John’s Wine Corner: Champagne and Sparkling Season
Champagne and Sparkling Season
Metro View: Community Home Journal, Kensington/Talmadge Edition, January/February 2017
With the elections here in the U.S. now over, and regardless of your preferred outcome, there is no better time to pour yourself a glass of what some refer to sparkling Nectar and celebrate your candidates win, mourn their loss, or forget it all and celebrate the season. Champagne and sparkling wines are the perfect complement to every celebration. With so many options to choose from the choice of which to purchase and enjoy can seem daunting.
Let’s start with some history of the bubbly concoction. The Romans were the first to plant and cultivate vineyards in Northeast France in the 5th century, now known as the Champagne region. Only varietals grown and produced in this region can claim the name of Champagne on their label. However, for decades we have all gotten used to referring to all sparkling wines as Champagne, despite the fact that only those produced in Champagne, France should own that designation. When Hugh Capet was crowned King of France in 987, it took place in the Cathedral of Reims in the heart of the Champagne region. This coronation started the tradition of bringing successive monarchs to the region and the local wine, a pale pinkish wine made of Pinot Noir grapes, was on prominent display for the royal guests and their courts.
The Champagne bubbles that are now an appreciated characteristic of the celebratory drink, were introduced unintentionally. The cold winter temperatures prematurely halted fermentation in the cellars, leaving dormant yeast cells that would awaken in the warmth of spring and start fermenting again. One of the byproducts of fermentation is the release of carbon dioxide gas, which, if the wine is bottled, is trapped inside the wine, causing intense pressure. The pressure inside the weak, early French wine bottles often caused the bottles to explode, creating havoc in the cellars. If the bottle survived, the wine was found to contain bubbles, something that the early Champenois were horrified to see, considering it a fault. As late as the 17th century, Champenois wine makers, most notably the Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon (1638–1715), were still trying to rid their wines of the bubbles.
Following the death of Louis XIV of France in 1715, the court of Philippe II, Duke of Orléans maade the sparkling version of Champagne a favorite among the French nobility. More Champenois wine makers attempted to make their wines sparkle deliberately, but it took years for them to figure out how to make bottles strong enough to withstand the pressure of the Bubbly drink.
Fast forward to today, and the Champagne region is producing more than 200 million bottles of Champagne annually. It has become the drink of choice to celebrate many moments in our lives, births, anniversaries, holidays, and life’s daily successes. There are so many choices today from French Champagnes, to Spanish Cava, domestic Sparkling wines produced here in California. All have their own unique characteristics, history, and tradition.
To simplify the choices, below are some of our favorite Champagnes and top picks to taste and enjoy this season as we ring in the coming New Year… Cheers!
Dhondt-Grellet, Dans Un Premier Temps
Champagne Savart L’Ouverture
Robert Moncuit Blanc de Blanc Brut
Robert Moncuit Les Chétillons 2008
Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru, Ambonnay NV
Larmandier-Bernier ‘Longitude’ Extra Brut, Champagne NV
Jean Vesselle Brut Reserve, Bouzy Rosé NV
Mousse Rosé ‘Tradition’ Brut NV
Hébrart Brut Blanc de Blancs NV
Vilmart ‘Cuvée Grand Cellier’ NV