Hello, festive season! Its that time of the year when our wine needs (yes needs) are as diverse as they are intense as we celebrate the warmer weather and make the most of the holiday season.
Since the late 1600's Champagne or sparkling wine has been the most prestigious celebratory wine in the world and, as we roll into the festive season, you can be sure that we will soon all be hearing the "popping" of corks as bottles of sparkling wine are opened to celebrate Christmas, the year that was and the new year ahead of us.
Celebrations and sparkling wine simply go together – it’s like turkey and stuffing or Christmas pudding and brandy. One cannot be without the other – they simply go hand in hand. But not all sparkling wines are Champagne, and not all sparkling wines are made the same way.
First of all, Champagne is a regionally protected name and can only be produced in the Champagne region of France. It can only be produced in one way, and that is in a bottle using natural fermentation known as the Traditional Method (or Méthode Traditionnelle) and using only three grape varieties - Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.
Sparkling wines produced in other regions of France as well as other countries around the world are often referred to by their local name or region, such as Espumante from Portugal, Cava from Spain, or Asti from Italy (the generic Italian term for sparkling wine being Spumante) to name a few.
Call it what you like – Sparkling Wine, Prosecco, Cava or Champagne – there's no sweeter music to one’s ears than the sound of the pop of a cork from a bottle of bubbles!
So, what is sparkling wine?
When it comes down to it, Sparkling wine is simply wine with significant levels of carbon dioxide in it making it fizzy. The carbon dioxide may result from natural fermentation - either in a bottle, as with the Traditional Method, in a large tank designed to withstand the pressures involved (as in the Charmat process), or as a result of carbon dioxide injection.
Sparkling wine is usually white or rosé, but there are many examples of sparkling red wines as well.
In Australia, most sparkling wine is produced from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and is usually white or rosé, but an Australian speciality is the Sparkling Shiraz – a sparkling red wine produced from Shiraz grapes. Young examples are usually refreshing, rich, fruity and juicy with a touch of sweetness. Older examples are typically rich and lush in style, and some high-quality bottles are suitable for cellaring and ageing. The sweetness of sparkling wine can range from very dry "brut" styles to sweeter "doux" varieties.
Although wonderful on its own, when it comes to food pairing, sparkling white wine can be enjoyed with just about any meal, although pairing it with seafood, tapas or other hors d'oeuvres is the perfect way to get any party started.
Like all wines, there are tips for the correct way in which to consume sparkling wines and champagnes:
Sparkling wine should be chilled before drinking but leaving it in the fridge for more than a week before consumption can affect quality. It’s best stored out of the fridge, away from light, and in a cool place with a consistent temperature.
A perfectly chilled sparkling wine is something to savour. Between 7 and 10 degrees is recommended – but it really does come down to personal taste.
Choose your glassware wisely – the wrong glass can alter the aroma and the number of bubbles. Flute and Coupe are the traditional styles.
Don’t overfill the glass – one-third of the glass is best to maintain the chill.
Whether you’re bringing a bottle to a party or leaving one under the tree, a bottle of bubbles is a gift that will please even the most discerning of recipients. Why not pick up a bottle from our Festive Dozen on page 32. If you’re giving it as a gift, then you’d better buy two – these sparklers are sure to make the season brighter!