Sparklers are meant to be drunk in two to three years after release
with vintage Champagnes best consumed within ten years

Thanksgiving 2011: Holidays sparkling wines line up for tasting in Big Canoe. (Photo supplied by Wayne Crawford)

Wayne on Wine
By Wayne Crawford
Wayne Crawford
Sparkling wine is a ubiquitous elixir to restore one’s spirits;an acclamation or aperitif wine with entrees; a complement to a main course to include lobster, shrimp, scallops, and sushi;an accompaniment to desserts with strawberries, fruit tarts, shortbread cookies or—my favorite—popcorn. Sparklers are meant to be drunk in two to three years after release with vintage Champagnes best consumed within ten years; life span is in part measured by the durability of the cork when it is holding 90 pounds per square inch of pressure.

Like Xerox becoming the single name for all copiers, Champagne is the all-purpose word for sparkling wine, when, in fact, it is limited to sparkling wine only from the Champagne region in northeast France. Cava from Spain, Prosecco from Italy, sparkling wine from the USA and Australia often share the Methode Champenoise or traditional method for making Champagne. In simple terms, the process takes still wine blends and generates alcohol and carbon dioxide gas which creates the sparkle. The smaller the bubbles the better the wine; the most common term on the bottle is brut which translates to dry wine.

A few tips for “Bubbleheads,” defined in the Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition, as “a heavy drinker of Champagne.” Read the small print “Label Nomenclature,” two letters on the Champagne bottle. Seven options are available and each tells you a great deal about the wine. Two to remember are négociant-manipulant (NM), which incorporates grapes produced from their own and other vineyards and is the most common production method among the big champagne houses; and recoltrant-manipulant (RM), estate-owned-and-grown grapes, “Grower Champagne.” Get all the facts on

Sparklers drinking well now
champaign1Gosset NV Excellence Brut Champagne (NM) Ay, France priced at $37: The oldest wine house in Champagne, established in 1584. Ay is located east of Epernay in the heart of the Champagne region. This Champagne is 45 percent Pinot Noir, 36 percent Chardonnay and 19 percent Pinot Meunier, pale yellow in color with a nice fizz. Floral aromas complement the flavors of plump pears and peaches with a nice taste on the palate and a light salt tang on the finish. Gosset only uses the best juice from the first pressing of grapes; initial fermentation is conducted in small oak barrels.

Notably, Gosset champagnes do not undergo malolactic fermentation or second fermentation common to most Champagne, resulting in higher acidity, slower-maturing wines and in the Gosset style—powerful and full-bodied. This was the best rated Champagne in the Crawford family Champagne tasting over Thanksgiving. Highly recommended

René Geoffroy NV Expression Brut Premier Cru (RM) France priced at $45: Pinot Meunier 50 percent, Pinot Noir 40 percent and Chardonnay 10 percent; light peach color. This Champagne has aromas of pear, red berry and floral that complement the fruit and red currant flavors in this mineral-rich sparkler; a graceful wine with a lingering fresh fruit finish. According to their website, “This Champagne is ideal as an aperitif and for cocktails or with flaky pastry entrées.” Like the Gosset Champagne there is no malolactic fermentation. Highly recommended

Segura Viudas NV Brut Reserva Heredad Cava, Spain priced at $21.99: Reserva Heredad is made wholly from grapes grown in the estate's vineyards at Torrelavit in the Alt Penedès region of Spain. Only the first pressing of the Macabeo and Parellada grapes goes into the making of the cuvee. This is a delightful acclamation sparkling wine; straw yellow color, with abundant mousse. The initial aromas provide a touch of bread, honey, and fruit. The palate is fruity and full of flavor. Best Buy and the bottle is a collectible for candles.

Schramsberg 2007 Brut Blanc De Noirs Calistoga, California priced at $30: Pinot Noir 74 percent, Chardonnay 26 percent; this is a complex, medium-bodied, brut sparkling wine with aromas of guava and fresh peach. The fruit-forward nose is complemented by hints of almond. The palate flavors are cherry, fresh melon and fresh bread. The finish is long and lingering. Schramsberg has been making this sparkler since 1967. Highly Recommended

Pol Roger NV Extra Cuvee de Reserve Champagne Epernay France priced at $40 - $50: Pinot Noir 33 percent, Pinot Meunier 33 percent, Chardonnay 33 percent; yellow-gold colors with nice bubbles. This sparkler has fruit and floral aromas with hints of vanilla. On the palate this Champagne is well balanced, with spice, fruit and vanilla. A long finish complements this outstanding Champagne. Highly recommended

Great Buys in Sparklers: Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvee 2004 Carneros $27 (Jefferson Cup Award Winner see below); Gruet Blanc de Noir NV New Mexico $14 and #43 on Wine Spectators top 100 wines 2011 Best Buy; and Roederer Estate L’Ermitage 2003 Brut Anderson Valley $45, Wine Spectator #55.

Georgia Wine Notes
Tiger Mountain Vineyards Petit Manseng 2010 won the first Jefferson Cup ever awarded to a Georgia wine. As stated in the Jefferson Cup web site (, “only 25 receive this honor out of 2,500 wines in competition, the sweepstakes award, higher than a gold medal!” Well done to John and Martha Ezzard. This elegant white grape draws it heritage from southwest France and is enjoying a well-deserved renaissance in the craftsmanship of John Ezzard at Tiger Mountain. One of the best wines in Georgia! Tiger Mountain is located just south of Clayton, Georgia,

Drink what you like

In the next article, the all-purpose Pinot Noir grape will be showcased. Although he calls Big Canoe home, Wayne is frequently on the road with his consulting practice. Wayne is a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and a member of both the Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society.


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