I will never turn down a glass of Champagne, especially when I’m thirsty on a Monday evening. I believe that keeping a healthy stock of bubbly bottles is a great way to make sure every day is celebrated, for both the highs and lows that come with being a responsible adult. Champagne will always reign supreme for me, but being adventurous in my sparkling wine consumption has proven to be quite rewarding.
The French, despite their often quiet and serious demeanor, know how to make a bottle of bubbles pop. Champagne is the queen, with her limestone soils, cool air and ideal blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. She knows how to draw you in with the perfect scent and a most pleasurable mouthfeel, but all of this often comes with a price. Fancy names like Dom Perignon and Veuve Clicquot have become the Kraft Mac & Cheese of Champagne, but for me, they don’t do justice to the personality of Champagne. Finding a gem can be like a game of roulette, but with patience comes reward. This is the mantra of many of the grower-producers of Champagne, who are small and lack the funds to get their names out through magazine spreads and billboards. Patience, generations of patience, and perseverance to let their fruit do the talking is where the consumer reaps the reward. When shopping for Champagne, check out the label, not for pretty graphics and scripted fonts, but for two simple letters, ‘RM’. These two letters guarantee that the wine comes from a grower-producer; all the fruit harvested for the bottle in hand was grown by the name on the label, providing you with a true expression of what Champagne is, from the hands of a Champenoise. A few of my favorite RM labels are Gaston Chiquet, J. Lassalle and L. Aubry.
Italy has made its own mark in the sparkling wine category, with the recent boom of Prosecco. I do enjoy a delicate, fruit driven glass of Prosecco as an alterative to Champagne, but with strategic choice. Prosecco is made from the Glera grape, which exudes a completely different profile of aromas and flavors; the bubbles are often softer and the complexity of the wine is simple. An ideal bottle of bubbles for a weeknight and certainly for a Sunday morning mimosa fix, but there is so much for Italian sparkling wine beyond Prosecco. Producers that I consider top-notch in a saturated category are Tommasi’s Tenuta Filodora and Adami’s Vigneto Giardino; both are single-vineyard offerings, expressing a purity of fruit and sense of place. A true rival of Champagne is Franciacorta, where Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc are crafted similarly. I believe Franciacorta to be the king, unlike the more feminine expression of Prosecco. He is savory, rich and well-sculpted, harvested from limestone soils in the cool, northern region of Lombardy. The production of Franciacorta is nowhere near the quantity of Prosecco in Italy, but it certainly raises the bar for what to expect from a bottle of sparkling wine outside of Champagne. Bellavista was the winery that first caught my affection for Franciacorta, and I have since become enamored with Ca’ del Bosco.
There are certainly many other areas of the world that produce fantastic sparkling wines, but it is in the Old World that the history of bubbles captivates me. There is more to each bottle of wine than a celebratory feeling when the cork pops out–a story of generations and a taste of place. Drink a glass that sparkles.
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