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- a tour of styles

While most people still reserve a glass of Champagne or sparkling wine for New Year’s Eve and the occasional toast while out for dinner, you really don’t need a formal reason to pour yourself a glass of bubbly.  In fact, Champagne is one of the most food friendly and versatile wines available.  I encourage you to sip bubbles just for the shear pleasure of the experience. 

Sparkling wine is made throughout the world, but the name Champagne is reserved only for the wines from France’s chilly northern wine making region of the same name.  The following guide will clarify a few Champagne related terms that you might come across as you wander through the bubbly section of your local wineshop.

In accordance with the French AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée or governing wine authority), only certain grape varieties are permitted in the production of Champagne.  Each grape imparts a different character trait to the wine and the three that you are most likely to come across are list below:

·     Chardonnay (white) – Finesse and Elegance

·     Pinot Meunier (red) – Body and Richness

·     Pinot Noir (red) – Fruitiness

The term Blanc-de-Blanc will appear on the label to indicate that only Chardonnay was used in the making of the wine.  And while less common, Blanc-de-Noirs signifies when the wine is made using only Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier, both dark-skinned grapes. 

 There are several terms used to describe Champagne but these are the most common styles:

·     Brut (natural) is dry wine

·     Sec (dry) is actually off-dry wine

·     Demi-Sec (half dry) is slightly sweet wine

The term Brut implies a dry crisp wine, whereas Sec and Demi-Sec show increasingly more sweetness and body. The vast majority of Champagne and sparkling wines produced and those which are available on store shelves are dry Brut.  Incidentally, all Champagne is fermented dry; it is the addition of the dosage (a mixture of cane or beet sugar and wine) that balances the wine’s natural acidity and dictates the final degree of sweetness.  

Vintage vs. Non-Vintage Champagne:

Using a process known as assemblage, Champagne is normally a blend (cuvee) of vintages and therefore in theory the wine should always taste the same.  Let us not forget that the climate in the north of France is not exactly conducive to the growth of grapes and therefore bad vintages are more frequent than not.  For this reason, the blending of vintages is essential to create a consistent product from one year to the next.    

Vintage Champagne on the other hand is actually the oddball and as the name states, these wines contain only the must from the specified year on the label and are produced only in top vintages.  If you have grown accustom to a particular taste from your favourite Champagne house, their vintage bottling may seem a bit ‘different’ at first.  

Delaying the run-off of the crushed grape juice (must) and separation from the dark-skinned grapes such as Pinot Meunier and/or Pinot Noir will result in a slight red stained wine – we know this as Rosé Champagne

In terms of cellaring potential, Champagne is ready to drink when you buy it.  Though like many other high quality wines, a year or two spent in the bottle will allow the wine’s potential hard edges to soften. High-quality Champagne will evolve from lively, citrusy, and fresh toward a creamy richness after 5-10 years in the cellar becoming fully mature as it approaches 15-20 years of age.  Any longer, and the bubbles begin to dissipate.  Additionally, and since the CO2 within the bottle maintains an adequate degree of moisture, Champagne and sparkling wines need not lie on their sides.  You can store your bubbly bottles upright while you wait for the wine to age.

When serving Champagne and contrary to common practice, the cork should be removed carefully and without a great froth of bubbles.  Simply put: a great deal of effort went in to putting the bubbles into the wine, let’s not waste then on the ‘pop’.  Unless of course, you have just won the Grand Prix – then ‘shake and spray’ everyone around you!

Champagne is from Champagne.  Bubbles from elsewhere, however good, cannot be called Champagne.”  - Hugh Johnson   

Tyler's sparkling wine and Champagne picks

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava
Just look at the price!! Spanish goodness made using the same technique as Champagne. If you normally drink cheap fizz for celebration, try this significantly better bubbly instead.
LCBO #216960 $14.25

Domaine Du Clos De L'epinay Tête De Cuvée Brut Vouvray 2007, Méthode Traditionnelle
Loire, France
Amber coloured in the glass with a great depth of aroma and flavour. We sipped this one on Christmas day with much hooray! .
LCBO #298398 $20.95

Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs Brut
Ontario, Canada
No black grapes were harmed in the making of this sparkling wine; Blanc de Blanc means ‘white of whites’ and includes only Chardonnay. This example is not only local, but exceptional quality as well.
LCBO #213983 $27.95

Domaine Chandon Étoile Brut
California, USA
From the makers of French famed Dom Perignon, Moet et Chandon, this is a warm climate edition that won’t disappoint.
LCBO #205658 $39.95

Devaux Cuvée Rosée Brut Champagne
Champagne, France
A Traditional Champagne that is not only stunningly enjoyable to drink, but also shimmers in the light with a lovely rose coloured tint – perfect to sip as the big apple drops!
LCBO #352211 $59.95

Red & White for the appetizers

Nerderburg, Winemaster’s Reverve, Saivignon Blanc 2013
South Africa
A medium bodied, crisp, grassy, curiously dill-herbed mouthful of South African goodness. Considering the varietal character involved, I'm rather thrown off by the price. This Western Cape jem will pair perfectly with shellfish appetizers or baked Brie and other cream based cheeses over the holidays.
LCBO #382713 $11.45

Vieil Armand Grand Cru Ollwiller Riesling 2009, Grand Cru
Alsace, France
A touch of sweetness initially and a fantastic weight on the palate; notes of apricot, beeswax and spice to finish. An outstanding French Riesling, though it is getting hard to come by on the store shelves.
LCBO #315135 $20.95

Farnese Daunia Sangiovese 2009
Abruzzo, Italy
Someone once told me that when the fancy $$$ red bottles are empty at ritzy Rosedale functions, they refill them with Farnese and no one can tell the difference... fact or fiction, you decide – but this is a very good bottle of wine and for the money, simply an unbeatable deal. Expect a smooth, medium bodied feel with lots of red fruit and a touch of tannin to pair with a variety of dried meats, olives, and the cheese tray.
LCBO #512327 $7.50, yes $7.50

Montecillo Crianza 2008
Rioja, Spain
A lightly oaked mouth-watering Tempranillo-based Spanish red with food pairing potential extrordinare!
LCBO #144493 $13.95

How to open a bottle of bubbly with style - Champagne Sabreing video

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