This month we raise a toast to June brides everywhere. It’s the perfect time to focus on the sparkling wines that fill our glasses. There is a dizzying (pardon the pun) variety of sparkling wines, made of many different varieties of grape – golden, rose and even red wines are made into bubbly vintages. There are the Champagnes of France, the Proseccos and Spumantes of Italy and Cavas from Spain. They can be very dry or quite sweet, full-on foaming or barely fizzy “frizzante” wines. All in all, a diverse and delightful group of wines just right for celebrating.
Champagne, the first sparkling wine to be perfected, is no doubt the most well known of this category. Only wines produced in France’s Champagne region are legally labelled with that name. The evolution of Champagne in France is a fascinating story, basically one of making lemonade from lemons, as winemakers of the early 1800’s finessed their problematic fizzy wines into what would eventually become known as the wine of Kings. Other countries then began to create other versions of sparkling wine that have become very popular in their own right.
Sparkling wines are traditionally made using the method the French created, known as methode champenois, a complex process involving two fermentations, special bottle racks and a time consuming, labor intensive manipulation of reinforced bottles, making possible the removal of dead yeast cells without the loss of bubbles. The process begins by producing a still wine from grapes that give the necessary low alcohol and high acidity needed to create the desired crisp characteristic to the finished product. The secondary fermentation creates all the lovely bubbles. Today it’s possible to carbonate wine mechanically, a faster, less expensive way to introduce fizziness to still wines.
Sparkling wines should be served very cold, to preserve their crisp flavor and slow down the release of bubbles into the air. Champagne flutes (tall, narrow glasses) are the best for serving these wines, as they give less surface area for bubbles to escape, and also allow the enjoyment of watching the tiny bubbles rise in the glass. Glasses should not be topped off, rather they should be allowed to become almost empty before refilling, thereby keeping the wine in the glass as cold as possible for the best flavor.
The French also created a system of classifying these wines by their level of sweetness. Extra Brut wines are the very, very driest, with Doux being the very sweetest. In between, there is Demi-Sec (somewhat less sweet than Doux), Sec (lightly sweet), Extra Dry (off-dry) and Brut (very dry). Be sure to read the label to know what you are serving. Dry sparkling wines are best served as an apertif or with a meal; sweeter wines taste best with dessert and afterwards.
Here at Bellview, we make a sweet sparkling wine which tastes very similar to the well-known Asti Spumante. Both are made from moscato grapes; we use muscat Ottonel. We named our wine after Jim’s mother – we wanted to name one for her, and Lettizzia seemed perfect for a fizzy wine. Our Lettizzia is demi sec, with a lovely flavor, fine bubbles, and refreshing crispness, making it perfect with fruits and sweet cheeses and other desserts. It’s also wonderful for celebrations of all kinds, especially for saluting a June graduate or raising a toast to the newlyweds. Here’s to celebrating all life’s events, great and small – cheers!