Champagne is Sparkling Wine, But...

  1. I know many of us have asked for Champagne before and expected to get the house bubbly.  The fact of the matter is American marketing has tried to turn the word champagne into a generic for sparkling wine.  But Champagne is something much more prized and special. 

For any wine to be called Champagne, it must come from the Champagne region in France.  This is no different than Chianti or Cognac.

There are many factors which help this region produce the world's greatest sparkling wines.  The grapes are grown in a northern climate and maintain a high amount of acidity which is essential to the ageing potential and production of sparkling wine.  The grapes are able to mature because the forests and chalk topsoil keep moisture and warmth in.  The chalk soil underneath along with the fossil content provides much of their nutrients, flavor and character.

The wine making process in champagne, méthode Champenoise, starting with hand picked grapes gives the wine more character.  The grapes are then fermented into still wine and later blended and fermented a second time in the bottle, making the bubbles.  The bready yeasty tastes come from aging on lees, the yeast cells killed off during fermentation.  The processes of riddling, disgorging, dosage, and ageing finish the refined product.  Now you know why Champagne is so tasty and coveted.

Champagne prices are continually rising due to high demand and the rise of the Euro.  There are great inexpensive replacement sparkling wines on the market so try all of them- you may find one you like more than Champagne.

  1. Prosecco.  This northern Italian grape produces some light crisp styles and great buys such as Riondo Prosecco, which can be had for less than $14/bottle.  For other Italian alternatives try Asti made from Moscato and Spumante.

  2. Cava.  This is normally made in the traditional method near Barcelona, Spain, using mostly local varietals.  It is still light but has great yeasty flavors.  Less than $10 will nab you a bottle of Cristalino.

  3. Cremant.  This is a generic term for French sparkling wine created outside the Champagne region.  Baumard Carte Turquoise from Loire can be had for about $15.

  4. Sekt.  This is one of my favorites.  German sparkling wine made in a full style.  NV Alice from Pfalz made from Reisling can be a steal under $10.

  5. American Sparkling.  There are so many good ones like Argyle-I met the owner, Rollin Soles, and he is a cool guy.  Visit him if you are in Oregon!- ($20), Iron Horse($24) and Schramsberg($25) from California, and Gruet from New Mexico- I love their Blanc de Noirs, a great sparkling rose under $15.

Enjoy these sparklers any time and save Champagne for celebrations.  My wife and I celebrate anniversaries with 1999 vintage Dom Perignon.  Select your wines, make your moments, and enjoy life!

 (Image courtesy of Flickr)