You Need To Know To Enjoy Sparkling Holidays!

More than any other time of year, the holiday season is the time for bubbly.   The challenge is the terminology around sparkling wine can be confusing.  For example, and bubbly labeled “Extra Dry” is actually sweeter than one labeled “Brut”, which is the standard for dryness in sparkling wine.  And since retailers are heavily promoting bubbly during the holidays, the myriad of choices can be overwhelming.  How do you know which one to pick?  I’ve been tasting sparkling wines from around the world and blogging about it in my “TGIF Champagne…and the like” on weekly basis for the last 10 months.  That’s a lot of bubbly! I’ve learned a lot about bubbly along the way. Here’s a quick primer to help you navigate the sparkling wine landscape before you head out to the store this holiday season.

Català: Bombolles de xampany rosat

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Types of sparkling wines:

Champagne – Sparkling wines are produced all around the world, but due to a legal treaty, the term “champagne” is reserved exclusively for sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region of France (although thanks to being grandfathered in to a trade agreement between France and the US, Korbel refers to their sparkling wines as “California Champagne”) Champagne is widely regarded as the best sparkling wine.  Most champagne producers have an entry-level champagne that falls in the $35-$45 range.

Cava – Sparkling wine produced in Spain using the traditional method.  Typically made from grapes indigenous to Spain.  Good to very good Cava can be found in the $10-$20 range.

Prosecco – Sparkling wine produced in Italy typically using the Bulk Charmat method.  Asti is another Italian sparkler produced in the Asti region of Italy.  Good to very good Prosecco can be found in the $10-20 range

Cremant – Sparkling wine produced in France outside of the Champagne region using the traditional method.  This is where you’ll find more budget-friendly bubbly from France.  Look for Crémant from Loire, Rhone, and Burgundy for good value.

Methods of producing sparkling wines

All sparkling wines begin life as still wines.  Then they go through a secondary fermentation.  Unlike still wines, which go through one fermentation, sparkling wines go through two fermentations.

When a wine undergoes secondary fermentation in tanks or vessels, that is known as the Bulk Charmat method (a.k.a. Metodo Italiano).  When a wine undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle, it is known as the Traditional Method.  The Bulk Charmat method is a less expensive method of producing sparkling wines.  However, the wine produced using the traditional method can be more complex with smaller, longer lasting bubbles.

Styles of sparkling wines:

Non-vintage (“NV”)Most sparkling wine is a blend of wine from multiple vintages. Most of the base for the blend will be from a single vintage with typically anywhere from 10-15 % being from older vintages.  If a producer determines the grape harvest from a particular year is exceptional, then they may produce a “vintage” sparkler using grapes harvested in that year only.  Most sparkling wine producers produce a non-vintage bubbly because blending enable production of a consistent taste from year to year.

Blanc de NoirsSparkling wine produced exclusively from black grapes, such as Pinot Noir, or Pinot Meunier.

Blanc de BlancsSparkling wine produced exclusively from Chardonnay grapes.  If someone on your list is a fan of Chardonnay look for this style.

Rosé – A sparkling wine produced by either leaving the clear juice from black grapes to soak in the own skins for a brief period of time, or by adding the juice adding a small amount of red wine to the blend thereby producing a pink bubbly.  Rosés tend to be the most food friendly (and expensive) style of sparkling wine, though you can find some good ones for less than $20. Rose bubbly makes a great gift, and is a perennial top seller during the holidays because if its attractive hues hint at cranberris, holly berries and other seasonal ingredients.

Prestige Cuvée – In Champagne, a producer’s top of the line sparkler.  

Sweetness of Sparkling Wine:

The amount of residual sugar in sparkling wine determines its sweetness.  There are well-established guidelines for this.  Starting from the driest (least amount of sugar) they are:

Brut nature, or sans dosage  – no sugar added

Extra brut  – very dry

Brut – Dry; the most popular style and probably the most food friendly

Extra DryOff dry; meaning sweeter than Brut, but not as sweet as “Sec”.  These make very good aperitifs

Demi-sec – Sweet; pair with desserts or fruit

For specific suggestions of sparkling wines to try, check out these posts:

Top 10 Sparkling Wines Under $20

And the winner is…

Chocolate Truffle Tart and Sparkling Wine – An Odd Couple?


I truly enjoy it when my adventure through “Winedom” takes me to unexpected places, particularly when it comes to wine and food pairings.  Such was the case when a friend suggested I give Rosa Regale a try after reading my post about our wine club’s blind Champagne Tasting.  He didn’t say much about it other than it was “great” with chocolate.  Better yet, the next day he gave me a bottle.  Yes indeed – action does speak louder than words!

After receiving the bottle, I was intrigued because Rosa Regale is a red sparkling wine.  I’m no stranger to red sparkling wine, having enjoyed one for Thanksgiving, but a red sparkling wine that would pair well with chocolate, I had to know more!

Here what I found out – Rosa Regale is produced in Italy’s Piedmont region in the Brachetto d’Acqui DOGC – Denominazione Di Origine Controllata e Garantita, which is a specific geographic area in Province of Alessandria. It’s a spumante (which means foaming) made from the Brachetto grape sourced exclusively from a single vineyard known as La Rosa. The Brachetto, is a red grape used to produce both still and sparkling wines.  It tends to produce light bodied, highly aromatic wine with a distinctive strawberry aroma.  And to my surprise I also discovered that Italy produces more sparkling wines from more different grape varieties than any other country in the world!

I decided to try the Rosa Regale with a Chocolate Truffle Tart for our Christmas Eve dinner.   The Chocolate Truffle Tart is dense, rich, intensely chocolate dessert with soft, almost gooey center abounding with bits of chopped bittersweet chocolate on top of a flaky chocolate crust that contains a touch of cinnamon.  The filling is topped with unsweetened cocoa that contrasts beautifully with sweetness of the filling.  And since up to this point whenever I’d thought of a wine to enjoy with chocolate, I thought of Port, I decided to also pair the dessert with a 1997 Dow’s Colheita Porto I had on hand.

I tried the dessert with the Rosa Regale first, and it was a wonderful pairing indeed!  The Rosa Regale was sweet enough to stand up to the sweetness of the Chocolate Truffle Tart.  I picked up raspberry flavor when I tasted the Rosa Regale, and that raspberry flavor was fabulous with the dessert.  And the two together brought to mind a bittersweet flourless chocolate cake topped with a raspberry coulis.  But what I really enjoyed about the Rosa Regale was how the acidity and effervescence inherent in a sparkler cleansed my palate for the next bite.  When pairing food and wine, options include mirroring the food, or setting up a contrast.  For me the Rosa Regale was more of a contrast because it wasn’t as sweet as the dessert, but the fruitiness was a delightful compliment to the dessert.  On the other hand, the Porto more so mirrored the sweetness of the dessert. The Porto also paired well with the dessert, but I enjoyed the Rosa Regale more.  Not only because of the contrast, and effervescence, but also because of the versatility of Rosa Regale.  Flexibility is an important consideration for me when pairing food and wine, and I can easily see how the Rosa Regale would work not only with dessert, but as an aperitif,  appetizer, or with a variety of entrees, (Spicy ethnic foods come to mind – for other pairing suggestions with Rosa Regale click here).  It easily trumps Porto for food pairing flexibility.

Yes indeed…the more I learn, the less I know…and thankfully so!

A Thanksgiving that sparkled!

Assortment of wine from Domaine Chandon in Yar...

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Better late than never I suppose…

Having just recently embarked upon doing a wine blog, it was interesting to see the diversity of opinions about which wine(s) to serve for Thanksgiving.  After posting my blog about Thanksgiving wine, I came across a couple blogs I found informative and interesting. The first was 1Wine Dude’s take on the subject, which said in a word, it’s all about acidity, and a Snooth post that advocated pairing the wine to the dressing. Both of the blogs resonated with me.

So after contributing my small voice to the chorus of Thanksgiving Wine angst, you might be interested to know which wines we had for Thanksgiving.  Well I decided to take a sip of my own Kool-Aid and go with all sparklers for our Thanksgiving meal, one red  and one rosé.  For the red, we went with Korbel Rouge ($12)  a blend of Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Syrah (Click here to see my review)  and for the rosé, we went with Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Rosé “Perle d’ Aurore” ($14 @ K&L Wine Merchants – click here to see my review), which is a blend of 80% Pinot Noir, and 20% Gamay Noir.

Both played well with our Thanksgiving meal (Deep-fried Turkey, Savory Bread Pudding, Creamed Spinach, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Homemade Cranberry Sauce with Pear and Fresh Ginger, and Ol’ No. 7 Yams.).  I enjoyed both.  The Korbel Rouge because I enjoyed combination of the body (fruit, acids, and a bit of tannins) of a red with the palate cleansing acidity (scrubbing bubbles anyone?) of sparkling wine, and the Rosé because I tend to like Pinot based sparklers the most, and because it underscores my believe that Rosés should be year-round wines rather than just summer wines.

Would we do it again – in a heartbeat!, but it we don’t it’ll only be because we want to experiment with something else!

Thanksgiving, Wine and You!

Thanksgiving Dinner

We’ve decided to deep-fry our turkey for Thanksgiving this year. Initially I wondered if deep frying the turkey vs. roasting it one way or another would influence by decision about what wines to pair with the turkey.  My initial conclusion: only slightly because the deep-fried turkey tends to be more flavorful than a roast turkey in my experience. But then I realized I was over-thinking it.  There’s a tendency to do that, I think, with holiday meals because a) there are so many flavors involved, and b) wanting to please everyone with wine(s) selected.  Especially Thanksgiving, which can be perceived to be especially challenging, with the combination of sweet, savory, and spicy flavors.

Figuring out which wine(s) to serve with your Thanksgiving meal doesn’t have to be daunting, especially if you work with versatile wines. Here are my thoughts on the matter…

The first thought that comes to mind is to select a red and a white to keep those who are going to drink wine happy.  But indulge me for a moment. If I had to pick one wine to go with Thanksgiving dinner, it wouldn’t be a white or a red; it would be a dry rosé, and probably a dry sparking rosé at that. Dry rosés are very versatile, and can handle the diversity of flavor and “weight” profiles that are part and parcel of Thanksgiving fare. You add the effervescence of a sparkler to the mix and you’ve got the Swiss army knife of wines (See my blog about Rosés – “Everything is coming up Rosés for me” below)!

Now back to my original thought of having a mix of red and white wines. I recommend the following:

1.       Start with a sparkling wine. It’s a great aperitif to sip while waiting for the turkey to finish cooking, and it goes well with starters like appetizers, soup, and salad.  Beside it adds a celebratory note to Thanksgiving.

2.      For white wine, the safe bet is a dry, or off-dry Riesling. Rieslings play well with spicy, sweet or sweet dishes. It’s an aromatic grape that typically produces wines with almost perfumed aromas of flowers, and stone fruits (apples, pears, peaches, and apricot), and it’s high in acidity, which makes it a versatile pairing partner for your Thanksgiving meal.   Other good choices are Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Gris. Looking to expand you, and your guests wine palates? Try an Albarino, or Viognier.  While they lack the name recognition of Chardonnay, either will offer more versatile pairing power for your Thanksgiving meal than many Chardonnays.

3.      For red wine, the safe bet is a Pinot Noir, a traditional favorite red wine for Thanksgiving. Pinot Noir’s fruitiness, subtle earthy undertones, and acidity tend to show well with the traditional flavors of turkey and stuffing. Not a fan of Pinot Noir?, try a Beaujolais Nouveau a light fruity red wine made from the Gamay grape will pair well with turkey and all the fixings. Beaujolais Nouveau is released from France on the third Thursday of November, just in time to highlight your Thanksgiving feast!  Or even better try a Cru Beaujolais which is step up in quality.

4.      And remember about a wine to pair with dessert.  Madeira would work well with pumpkin/sweet potato pie, or pecan pie, while a port, would work with chocolate desserts.  Looking to shake it up a bit on the dessert wine front?  Try an ice wine, or late harvest Riesling, especially with cheesecake. Just remember the dessert wine should be sweeter than the dessert.

Of course, at the end of the day choosing a Thanksgiving wine is truly about what pleases you and yours. There are no hard and fast turkey pairing rules, but there are lots of options to experiment with.

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