SPARKLE PLENTY!

By: Stacie Hunt – Certified Sommelier
Contributor’s website: Splashpros
As the year winds down, I like to consider the developments and trends in the wine world.  This year saw some standouts such as the recognition of chewy Tannats from Uruguay, loaded with antioxidants; Washington state getting props for its Syrah and “Yes, Virginia there’s your Viognier; Baja bottles made their debut on the tables of Rivera, Playa, Blue Plate Oysterette and Blue Plate Taco and more than any year before, rosé blazed our summer sunsets. But the most stylish development has been the ascendency of the bubbles.  Based purely on sales figures, we like to Sparkle Plenty!

Italy has been the strongest winner with Prosecco.  The refreshing bubbly made from the eponymous grape in Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia. The best expressions come from the hill communes north of Treviso, Conegliano and Valdobbiadene.



In the past two years, Italian bubbly, which includes Moscato and Asti Spumante breezed past sales of Champagne, with production exceeding 380 million bottles!  Tip:  another stealth sparkler to keep your eye on is Lambrusco, the dry, ruby-colored bubbler from Emilia-Romagna.  Look for the word “Secco” on the label, which means dry.  If you see “Amabile” on the label, it means sweet, which is a different style altogether.  Dry Lambrusco is excellent with salty foods such as salumi, ham and makes a surprisingly good choice for roast turkey.

But, I want to return to Moscato for a moment.  This frizzante wine has created an entirely new market here in the US, with its light-alcohol (11%) and crisp-green apple fruity (read sweet) versions. Its popularity has spawned a worldwide planting frenzy, which we can consider debating at another time.  One of California’s forerunners of this style is Eberle Moscato Cannelli from Paso Robles.
Spain’s entry is Cava. Only wines produced in the traditional Champagne method may call themselves cavas, any other styles of production must carry the name “sparkling wine”.  The majority (about 97%) of cavas are produced in the Penedès area of Catalonia.  For me, Cava is another to keep an eye on since it’s often the most value priced of all the sparkling wines — starting at around $10 per bottle. 
California is the only other place in the world outside of the Champagne region in France that can legally call its sparkling wine “champagne”.  There’s plenty of sparkling wine that’s been shed over this legality and if you’d like to indulge in a little mental flossing, you can read the history here.
Most winemakers from the state won’t stoop to that loophole and are confident enough in the quality and prestige of their sparkling wines to call it just that. My go-to California sparklers are: Domaine Carneros Rosé; the granddaddy, Domaine Chandon Brut (whose winemaker brings yeast from Champagne each year); and Schramsberg. 
France also offers up some exciting non-Champagne alternatives from the Loire Valley, with sparkling Vouvray and from Burgundy both a Bouillot rosé from Bouillot and a Brut from Charles de Fere each at about $16. 
The trend of fizz has extended into New Zealand with sparkling Sauvignon Blanc and Baja has introduced its first version into the US via L.A. Cetto Brut Sparkling wine.
Having said all of this, Champagne, the inventor of champenoise method is still the most celebrated of them all with a rich history of tradition and elegance.  For value and definite style, I veer away from the usual “orange” label and seek out either Ayala Brut Majeur Non Vintage, under $40. Ayala is an elite founding member of the “Ivy League” of Champagne houses or Nicolas Feuillatte Rosé at $45, with a blushing rose color and a delicate taste of toast with fresh cherries  — think Trader Joe’s cherry preserves on toast – and a Happy New Year!  

Wherever you are, raise a glass with any one of these as we celebrate the arrival of 2013 and exhale from 2012.  I promise it’ll be an elevating and invigorating swallow!
Tip:  Save any left over bubbly in ice cube trays (yes, they still make them) in the freezer.  Next column we’ll explore what to do with left over bubbly.

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Contributor’s website:  Splashpros
Image Credits: 1 – friendsEAT2 –  Serious Eats; 3 –  Italgrob; 4 – Serious Eats; 5 – BostonZest 6 – Na My Wedding
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