Sparkler Sampler

An ‘around Europe’ sampling of sparkling wines, my favorites, was a great opportunity at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. With the start of the holiday season this week, its the perfect time to share more about bubbles and some to try during the upcoming festivities.

Let’s start with a little about how sparkling wine is made. As yeast ferments the sugar in grape juice to produce alcohol and wine, it produces carbon dioxide gas as the by-product. To make sparkling wines, the winemaker puts the wine through a second fermentation, adding sugar and yeast to the wine to create carbon dioxide bubbles (either in the bottle which is the Traditional/ Champagne method and most expensive OR the Charmat method in stainless steel fermentation tanks).

* France’s Champagne

  • First stop is the best known sparkling wine… Champagne. According to legend, Dom Pérignon, the Benedictine monk and cellar-master of the Abbey of Hautvillers, is the father of champagne. Champagne can only come from the Champagne region of France (only 45 minutes via fast train from Paris). The region, the most northern and coolest vineyards in France, is perfect for the grapes that are used in Champagne … Red Pinot Noir, Red Pinot Meunier or Chardonnay. The famous Champagne ‘houses’ buy most of the grapes from the growers in the region and each house has its own style of producing Champagne (like Blanc de Blanc means white from whites only using Chardonnay grapes).
  • Möet & Chandon is the most popular producer/house (they also produces Dom Perignon…created only on years that the harvest is precisely suitable and aged 7 years before released) and were featured at the Festival. They were serving up their 4 champagnes: White Star Impérial (their flagship), Rosé Impérial (the Glamoruous Champagne), Nectar Impérial (the Daring Champagne) and Nectar Impérial Rosé (the Extravagant Champagne). Each stop had great signage describing and mapping your tasting.
  • I enjoyed had a glass of their flagship White Star Impérial. It represents all of Champagne’s nuances as its made of Chardonnay to give it freshness, elegance and citrus; Pinot Meunier to give it white fresh fruit flavor and roundness; and Pinot Noir to give it structure and spiciness. Its a lively bright glass for all occasions (but a little drier than I like). Approx retail $35.

* Spain’s Cava

  • Next stop on our walk around the world… Spain for Cava. First introduced in 1872, the sparkling wine is produced mainly in the Penedès region in Catalonia, south west of Barcelona. Bordered by the Mediterranean Sea and the Montserrat mountains make it ideal for cultivating the Macabeo, Xarello and Parellada grapes (the most common grapes for Cava). Its made using the Traditional Method thus very similar to champagne.
  • Giró Ribot, Spain’s pre-eminent producer of Cava, was serving their Cava Paul Cheneau Lady of Spain.  An elegant sparkling Cava with the French influence of styling, aged for 9 months it has green tints, tiny bubbles like champagne with a honey and herbal taste. Approx retail $10.

* Italy’s Prosecco

  • Next country Italy for my personal favorite… Prosecco. This dry sparkling wine comes from the Veneto Region of Italy (north of Venice) and the Glera grape. Prosecco is produced in the Conegliano and Valdobbiadene regions which became DOC in 2009. Not to be confused with Asti Spumante, the sweet sparkling wine produced in the Piedmont region of Italy, this is the sparkler also traditionally used inthe Bellini cocktail. Prosecco is produced using the Charmat method making the wine less expensive to produce.
  • I sipped a juicy glass of Caposaldo Prosecco…with a nose and taste of citrus, green apple & acacia notes, it has good body and signature medium to larger bubbles of Prosecco. Approx retail $13.

* Germany’s Sekt

  • Last stop on the bubbles tour… Sekt in Germany. German production of sparkling wines dates back to 1826 when Georg Christian Kessler founded G. C. Kessler & Co. to produce the wine after previously working for the French Champagne house Veuve Clicquot. Sekt uses Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir Grapes. The majority is produced using the Charmat method.
  • In Germany I enjoyed a nice glass of P.J. Valckenberg Madonna Sekt, a fruity sparkling full body wine made in the Rheinhessen region of Germany. Approx retail $11.

Cheers to the bubbles of Europe! May you enjoy many glasses this holiday season!