In honor of #ChampagneDay…here is a little primer on Sparkling wines and Champagne that we put together as we planned our Sparkling pairing for our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds Event.
The Sparkling Wine
As we planned for our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds event we knew that we wanted to begin with a sparkling wine. Bubbles are celebratory and a great way to get an event off to the right start. We also knew that with our sparkling wine we would serve it in glasses rather than flutes, which would not keep the bubbles as much, but would allow guest to smell the aromas behind the wine. We looked at many different sparkling wines, and it was important to me to find something with some yeast or bread on the nose, to give us a chance to talk about how Sparkling wine is made in the traditional Champenoise method.
Quick lesson on Sparkling wine:
There are two methods of making a sparkling wine. One is the “Charmat” or “Tank” Method, the other is Methode Champenoise.
The Charmat Method
The Charmat method is a less expensive way to make a sparkling wine. The secondary fermentation (the one that causes the bubbles) is done in a large pressurized tank instead of in the bottle. Because you can only get 2-4 atmospheres of pressure in this way, the bubbles tend to be larger. Prosecco and Lambrusco are made in this way.
Methode Champenoise or Methode Traditionnelle is more expensive because it is more labor intensive. This starts by making a base wine then adding sugar and yeast to the bottle which starts a secondary fermentation. The bottles are placed in riddling racks, which tip the bottle slightly upside down allowing the lees (the dead yeast cells) to collect in the neck of the bottle. You know that Veuve Clicquot Champagne? Well Madame Nicole Barbe Clicquot was the inspiration behind riddling racks. She hated the cloudy look of champagne, because at the time the lees would settle in the bottom of the bottle and when your poured it, it would get all cloudy (think Kombucha). So she had these racks created which would hold the bottles at a forty five degree angle with the neck down. Several times a week, workers go in and turn the bottle, in some cases giving it a small shake to make sure the lees are not caking or clinging to the glass. Then they freeze the neck of the bottle so that they can “disgorge” the plug of lees that has settled in the neck of the bottle. They then refill the empty space in the bottle often adjusting the sweetness in the process and cork and cage the wine. Because these wines do the secondary fermentation in the bottle (the big heavy champagne bottles) the pressure is higher, at 6-7 atmospheres of pressure which is what gives you those very small fine bubbles.
Sweetness levels in Sparkling wine
Yep, this can be confusing. Dry is not really dry. Typically in a wine, dryness is dependent on the amount of residual sugar in the finished wine. In the fermentation process, yeast eats the sugar, in the end, if it eats all the sugar you get a dryer wine, if there is sugar left over…well that is the residual sugar! In Sparkling wines dry comes in the wrong place for my brain on the sweetness scale. Here we go with our rundown of wine sweetness.
This is from Sweetest to driest:
Doux: Sweetest (this will give you over 2 teaspoons of sugar for each glass)
Demi-Sec: a little less sweet (only 1 to 2 teaspoons of sugar per glass)
Dry: Not REALLY dry (3/4 to 1 teaspoon of sugar)
Extra Dry: Well, it’s dryer than dry! (1/2 to ¾ teaspoons)
Brut: Now we are getting dryer (1/4 to ½ teaspoons of sugar)
Extra Brut: Dryer than Brut with (less than ¼ teaspoons of sugar)
Brut Nature: Okay here we go…this is the driest! (less than 1/6 teaspoon of sugar in a glass)
This is important to keep in mind, because unless you go to a great little wine shop where they are smart and knowledgeable, it is unfortunately likely that they will point you in the wrong direction on the dryness scale. (toss this info in your phone for when you go champagne shopping!)
We narrowed our choices to a California Sparkling Wine, a Cremant, and a Champagne and brought them home for a tasting.
The California Sparkling wine was a Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut
I picked this one up because the description said “crisp” and “toasty”. This wine was hand-harvested Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (traditional Champagne grapes) from Sonoma County in California and specifically in the Carneros District. Carneros is the lower part of the Sonoma/Napa Region, closest to San Francisco. They have over 40 selections of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay planted on their estate. This gives them some diversity in the grapes they are harvesting to create a consistent cuvee. With sparkling wines a Cuvee is a non-vintage blend, which means multiple years can be blended together. That means a warmer vintage can be blended with a cooler vintage to make a cuvee that matches the one you put out last year. So year after year, customers can be sure that the wine will taste the same. This blend is mostly Pinot Noir, which has little skin contact so that you don’t get any pink in the wine.
Louise Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blanc
The nose on this said ”aromas of citrus and flowers, evolving into butter and brioche notes with age”.
So lets start with the “Blanc de Blanc” part. That indicates that it is a sparkling made from white grapes (blanc is white, so white of white). In this case it is mostly (85%) Chardonnay.
Now the “Cremant” .Cremant (“cray-mont”) is a method champenoise sparkling wine that is made outside of the Champagne region. It can be made from grapes other than the traditional Champagne grapes. It originally indicated that the wine was less fizzy or bubbly than Champagne.
Onto the “de Bourgogne” part…so the region this wine is made in is Bourgogne (Burgundy), a region known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Champagne A. J. de Margerie a Bouzy Grand Cru
This wine is from the Champagne region and is 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay. The tasting notes said “Dry, cherry, berry, toast”.
It is from the famed Bouzy is a village in the Montagne de Reims Region of Champagne where Pinot Noir is mostly grown (there you go with why it’s 90% Pinot!)
And the winner is…
So we tasted and they were all very nice, but the Champagne had the bread I was looking for on the nose. It wasn’t quite toast and brioche was not a term that I felt would resonate with people. As I continued to smell the visual of hamburger buns came to me. When I mentioned this to Michael, he immediately could smell it. We had our sparkling wine.
The Pairings for the Party
So now we had our Sparkling wine. Time to move forward with the pairings! Since we wanted to “Open Minds” to the aromas and then the emotions that the aromas brought with them, we wanted to set up scent jars, to let our guests compare the scents that they might be getting in the wine with the real thing. We also needed a food pairing, something to munch on that would spark conversation and of course the art.
The aroma jars with this wine were cherries, berries and hamburger buns. As cherries were not in season, I picked up a bag of frozen cherries and defrosted them. Our berries were blueberries, cut strawberries and blackberries.
So why do you smell berries when this is a white wine? Well, Champagne is typically made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They do very little skin contact so you don’t get the red color from the Pinot Noir grapes. So the berries and cherries you smell come from the Pinot Noir as this is a 90% Pinot Noir Champagne.
And the hamburger buns…that would be the dying yeast. The yeast is eating up the sugar in the wine making it ferment, much like what it does to make bread rise. So you get that yeasty/bready nose, which on this wine hit me as hamburger buns.
The Food Pairing
Champagne can often seem pretentious, being paired with caviar and fancy things, but it’s really a beverage about celebrating.. The Champagne maker at Laetitia in San Luis Obispo says that his favorite pairing with Champagne was popcorn. So we had movie theatre popcorn and potato chips to pair. Champagne is really the perfect pairing for food, going great with salt & fat. Salt & fat are delicious, but the fat will coat your tongue and block up your taste buds, and the salt makes you thirsty. The bubbles in Champagne are perfect for clearing all the fat of your tongue and quenching your thirst making every bite taste as good as the first. So, when it doubt as to what to pair with a meal? Go with something sparkling!
The Art Pairing
RuBen’s Painting for this wine evoked a warmth that for me brought out the bread on the nose. The painting was bright but also warm and comforting and there was texture on the canvas evoking the texture and bubbles in the Champagne.
What people had to say
We asked our guests for their thoughts, maybe a memory or phrase that came to mind as they smelled and tasted the wine, smelled the aroma jars, tasted the pairing and gazed upon the art. Here were some of their thoughts…
A perfect first date.
happy – like a picnic in an apple orchard
a field with dandelions and fresh grass
A beautiful sun shower in late April, early May
movement of life
crisp pears – a cool spring afternoon
Of course after the Champagne it was time to move on to the Sauvignon Blanc. Join us back here for more on that!
Note to wine geeks, I’m kinda excited about a new book coming out called “But First, Champagne: A Modern Guide to the World’s Favorite Wine”. It’s by David White (of the Terroirist the wine blog) with a forward by Ray Isle (of Food And Wine Magazine) and promises to be a perfect book for both the newbie and the longtime Champagne lover. It is available for pre-order on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/But-First-Champagne-World%C2%92s-Favorite/dp/1510711449 and will be coming out in about 8 weeks.
For more on Champagnes here is another blog post Sparkling Wine, Champagne and those tiny bubbles
Oh and for this event I perfected my method of opening Champagne bottles! Want to look extra cool and professional opening Champagne? Do want I did and follow Madeline Puckette’s advice! Visit her blog Wine Folly and check out “How to Open Champagne Safely”
Check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on the details on the wines we paired with the Art and our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds Event! You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram