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Tannic Panic! Issue #7: Keep Those Sparklers Sparkling
No Champagne, No Champ-Gain? Spotlight: Traditional Method
What’s POPPIN’ ya wonky winos? Rhetorical question – we know exactly what’s popping: SPARKLING WINES.
And what better time of year to talk sparkling than in the shadow of America’s birthday? And if you’re not in the states, then what better time to talk sparkling than a random Wednesday??
Seriously though, of all the styles of fermented grape juice on the market, sparkling wines are among the most versatile. We use them to celebrate the big moments in life, and the small. We consider them among the most acceptable to drink in the morning (mimosas, mimosas, mimosas), they can often pair well with the things we find the most difficult to pair, and when it comes down to it, they just have a jovial vibe that’s hard to ignore!
THE “EDUCATIONAL” STUFF:
There are many ways to make sparkling wine, but these are the 5 most common:
Traditional method (the labor-intensive Champagne style): The traditional method of making sparkling wine begins with creating a base wine, followed by a step called assemblage (blending) in which the winemaker blends different wines to achieve the desired taste. This could be a mixture of wines from different grape varieties or different years. Then a second fermentation is induced in the bottle by adding yeast and sugar, known as "liqueur de tirage." The bottle is sealed and as the yeast consumes the sugar, alcohol and carbon dioxide (bubbles) are produced. After aging on the dead yeast cells (lees) to develop flavor and complexity – often adding notes of bread, pastry, brioche, toast, and cheese – the sediment is removed through a process called disgorging. Finally, the bottle is topped up with a mixture of wine and sugar, called "dosage", to adjust the sweetness (helpful in reducing the harshness of the acidity, especially when the fermentation process has eliminated almost all of the residual sugar), and then sealed with a cork. Popular examples of sparkling wines made using this method include Champagne (French - DUH), Cava (Spanish), Franciacorta (Italian), Cap Classique (South African) – the list goes on, but you get the idea.
Tank Method (Charmat Method): This method is similar to the traditional method up until the second fermentation, which happens in a large tank rather than in individual bottles. The tank is sealed to trap the CO2, creating bubbles. This method is faster and cheaper than the traditional method and is commonly used for Prosecco and German Sekt.
Transfer Method (a hybrid of the traditional and tank methods that splits the difference in terms of effort): The second fermentation happens in the bottle, but the wine is then emptied into a tank, the sediment is filtered out, and the wine is returned to the bottles. This allows for the complexity of bottle fermentation but is less labor-intensive than the traditional method.
Carbonation: Just like making soda, this method involves injecting CO2 directly into the wine. It's the quickest and cheapest way to make sparkling wine but doesn't add any of the flavors or textures that other methods do. It's typically used for the least expensive sparkling wines (ANDRÉ ANYONE??)
Ancestral Method (Pét-Nat): This is the oldest way of making sparkling wine, hence the name "ancestral." The wine is bottled before the first fermentation is complete, allowing it to finish fermenting in the bottle and trap the CO2 to create bubbles. The resulting wine is often less fizzy than wines made using other methods and can be cloudy due to the remaining lees. This method is used for Pétillant Naturel (Pét-Nat) wines.
Now, you may have it in your head that sparkling wine and Champagne are interchangeable terms with identical meaning. That, my dear winos, is technically untrue – even though we get what you mean when you say it.
A large volume of the wine drinkers in the world fall into the “who cares” camp on this one, but in case you’re in the “wait, tell me more!” minority, tell you more we shall.
In the simplest terms, Champagne refers to sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France that has been made using the aforementioned traditional method. If it doesn’t come from that region, it ain’t Champagne.
But the traditional method yields some fantabulous sparkling wines that come from many regions of the world, and oftentimes the best value comes from regions with less prestige because they don’t get to charge a premium on the word that has become synonymous with top tier sparkling wine.
Over the past few weeks we tasted through a corkload of bottles produced in the traditional method from around the world, and we’ve cobbled together a little listy-poo of some great value gets that you should look out for.
NV Dibon Brut Reserve, Cava, Spain / 11.5% ABV / 90 Points / $13 (VALUE PICK!)
This delightful Cava brings together notes of golden apple, pear, and lemon peel, with hints of crushed rocks, and freshly baked bread. Dry and crisp, medium bodied Cava with a creamy mousse and a medium length finish.
NV Mumm Napa Brut Prestige, Napa, CA / 12.5% ABV / 87 Points / $16
Leave the Korbel and Chandon on the shelf – this California sparkling (ALSO FOUND EVERYWHERE) made in the traditional style does a nice job of emulating its French counterparts, presenting notes of buttered croissant, pear, and flinty minerality.
High acidity and ebullient bubbles make for a slightly aggressive mousse. It is medium-bodied and dry, crisp and refreshing. The finish is not particularly long, but at $16, this sparkling delivers what is promised. It also happens to be one of my personal favorites for making the undisputed (DON’T EVEN START WITH ME) best wine-based cocktail of all time: THE KIR ROYALE!
KIR ROYALE RECIPE
Fill glass with sparkling to your heart’s content (if you aren’t sure, keep pouring)
Add a splash of crème de cassis (Mathilde is my go-to; the DeKuyper crème de cassis has a cheaper Welch’s grape juice sort of flavor which requires more restraint when “splashing,” but you can use any kind in a pinch)
Drop in a generous slice of lemon peel (I usually cut the rind from end to end the long way across the lemon, ~1” or 3 cm in width, and twice that in length)
87 Points (modestly, 93+ as a Kir Royale!)
NV Villa Conchi Brut Rosé, Cava, Spain / 11.5% ABV / 89 Points / $16
A divergence from the tree fruit flavors present in our other recommendations, this 100% Trepat Cava Brut Rosé brings pronounced aromas of brioche and fresh strawberries to the table. It is medium bodied, and features a delicate mousse with high acidity and low residual sugar.
Refreshing and fresh, perfect for a hot summer day.
NV Jacqueline Leonne Brut, New Mexico, USA / 12.5% ABV / 87 Points / $17
Toasted bread, ripe pears and apples, marzipan.
Full bodied, creamy mousse, off dry (in spite of allegedly being “Brut,” which is supposed to indicate a very low level of residual sugar), medium+ acidity, medium length finish
Though it is not categorically a sweet wine, the residual sugar is higher than the label might lead you to believe. We recommend a glass for dessert – pairs great with Oreos!
NV Nicolas Feuillatte Réserve Exclusive Brut Champagne / 12% ABV / 93 Points / $33
Baked pear and peach notes, lemon curd (and zest), notes of almond croissant, subtle minerality (1 or 2 pebbles tossed in for a good time). Fresh, crisp acidity, and dryer than my sense of humor.
A delicious lingering finish that makes every sip that much better.
At just $33 a bottle, this is an exceptional value for such a high quality bottle of Champagne (THE REAL KIND). It truly embodies the terroir and it outperforms Grand Cru bottles that are orders of magnitude more expensive.
Whether you are a hardcore Champagne purist (YOU’RE NOT), or a level-headed value seeker who loves sparkling wines at their best — we promise you’ll find something you’ll love in the picks above. Each bottle is a unique representation of sparkling in the traditional style, and there’s something for everyone to enjoy goddamnit.
Hated all of them? Write us an angry letter! But we both know you’ll be lying.
Keep them bottles popping, you absolute maniacs.
To good times and sparkling wines,
Isaac & Zach
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