It’s Time! For the main event!
New Years Eve 2009!Are you prepared to bring it?
Prepared for the Champ(agne)?
Well if you’re not, prepare yourself with everything you need to know about sparkling wine with this handy buyer’s guide. Where to begin? At the beginning -- or in this case, at the top, with Crème de Tete. Follow along as I break down the styles of sparkling wine, how to tell if it’s sweet or not, if it’s farmer fizz (and what farmer fizz is), and how to chill your bottle quickly.
Chilling Champagne QuicklyCaught out with a warm bottle? Here's what you do to get it chilled quickly: Grab a bucket and plant your bottle in the center, add a layer of ice around the base of the bottle and cover the ice with a few tablespoons of salt; keep repeating, alternating layers of ice and salt until the bucket is full. Now fill the bucket with cold water. The salt will drop the temperature of the water well below freezing, providing you with the rapid cooling you need. Give the bottle a few gentle spins every few minutes to help even out the cooling effects. Your bubbly should be ready to pop in 15 minutes.
Decoding Champagne and other sparkling winesFind Champagne
So we’re starting at the top, I guess that means the finest Champagne, also know as Crème de Tete (AKA cuvée de prestige). These are wines that define a house’s style and go by proprietary names; like Cristal, Dom Perignon, and Cuvee Winston Churchill (one of my faves). Click here for more about Champagne.
Find Sparkling Wines
With so many sparkling wines available it’s not surprising that there’s a lot of confusion about the what, where, and who. If you're browsing the aisle and come upon a bottle that’s not familiar, learn more qbout it with our mini-guide to sparkling wine.
So we’re starting at the top, which means the finest Champagnes, also know as Crème de Tete, or cuvée de prestige. These are wines that define a house’s style and go by proprietary names like Cristal, Dom Perignon, and Cuvee Winston Churchill (one of my faves). These represent the pinnacle of the Champagne blender’s art and are wines that frequently benefit from -- and many times demand -- cellaring to release their potential. Right off the shelf the current release of these wines can be somewhat disappointing.
More common is a house’s non-vintage style. This is, not surprisingly, a blend of several vintages that allows a blender to combine the freshness of younger sparkling wines with the complexity contributed by older, more mature sparkling wines. The goal in making a non-vintage wine is to offer a consistent style from vintage to vintage. I am a big fan of non-vintage Champagne, but prefer to age it for several years so that it softens up and gains more depth and complexity. 3 to 5 years in the cellar is perfect for my palate.
In certain vintages the Champagne is so good, and has such a distinctive character, that it may be bottled as a vintage wine. In general these wines are a step up in quality from the basic non-vintage bottling, though there can be exceptions. As with the Crème de Tete, a vintage sparkling wine may require several years in the bottle to offer the drinkability of a non-vintage. You also have to be familiar with the style of the vintage. Great vintages come in different styles, from opulent and ripe to chiseled and structured. It’s easy to love one vintage and hate another so ask a trusted retailer if you have any questions.