28 Nov Stateside Sparklers
Stateside Sparklers – Baltimore Style, December 2009
While Champagne, France, might be the birthplace of sparkling wine, it by no means has a monopoly on it. If you’re looking for some fine bubbly to serve at your holiday gatherings, you needn’t search that far from home.
An important point to remember: Only wines that originate from Champagne, France, can officially use the term “Champagne.” All other wines with bubbles are simply called “sparkling wines.” The three grapes that are used to make Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Most American sparklers concentrate on making still wines from the first two, which are blended to take advantage of each grape’s varietal character. Then a secondary fermentation is induced by the addition of sugar and yeast to create the bubbles that make these wines so special.
In the 18th century, pioneers of Champagne production like Dom Pérignon and Madame Clicquot created a process for crafting sparkling wine that is still used today. You can identify New World sparklers that use this Champagne method by looking for the term méthode champenoise or méthode traditionnelle on the bottle. One of the hallmarks of the Champagne method is that the bubbles are created in each bottle, not in a tank, which results in finer bubbles and more complexity.
If you are looking to taste some “Made in the USA” sparklers that use the traditional Champagne method, here are two to try:
- Schramsberg Vineyards Blanc de Blancs 2006 (retails around $40) Schramsberg Vineyards has made quality sparkling wines in Napa Valley since 1965. They are credited with being the first American winery to make a Chardonnay-based sparkling wine and also the first American sparkler to be served at the White House. Sparklers that bear the term Blanc de Blancs (translated “white from whites”) are made entirely from the Chardonnay grape. The Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs has flavors of green apple, pineapple and pear with a finish of crisp acidity. Elegant and dry, it is a perfect pairing for all things seafood, triple-cream cheeses and its classic partner— oysters.
- Gruet Winery Blanc de Noirs NV (retails under $20) This winery was started by the Gruet family from Champagne, France. They toured the world looking for a place where they could make wines that rivaled those of Champagne and found the perfect spot near Albuquerque, N.M. Since 1983, Gruet has been crafting affordable sparklers that have the finesse of their French counterparts but at a fraction of the price. Their Blanc de Noirs (translated “white from reds”) is made primarily from Pinot Noir, which gives the wine flavors of red berries and the power to stand up to heartier fare like salmon and poultry. The NV stands for Non Vintage and means the wine is a blend of various harvests and intended to be an expression of the winery’s style, not the vintage.
* As seen in the December issue of Baltimore Style magazine. Want to read more of my columns from Baltimore Style magazine? Click Here!