|PHOTO BY WAYNE CRAWFORD|
Sparkling wines of France, Italy and Spain
By Wayne Crawford
I always am impressed how a few, vital innovations laid the foundation for the perfect wine creation: sparkling wine and champagne.
Changes in sparkling wine production were driven in part by the English, using frameworks developed in France and Rome but applied in England with advancement in technology.
In the 17th century, wine from France was shipped in oak barrels to England, to be bottled and capped. For wines from Champagne, additional sweeteners were added and a restart of fermentation in a spring climate was noticed. The added sweeteners and yeast assisted a second fermentation, which generated the sparkling wine and its level of sweetness.
Early French Champagne was well known for bottles exploding in cellars due to weak glass and uncertain seals. The English improved wine bottle strength by using coal-fired furnaces for glassblowing. This had the added benefit of saving trees essential to boatbuilding for the Royal Navy. Further, a uniform wine bottle opening size and the use of cork as a primary bottle sealer ensured production consistency. The hardened glass and uniform container openings and sealers were essential to maintain a sparkling wine’s high bottle pressure. Early bottles were covered with rope; later wire was used.
The méthode champenoise process is used entirely in Champagne, French Crémant, Spanish Cava and Italian Franciacorta production, where disgorgement and added sweetener after a second fermentation in the same bottle are essential. Liqueur de Tirage—containing cultured yeasts, sugar and other nutrients for yeast—generates the second fermentation, which takes place in the bottle in the cellar, creating carbon dioxide that generates the sparkling product.
For sparkling wine using the traditional method—a term used outside the Champagne region but which follows the méthode champenoise—bottle aging lasts from 12 to 15 months or longer, depending on the winemaker. Dead yeasts are created and, over time, the bottles are turned vertically, so these yeasts are captured in the bottle's neck, disgorged and then topped off with a liqueur d'expédition, which has the added benefit of establishing levels of sweetness from Brut Nature to Doux, a sparkling wine containing 5 percent sugar or more.
There are several additional production processes used for sparkling wine. The tank method—often called the Charmat method—is used in bulk production; the second fermentation occurs in a tank, not a bottle. The cheapest manufacturing process is carbonation, in which carbon dioxide goes into the wine. Prosecco is made using the tank method and comes in three styles; spumante or sparkling, frizzante or semi-sparkling, and tranquillo, a still wine.
In America, market growth for sparkling wine, along with rose wine, has grown steadily over the past three years. Increasingly, Americans are not reserving sparkling wine for special occasions. The lower alcohol content and food-pairing options are desirable, particularly at competitive price points.
Cava pairs well with fried white fish, sushi and tapas; I enjoy Cava with Chinese food. Prosecco—as a light, sparkling wine—complements shrimp, Chinese food, sushi and most light salads. Crémants are more regionally dependent as they reflect flavors in grapes grown locally—Alsace, Loire, Burgundy, Provence and the Rhone. They pair well with local cheese, fish, egg dishes, spicy Chinese dishes, caviar and sushi; they also complement charcuterie, seafood salads and some appetizers.
The Big Canoe Wine Group limited its June tasting to three countries: Crémants, French sparkling wine not made in Champagne, with better price points; Cava from Spain; and Prosecco from Italy.
‘Wines Drinking Well Now’
De Chanceny NV Cremant De Loire, France, $18.95. This wine is 70 percent chenin blanc, 15 percent chardonnay and 15 percent cabernet franc. It is light yellow with a distinctive mousse and tiny bubbles. Aromas and flavors express citrus lemon, apple and peach. On the palate, this medium-bodied Crémant is crisp and fresh with a pleasant, effervescent mouthfeel—a light lemon flavor with hints of black fruit and anise. Citrus flavors dominate a medium finish. De Chanceny was overwhelmingly the best sparkling wine in the Big Canoe Wine Group’s blind-tasting. Highly Recommended and Best Buy.
Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne "Perle d'Aurore" Brut Rosé, France, $18. This sparkling rose wine is made from 80 percent pinot noir and 20 percent gamay noir. It is a dark salmon rose wine accented with strawberry, red berries and rose blossom aromas, tiny bubbles, and an explosive mousse. On the palate, its crisp, fresh, medium body wine offers strawberry, black cherry and cinnamon hints. It is an excellent sparkling rose wine with a medium finish of fruit and spice overtones. Highly Recommended and Best Buy.
Segura Viudas Extra Brut NV, Spain, $14.25. This fresh, crisp sparkling wine is made with Macabeo and Parellada grapes, which produce apple and light citrus flavors. It is light gold with tiny bubbles and lemon, apple and slight yeast aromas. The medium finish accents a zesty, effervescent, dry sparkling wine. Best Buy.
Other wines drinking well now: Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava NV, Spain, $19; JCB No. 21 Brut Cremant de Bourgogne, $20; Jean-Baptiste Adam Les Natures Cremant d'Alsace Brut, $24; Avinyo Brut Reserva Cava, $19.99; and Mionetto Cuvee Sergio Prosecco, $19.
Save the date
The Big Canoe Wine Group fundraiser for Big Canoe Animal Rescue will be Sept. 28, at The Chimneys. More information will follow but mark your calendar now for an evening of fine wine and food pairing in support of BCAR.
‘Drink What You Like!’
My next article will focus on East Coast and Georgia wines.
Wayne Crawford is a French Wine Scholar (FWS), a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and a member of the Wine Scholar Guild, Society of Wine Educators and American Wine Society.