© by Sheral Schowe
Even though many of us believe that this New Year's Eve is the beginning of the new millennium, I really don't anticipate the glut of Champagne purchases that we experienced last year. Wine stores around the world witnessed some sort of buying frenzy as bubbly lovers scooped up case after case. Did they expect the Champagne houses to close down at the strike of midnight, never to reopen their doors? The restaurants bought up their fair share with the anticipation of more customers than usual toasting to the conclusion of the 1900's. This resulted in so much left over Champagne, chefs had to invent creative concoctions of sorbets and sauces, using some pretty expensive sparkling ingredients.
Many folks refer to virtually anything with carbon dioxide as "Champagne." Champagne is a region in northeast France that is recognized for its fine sparkling wines. As far as the French are concerned, the term Champagne begins and stops within the region of the same name, period. California winemakers can legally attach the name "champagne" to a bottle of sparkling wine only if it is accompanied by a U.S. geographic location such as "California champagne" or Russia River champagne." Typically, if the winery in California has French owners, the product will bear the name of "sparkling wine" only.
The production of sparkling wine begins with a base wine, or "cuvee." It is made from grapes that are harvested early, with low sugar and high acid content. The traditional varieties used in Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. In California, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are used for the finest sparkling wines. Less expensive versions use French Colombard and Chenin Blanc. The term "blanc de blancs" means the white juice from white grapes. "Blanc de noirs" is the white juice from black grapes.
If you want real "Champagne" from the Champagne region of France, or wines that have been produced by the same techniques of "methode champenoise," there are plenty from which to choose. My favorites include, Pol Roger Brut $42, Mumm Cremant de Cremant $51.05, and Schramsberg J Schram $62.80. For a large, casual, holiday party, I recommend an Italian Prosecco such as Zardetto Brut $11.45, or a Spanish cava like Paul Cheneau $8.15. They are both excellent for the price.
If you are planning on consuming your fair share of celebratory beverages during the holidays, enjoy some food with your wine, drink water between glasses of wine, and let someone who has not been drinking do the driving. Cheers, and happy holidays!
Dec. 21, 2000