By Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
For many of us this year, “Home Alone” will be how we celebrate New Year’s Eve. It has been a crazy year, and who would have thought a top resolution for 2021 would be to get a vaccination?
Carol and I normally gather with a few other couples to dine, play some games and the ball drop in Times Square watch on television. This year it will be two of us, enjoying a local chef-prepared curbside dinner, Zooming with other family members, champagne toasting (probably earlier Eastern Time), the ball drop, shaking our noisemakers, and throwing paper streamers.
My article today is all about champagne. Champagne is often used as a generic term for sparkling wines, but the European Union tells us it is illegal for any product to be labeled champagne unless it comes from the Champagne region of France and is produced under strict rules. The grapes pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay are the primary ones with small amounts of pinot blanc, pinot gris, arbane and petit Meslier allowed.
The Romans were the first to plant vineyards in northeastern France in the fifth century. The oldest recorded sparkling wine was Blanquette de Limoux invented by Benedictine monks in the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire near Carcassonne in 1531. A century later the English scientist Christopher Merret documented the addition of sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation, six years before Dom Perignon arrival. Merret’s discoveries coincided with English glass makers’ bottle development that allowed bottles to be produced that could withstand the internal pressures during the secondary fermentation. Today champagne sales are over 300 million bottles a year. One article I found states that the initial burst of effervescence (bubbles) forms on the imperfections in the glass when the champagne contacts the dry glass on pouring.
Most champagne produced is labeled non-vintage (NV) and is blended wines made from the fruit of two or more years, while vintage champagne is made from one year and by law must be aged for at least three years. A cuvee de prestige is often considered to be the top of a producer’s range. Some famous producers are Louis Roederer’s Cristal, Laurent-Perrier’s Grand Siecle and Moet.
Other descriptors on the label are Brut and dosage. The dosage is a corrective measure to help balance the acidity. Doux-50 or more grams of sugar is very sweet due to about two teaspoons of sugar added, Demi-Sec dosed with 32 to 50 grams, Sec in French meaning dry with 17-32 grams of sugar and Extra Sec a little more acidic with 12 to 17 grams. Brut contains up to 12 grams of sugar, Extra Brut has fewer than 6 grams and finally Brut Nature with hardly any sugar added. The Extra Brut is from smaller champagne producers and is defined by more minerality and possible acid taste. The most common type today is Brut.
Champagne is mostly fermented in two sizes of bottles: standard (750 milliliters) and magnums (1.5 liters). Some say that the magnums are higher quality as there is less oxygen in the bottle and thus favors the creation of more bubbles. Rose Champagne has become very popular in the United States.
Champagne vs. Prosecco vs. Cava: In recent years, sparkling wine alternatives Cava and Prosecco have become very popular. They are produced in similar methods to champagne and normally are a lower price alternative to Champagne. Cavas come from Spain and can also use chardonnay or pinot noir grapes and often are made from native grapes such as parellada and xarel-lo. Prosecco comes from the Veneto in north eastern Italy and use grapes called glera or bianchetta trevigiana.
What about the glass? My parents were not big wine drinkers (my father had a medicinal shot of scotch nightly) and when they had champagne for special occasions they used a coupe shape glass. They are stemmed and defined by their broad shallow saucer. The stem prevents your hand from warming it up too quickly. It was the choice of James Bond, and we have a number of them passed on to us from our parents. The popular flute style helps the glass retain its effervescence for a longer period. Some wine aficionados today believe that champagne is wine and thus should be treated as such and drinking from a white wine glass allows you to experience more of the aromatic spectrum.
A couple of other tips: Serve chilled ideally around 45 to 48 degrees. To reduce risk of spillage, open the bottle holding the cork and rotating the bottle at an angle to ease out the cork. This allows air in and helps prevent the champagne from geysering out the bottle. Pour while tilting the glass at an angle allowing the liquid to slide in along the side of the glass to preserve the most bubbles.
Emily at the Corkscrew Wine Emporium www.thecorkscrew.com located at 2625 Chatham Rd. was first introduced to champagne while working at the Four Season’s Hotel in Chicago and attended a Laurent Perrier Tasting. She says that Springfield enjoys all types of sparkling wines including champagne, Cavas and Proseccos. Emily said besides the normal 750 ml bottles they have a number of splits and half bottles in stock. I asked her for some recommendations plus tasting notes.
Conquilla Cava Brut: $13.99 50% xarel-lo, 25% macabeo, 25% parellada. Pale gold with an emerald rim. Fine, delicate bubbles. Citrusy nose with overtones of bay leaf and orange. Velvety on the palate, with good acidity framing notes of white fruit and a hint of almond on the finish. This would be a great match to salty snacks, sheep’s milk cheeses or charcuterie.
Bocelli Prosecco: $16.99.100% glera. From the family of the famed opera singer, Andrea Bocelli. This lovely sparkling wine has subtle flower and fruit aromas that make the palate deliciously light and playful. Pair with shellfish, petit fours or Thai flavored noodle and rice dishes.
Nicolas Feuillatte Brut: $39.99. True champagne made from 20% chardonnay, 40% pinot noir and 40% pinot munier. Pale gold in color with an abundance of delicate bubbles. Floral aromas of fruit with subtle predominance of white fruits plus almonds and hazelnuts. This wine is an ideal accompaniment for lobster in a cream sauce, traditional Dover Sole or oysters.
2008 Vollereaux Cuvee Marguerite $98.99. What a special champagne! A blend of 75% pinot noir and 25% chardonnay, this is the top wine from Vollereaux. It is dry and crisp with ripe fruits in the background. This is the perfect bottle for a celebration!
Kristopher Zander, manager at It’s All About Wine itsallaboutwine.net at 1305 Wabash Ave was introduced to champagne while working locally at the Sangamo Club and Illini Country Club. Recommendations he made were:
Col de Salici Prosecco Superiore 2018. 100% glera. Regularly $19.99, on sale for $15.99 Attractive straw-yellow color with green-gold highlights. Aromas of lightly fruity with apple notes with hints of wisteria in bloom and acacia.
Pierre Sparr Cremant D’Alsace Brut Reserve NV 80% pinot blanc, 20% pinot noir,
$24.99 Pale gold-green color; subtle bouquet, crisp and lively acidity, with delicate fine bubbles; reminiscence of minerals, herbs, citrus fruits; creamy, nicely bodied with a good balance; pleasant, elegant on the palate, with a dry and clean finish. Ideal aperitif or cocktail wine; excellent with shellfish!
Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve Champagne NV 30% pinot noir, 30% chardonnay, 40% pinot meunier. $59.99 A harmonious champagne that’s satiny in texture, framing flavors of Asian pear, star fruit, pastry and honey with mouthwatering acidity. Offers a fine and creamy finish.
My thanks to Emily and Kristopher. They are well versed on sparkling wines plus wines to pair with your holiday dinners. They both offer curbside service and contact them for recommendations.
If you have not done so, please remember to purchase holiday gift certificates from our area restaurants. January and February are normally slower eating out months and to survive this pandemic, they need our support.
Carol and I wish everyone a healthy, prosperous, and safe 2021. Cheers!