Is there a difference between Champagne and sparkling wine?
Not really. Officially, only wine produced in Champagne, France, can employ the name "Champagne." To produce the quality of Champagne, foreign sparkling wine producers use France's methode Champenoise (translation: "made in the method of Champagne"), a complex process that generates natural bubbles inside the bottle, as opposed to in a tank. The French protect their reputation by limiting other countries' use of the venerated name, even when they use the same production process. Thus, Americans call their sparklers "Chardonnay Champagne," "sparkling wine" or "California Champagne."
What does "brut" mean?
"Brut" means very dry, crisp sparkling wine or Champagne. There are four varying sweetness labels: Brut -- the driest you can buy; extra dry -- slightly sweeter (made specifically for the American market); demi-sec -- the sweetest, demi-secs are fairly rare and pretty pricey. Those who prefer a sweeter wine should start with an extra dry like Piper-Heidsieck Non-Vintage Extra Dry Champagne.
What food goes best with sparkling wine?
Sparkling wine excels in the "goes with everything" category. From steak, seafood and roast turkey to fruitcake, doughnuts and cookies, sparkling wine fits every occasion.
What's the best way to chill sparkling wine?
Place the bottle in a bucket filled with half-water, half-ice and a handful of salt. It only takes about 20 minutes.
What is blanc de blanc?
Blanc de blanc wine is produced using 100 percent white grapes, normally Chardonnay. Blanc de noirs is a white wine made exclusively with red grapes, normally Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
What's the deal with vintage and non-vintage Champagne?
A very common practice in sparkling wines, nonvintage (NV) indicates a blend of juice from two or more years. Winemakers sometimes "declare a vintage" when they feel the wine is exceptional. But beware: Though it frequently adds mucho dollars to the cost, vintage does not always mean quality.
What are some good sparkling wines?
Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs NV $18 : Friendly, sweet and soft with little acidity. Smooth and refreshing, with a slight grapefruit experience.
Chateau Ste. Michelle Cuvee Brut NV $9 : A fruitier extra dry that's easy on the wallet. Fabulous sour apple flavors. Perfect for those who want to wade slowly into the sparkling waters.
1998 Seaview Brut NV $10 1/2: This Australian gem is easily the best deal out there and loaded with quality. Clean, crisp and easy on the mouth.
1997 Mumm Cuvee Napa Blanc de Blancs $22 : Absolutely yummy. Citrusy and elegantly balanced with acidity. It's an incredible bargain at this price.
Nicolas Feuillatte Brut NV $25 1/2: True Champagne. Rich, full-bodied and lively on the tongue. Grapefruity flavors dance all over the place.
Bruno Paillard Brut NV $28 : Elegant, very dry and full of pear flavor. This is truly sensual Champagne and a bargain at this price.
1995 Beaumont des Crayeres Fleur de Prestige $35 1/2: Good French juice. Smells like baked bread, then explodes with lemon-lime in the mouth. Well-balanced acidity that doesn't make you pucker. Smooth and beautiful finish. A great splurge wine.
Taylor Eason is a regionally based wino who studied the juice in France and Italy. Comments? E-mail corkscrew@ creativeloafing.com, write to Corkscrew, 1310 E. Ninth Ave., Tampa, FL 33605 or call 1-800-341-LOAF.
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