Fizz the Season
Prepare to pop better bottles this New Year’s Eve and all year long with our ultimate guide to sparkling wine.
Known as méthode champenoise (in Champagne), méthode traditionnelle (elsewhere in France), metodo classico (in Italy) and métode tradicional (in Spain), the traditional method of making sparkling wine involves a second fermentation within the bottle.
After primary fermentation, the base wines are blended and bottled with sugar and yeast. The CO2 released by the yeast remains trapped in the bottle to create effervescence.
Once the second fermentation is complete, the bottle is riddled—placed neck-down at a 45-degree angle and intermittently spun (originally, by hand; now, largely, by machines). This helps gather the dead yeast (which looks like pasty, wet sand)at the neck of the bottle. Next, this yeast-filled neck is disgorged—usually it’s flash frozen, the top is popped, and thanks to the pressure of carbon dioxide, the frozen yeast plug shoots out (at about 60 mph). Finally, the bottle is topped off with a mix of base wine and sugar called liqueur d’expédition—the amount of sugar in this determines the wine’s sweetness—and recorked. Only sparkling wines made in Champagne can technically claim to use the méthode champenoise. Outside of the region, the majority of high-quality bubblies employ this tried-and-true method, including Spanish Cava, Italian Franciacorta, French Crémant, Portuguese Espumante, South African Cap Classique and many American sparkling wines, among others.
This big-batch method—ideal for wide array of grapes—begins like méthode champenoise, but the second fermentation takes place en masse in giant tanks, not individual bottles. And while it’s a supersized and often cheaper way to make bubbles, it still can produce top-shelf wine. Many Proseccos, Astis, Lambruscos, Australian Sparkling Shirazes and German Sekts are
made using the Charmat method.
A hybrid combination of the traditional and Charmat methods, it begins with two rounds of bottle fermentation. The wine is then transferred under pressure to tanks where it’s filtered and then goosed with a dose of sugar before it’s bottled and corked. Transfer is a popular process among makers of Australian Sparkling Shiraz.
Also called méthode ancestrale, this is likely the first way sparkling wine was made. The wine is bottled before primary fermentation is completed, and left to complete the process while sealed and prior to sale. Cerdon du Bugey is one example.
The Flaw In The Flute
The reason your glass of sparkling has a single, gorgeous bead of bubbles streaking up the middle is because your fancy flute is flawed—perfectly. For bubbles to form, they need essentially something to latch onto. Flutes, therefore, often have a tiny nick at the bottom of the slightly tapered vessel that starts the whole show. If a glass is perfectly smooth, the bubbles form on the rim and pop off without much flair.
Grand Cru: Highest quality
Premier Cru: Second-highest quality
Brut Nature/Brut Zero/Zero Dosage: No added sugar
Extra Brut: Very dry
NV: Nonvintage, a blend of several years’ wines
Blanc de Blancs: White wine made from all-white
Blanc de Noirs: White wine made from black grapes
Cuvée: A tricky, unregulated, mostly-marketing word. With preeminent producers it may denote the best grapes were used, or it can mean it’s a blend, or simply that it spent time in large vats. Bottom line: Unless you know how and why the producer employs it, don’t let it inform what you buy.
RM: Récoltant-Manipulant signifies a grower Champagne, which means the wine is made the estate’s own grapes.
The Long Hello
Recipe courtesy Damon Boelte, mixologist at Prime Meats, Brooklyn, NY
This easy-but-elegant cocktail has it all: warm apple flavor from the brandy, celebratory sparkle from the wine, and a hint of Christmas spice thanks to the bitters and nutmeg.
¾ ounce Clear Creek Apple Brandy
¾ ounce St-Germain elderflower liqueur
1 dash Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters
Chilled Champagne or sparkling wine, to top
Freshly grated nutmeg, to garnish
Combine brandy, liqueur and bitters in a mixing glass with ice. Stir and strain into a chilled coupe glass or Champagne flute. Top with Champagne and garnish with grated nutmeg. As an alternative garnish, skewer a lemon twist or a couple of brandied cherries and lay the skewer across the top of the glass.
Pop Stars: A few of our favorite bottles
88 Michelle NV Brut This Columbia Valley Brut is the star of the new Michelle lineup (formerly Domaine Ste. Michelle). Yeasty and foamy when first poured, it settles into a light sparkler with hints of lemon curd and fresh cream; $14.
91 Raventós I Blanc 2010 Conca del Riu Anoia Barcelona de Nit This elegant rosé Cava opens with aromas of wood smoke, citrus and raspberry. Flavors of pink grapefruit, tangerine and cranberry finish long and sturdy; $26.
91 Peter Lauer NV Brut Riesling (Mosel) This Sekt has aromas of honeycomb, sugar cookie, ripe tangerine and peach. Floral and fruity on the palate, with a laser-sharp acidity that cuts the foamy mousse; $35.
95 Perrier Jouët 2006 Belle Epoque Brut A full-bodied Champagne, this has some astiness as well as concentrated apple and peach flavors. There is a crisp edge to this opulent and rich wine. It has a great future; $150.
87 Tiziano NV Dry Tiziano presents a simple, sweet-smelling sparkler, with easy aromas of peach, Golden Delicious apple, citrus and white flower. The fragrant floral intensity is direct and pleasing; $15.
91 Schramsberg Vineyards 2006 Extra Brut: This California blend is a gorgeously mature sparkler that’s dry and delivers apple tart and raspberry on the nose and palate; $75.