Bubble season has arrived and bottles of Champagne and sparkling wine are popping up on retail shelves and holiday menus all over the city. Deciding which wine is right for you depends a lot on style — not yours, the wine's.
Each Champagne house builds its reputation on the style of its cuvée or blend. This is good news for the occasional Champagne sipper. Once you find a style and house you like, you can be sure that the wine from that particular house will taste the same year after year.
How does a Champagne house create a "style" for its bubbles? Simply put, base wines are carefully crafted using three permitted grape varieties harvested from various sites. Varieties in the blend may include the white grape Chardonnay for finesse or the red grapes Pinot Noir for structure and Pinot Meunier for fruitiness. These wines are then blended together, along with wines from previous years, to form the house cuvée. A house may opt to use one, two or all three grape varieties in its blend. To create the bubbles, a sugary-yeast mixture is added to each bottle, causing a second fermentation. Trapped carbon dioxide, a byproduct of fermentation, eventually dissolves into the wine, giving it the festive fizz adored around the world.
House style is also determined by the relative sweetness of the final wine. Just before bottling, a concoction of sweet wine or cognac is added to the wine to balance the acidity. The degree of sweetness is indicated on the label as Extra Brut (bone dry), Brut (dry), Sec (moderately dry), Demi-Sec (medium sweet) or Doux (sweet).
If the harvest is exceptional, a Champagne house may decide to create a vintage wine. In this case, 80 percent of the grapes in the blend must be from the stated year. Although these wines offer extra depth in taste, the mainstay of the industry is the nonvintage house cuvée.
Whether you're looking for a great gift or searching for a wine that will
add sparkle to your celebration, bubbles of all styles turn any occasion into
a special one.
Marianne Frantz, founder of the Cleveland Wine School, is joined by Ilona
Simon from Budapest Blonde in selecting bubbly wines for this month's Cellar
Paul Goerg, Blanc de Blanc, France ($35): Blanc de Blanc means Chardonnay
is the only grape in the bottle. Light-bodied Brut with intense mousse. Great
as an apéritif or with a fish course.
Pierre Jouet Grand Brut, Epernay, France ($40): Extra Pinot grapes
mean a medium-bodied and full-flavored wine. This house also produces a vintage
Belle Epoque Brut in a memorable floral bottle.
2000 Schramsberg, Blanc de Blancs, Calistoga, Calif. ($22): Brut, crisp
and fruity with 100 percent Chardonnay and more than three years of aging. Made
in the U.S., this is a sparkling wine, not a Champagne.
Taittinger, Brut Prestige Rosé, Reims, France ($60): Full-fruited,
the Pinot grapes make the blend and lend a cherry color. Great with duck or
lamb. For an apéritif, try Brut la Française from this house.
Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial, Epernay, France ($48): Large house producing the flagship Brut Imperial White Star with bright, firm, fruity flavors. This house also produces the high-priced prestige cuvée Dom Perignon.
Veuve Clicquot, Brut Yellow Label ($50): A blend of all three varieties. Medium-bodied and full-flavored with spice, fruit and crisp acidity. This house also makes a prestige label, La Grande Dame.