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It’s beginning to look a lot like… a lot of things: Thanksgiving, Christmas, festivals, parties and very soon, Carnival. New Orleans brings new meanings to event multi-tasking.
Let’s focus on the holiday season, which will “legally” be at the ready right after Thanksgiving. And holiday season means fun dining, lots of junk foods, turkey, oyster dressing, festive lights in every park, lawn decorations, special music, jackets and coats, sweaters, long pants, and…wine with bubbles.
For most of us, this is the time of year when more wine with bubbles is consumed than at any other time, unless the Saints get into the Super Bowl again. Champagne, prosecco, cava, and sparkling wine, they are all on our lips and then down our throat. There is great pleasure involved and so we, with complete abandon, do it again. Restraint, moderation and discipline. New Orleanians don’t know the meaning of those concepts.
The cost of sparkling wine and Champagne immediately gets your attention. As a group, these are among the priciest wines on the retailer’s shelf or the restaurateur’s list. The guiding force involved here is the costs of the manufacturing process of which there are two.
The Charmat method, or bulk method, takes the wine, which is made first and in the usual fashion – freshly-picked grapes encouraged to ferment into wine through the use of yeast – but then there is a next step, which is adding more yeast and allowing the wine to go through a second fermentation. This is done in the Charmat process in a large sealed tank.
The Methode Traditionelle, still known as the Champagne Method, does not make use of the large tank for the second fermentation but rather that step occurs in the very bottle you purchase at the retailer or in the restaurant.
The Charmat method is a less expensive way to produce wine with bubbles while for the most part the Traditionelle method yields better development of flavors and aromas.
Many of the sparkling wines from Italy, Spain and America, especially those featuring lower costs to the consumer, are done with the Charmat process. All Champagnes and many of the sparkling wines from around the world with higher price points are done in the Methode Traditionnelle.
In general, it is safe to assume that the higher priced sparkling wines are end-results of the Traditionelle process. Of late, those producers of Charmat sparkling wines have been doing a very good job and the quality differential between the two production styles may not be as great as the price differential. That decision is left to you as it’s a personal preference based on taste and cost. Seems like a lot of life’s decisions end up at that consideration.
But Champagne and sparkling wines are among the truly few purchases where price actually determines what you are getting. The cost of the wine is an excellent gauge as to its quality. You may not have the discerning palate nor the credit limits on your card to go all in with the higher-end purchase, and you don’t have to worry. There are a lot fine sparkling wines available that deliver the good experience without breaking the bank.
On the other hand, if you look too low on the price scale, you may not achieve the right result for the occasion, assuming it is very special. But sparkling wines under $10 can be most serviceable for everyday consumption, or for extended use in items such as cocktails.
Renaissance Publishing, the gang that brings you websites and magazines, including this website and New Orleans Magazine, recently staged a public tasting and I am happy to report that your fellow New Orleanians showed exceptionally good taste. Here is the list of what was tasted, in no particular order except cost, which is retail price in New Orleans:
Top of the Heap
all classified as Champagne
Nicholas Feuillatte Brut Non-Vintage $49.99
Taittinger Brut La Francaise $49.99
Henriot Souverain Brut $49.99
Piper Heidseick Brut $44.99
Perrier Jouet Grande Brut $44.99
Champagne Vincent Couche
Elegance Brut Blanc $34.99
Champagne Jean Noel Haton
Brut Rosé $34.99
Mid-Tier Sparkling Wines
Domaine Carneros Brut 2013 $29.99
Kim Crawford Fizz 2009 $29.99
Mirabelle Rosé $25.99
Banfi Brut $24,99
Backsberg Brut South Africa $19.99
La Costa Prosecco $17,99
Santa Margherita Prosecco $17.99
Mumm Napa Brut Prestige $16.99
Ca Va Blanc de Blancs Cava 2009 $15.99
Bouvet Cremant de Loire Brut $15.99
Francis Coppola Sofia
Blanc de Blanc $15.99
Value Sparkling Wines
Juve y Camps Cava
Reserva de la Familia $14.99
Bouvet Rosé $14.99
14 Hands Brut $12.99
Michelle Brut $12.99
Avissi Prosecco $12.99
Chloe Prosecco $12.99
Blanc de Bleu Cuvee Mousse Brut $12.99
Jam Cellars Toast Brut $12.99
Korbel Brut Rosé $11.99
Bolla Prosecco $10.99
Cupcake Rosé $10.99
Ruffino Prosecco $10.99
Pascual Toso Brut $10.99
Menage a Trois Prosecco $9.99
Campo Viejo Brut Rosé $9.99
Two final thoughts: 1) It’s hard to go wrong with a Champagne from France. Another suggestion for good measure: Tribaut; and 2) At the lower end of the price scale, you need to be careful with sugars. Sometimes the wines are too sweet, to the point of irritation. Only look to wines labeled Brut. This is particularly true of rosé wines.
Many people note they do not like “Champagne.” The truth is they have never had a fine Champagne or quality sparkling wine. What they have tried are insipid, overly-sweetened wines that possess no character.
To repeat: in sparkling wines, price is indeed an indicator of what’s in the bottle.
Read Happy Hour here on myneworleans.com every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed as well as stored (podcast), at www.wgso.com. Also, check out Last Call, Tim’s photo-feature every month in New Orleans Magazine.