Showing posts with label sparkling wine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sparkling wine. Show all posts

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Sparklers for Valentine’s Day and Super Bowl

Since the winter holidays, one doesn’t have to look far for a reason to pop open a bottle of sparkling wine. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, there is yet another occasion for a sparkler. Let’s also not forget that Super Bowl beer bros and Swifties may enjoy some bubblies too. With that, here’s a primer on the different types of sparkling wine and my take on what to drink for the occasion.

Sparkling Wine by Michelle McEwen on Unsplash

From the Rustic Pét-Nat

Let’s start with how sparkling wine came about. Wine is produced from the alcoholic fermentation of grapes or grape juice (called the must). During the process, yeast in the must converts sugar into alcohol and produces carbon dioxide as a byproduct. When making a still (as opposed to a sparkling) wine, the yeast will consume virtually all the sugar and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. When that happens, fermentation is considered complete. The wine is then racked to remove grape debris and remaining yeast (called the lees) and bottled.

If residual sugar is left in the wine and the lees are not thoroughly removed prior to bottling, then fermentation may continue in the bottle. Carbon dioxide that is released in the process is then trapped in the bottle, resulting in a bubbly. This was probably how sparkling wine was first discovered, and the process is known as the ancestral method or méthode ancestrale. This class of sparkling wine is called pétillant-naturel or pét-nat for short.

I have made pét-nat before, and it is a really fun wine. (My friend in the video was opening a bottle of my pét-nat.) While it may be the father of all sparkling wines, pét-nat has only returned into vogue in recent years. This, not surprisingly, coincides with the natural wine movement. Unconstrained by conventions and rules, the lightly fizzy wine may be made with any grape varieties and may be filtered or not. The main requirement is that the wine is made in a single fermentation that lasts through the bottle. Many pét-nats have playful labels and are sometimes enclosed with a crown cork, like a beer bottle.

Best for Super Bowl party or any casual get-together with pub grub. A little lower in alcohol content (around 10-12% ABV) and with a friendly price point (around $20/bottle), pét-nats may deliver a range of fun and funky flavors depending on the grape variety and the length of lees contact. In fact, many would compare a pét-nat with a craft beer. So drink up, Super Bowl beer bros.

To the Ritzy Champagne

If pét-nat is the wine of the people, then Champagne is the wine of royalty. Besides being made in the region of Champagne, the namesake wine is also highly regulated in terms of grape varieties (primarily Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier), viticulture practice, viniculture method, and the length of maturation on the lees; all of which run contrary to the making of a pét-nat.

Champagne tasting at Möet et Chandon
Unlike pét-nat, Champagne goes through an elaborate winemaking process to deliver a floral, bready, nutty wine with a creamy and full texture, crisp acidity, and a steady stream of bubbles. The steps in making a Champagne, known as méthode Champenoise or méthode traditionalle, include:
  • First alcoholic fermentation: A still wine is first made and bottled.
  • Second (or secondary depending on your perspective) alcoholic fermentation: Add more yeast, sugar, and wine (the mixture is called liqueur de triage) in bottles of still wine.
  • Aging: The bottles are then aged for at least 15 months on the remaining lees.
  • Riddling or remuage: The bottles are placed on special wooden racks called pupitres or the machinery-equivalent at 35° angle and then gradually shaken and rotated in the rack at an increasing angle.
  • Dégorgement: When the bottles are virtually upside down, the remaining lees that have now settled in the bottleneck will then be frozen and removed.
  • Final Touch: The bottles are then topped up with base wine, sucrose, and sulfur dioxide (the mixture is called liqueur d’expédition) to balance and stabilize the wine before being secured with a cork and a wire cage (muselet). The amount of sweetness added is also known as the dosage.
Best for Valentine’s Day or any special occasion. Champagne, the gold standard for sparkling wine, can be a splurge with a starting price of $50/bottle. However, the sparkler is super versatile and can pair with a wide range of cuisine from fried chicken to fresh oysters. But nothing says luxury better than Champagne and caviar.

And Everywhere in Between

Traditional Method, but not Champagne - Do you like a Champagne but not the price? Thankfully, there are many wallet-friendly bubblies available outside of Champagne that are made in the traditional method. These include French crémant, Spanish cava, and sparkling wines all over the world with Traditional or Champagne Method stated on the label.

There are eight French crémant regions, each with its own regulations around grape varieties and style. The same goes to Spanish cava. However, these regulations are less stringent than those in Champagne, allowing the producers to keep the cost down while delivering quality sparklers.

While New World bubbly producers are not restricted in how they make their wine, they tend to go beyond méthode Champenoise. This includes the use of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and sometimes Pinot Meunier grapes. Many even follow the Champagne labelling of Blanc de Blanc (100% Chardonnay) and Blanc de Noir (100% Pinot Noir clear juice) in their offerings.

Best for a Valentine’s Day celebration on a budget or casual brunch. The price range varies, but a bottle of Cava may start with $10/bottle. At that price, you can even use it to make mimosa or Champagne float guilt-free. (Side note - Please do not use real Champagne in your Champagne float.)

Charmat Method - If you remove the labor-intensive steps of second (or secondary) fermentation in the bottle as well as the subsequent riddling and dégorgement, you may end up with the Charmat method. In this method, the liquer de triage is added to still wine in a pressurized tank instead of a bottle. The wine then goes through second fermentation is in the tank for 1 to 6 weeks. After this, the wine is clarified, and dosage is added during bottling.

While commonly known by its French name, the Charmat Method was invented and patented in 1895 by Italian winemaker in Asti named Federico Martinotti. A couple of decades after that, French oenologist Eugène Charmat improved on the process and patented it. In Italy, this process is sometimes known as the Martinotti method.
Prosecco by Lisanne van Elsen on Unsplash
In terms of flavor profile, bubbly made in the Charmat method tends to be more aromatic (mostly due to the grape varieties used) but lacks the nutty, bready, multi-dimensional flavor found in Champagne. As one might expect given its origin, many Italian sparklers are made in the Charmat method; the most famous of which is Prosecco. This low-labor low-cost approach is also adopted around the world. If the label on a New World sparkling wine does not indicate the traditional method, it is probably made using the Charmat method.

Best for Super Bowl party, a casual get-together, or brunch. Starting at a price of less than $10/bottle, sparkling wine made in the Charmat method can be enjoyed as-is or be used to make fun sparkling cocktails. Peach Bellini, my Swiftie friends?

Now that you know about the different types of sparkling wine, what will be your pick for Valentine’s Day or Super Bowl party? I’d love to hear what you think.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Pét-Nat, Pet What? The Hipster Sparkler

You know Champagne and Prosecco, the two styles of sparkling wines. Their key distinction lies in the method of second fermentation, where the liqueur de tirage (mixture of yeast, sugar, and wine) is introduced to the still wine base to produce bubbles. Second fermentation takes place in the bottles for Champagne (known as the traditional method) and in the tank for Prosecco (known as the Charmat method). While wine connoisseurs argue which method is better, there is yet another sparkling wine that does not even go through a second fermentation.

Hipster Wine by Robson Hatsukami Morgan
on Unsplash

Hello, Pét-Nat, the hipster sparkler! 

Short for pétillant-naturel (French for "naturally sparkling"), pét-nat wines have gained in popularity in recent years with the increased demand for more natural and less manipulated wines. Fad aside, the pét-nat method (known as the ancestral method) was probably how the first sparkling wines were made. This production method dates back to the 1500's. 

It is not hard to imagine how pét-nats might come about by accident. Back in the days without modern equipment and knowledge to measure and monitor the decrease in sugar content during alcoholic fermentation, wine was sometimes bottled before the process was complete. The yeast then resumed converting sugar to alcohol while releasing carbon dioxide as a byproduct in the bottle. So when the bottle was popped, there was a slight effervescence in the wine from the carbonation.

Here are three things to know about pét-nat, and why your hipster friends may love them.

Low Alcohol

Pét-nat wines are made with a single alcoholic fermentation process that starts outside and continues inside the bottle. Champagne and Prosecco, on the other hand, start with still wine as a base that is layered on with the alcohol from the second fermentation.

As a result, most pét-nat wines run in the range of 10-12% ABV, relatively lower compared to the 12-12.5% ABV found in a Champagne or a Prosecco.

A Tad Fizzy

Pét-nat wines rely solely on whatever is left of the primary fermentation in the bottle for carbonation. Without the liqueur de tirage to fuel more yeasty activity, pét-nats will not achieve the level of effervescence that a Champagne or a Prosecco produces. However, if you enjoy wine with just a little fizz, pét-nats will deliver on that.

A Tad Fizzy by Giovanna Gomes on Unsplash

For the physicists among us who can relate to bars as the units of measure for pressure, pét-nats generally come up to about 2.5-3 bars. That is somewhere between semi-sparkling and a less sparkling wine. In comparison, Champagnes and Proseccos range between 5.5-6 bars.

Hipster Rustic

While Champagne and Prosecco winemaking can be highly involved to achieve a certain finesse and/or a consistent house style, the making of pét-nats requires a light hand. Some pét-nat makers may be more precise than others at achieving the right level of sugar content prior to bottling, even if it is just to prevent bottle explosion in the cellar. But generally, pét-nats are described as unpredictable and less tamed. 

Crown corks by Adam Wilson on Unsplash

Then there is the question of disgorgement that is practiced by Champagne makers. Disgorgement is the process of removing the lees (dead yeasts and sediments) after bottle fermentation. Some pét-nat makers may disgorge, and others may choose not to. Pét-nats that do not go through disgorgement tend to be cloudy and funky to the nose and the palate. 

But nothing screams hipster rustic more than an unpredictable, cloudy, funky wine that is bottled and enclosed with a crown cork. 

I had the pleasure of tasting two pét-nats from Grosgrain, a Walla Walla winery. Here's what I think:

Grosgrain Pét-Nats

2020 Pétillant Naturel Sparkling Sémillon, Les Collines Vineyard, Walla Walla AVA, 11.1% alcohol

The wine is deep gold, lightly bubbly, and a little cloudy. It is definitely funky and yeasty to the nose. On the palate, it is surprisingly light, crisp, and citrus-y with a higher acidity than a still Sémillon. I would say it is somewhere between a cider and a wine. It is definitely interesting.

2020 Pétillant Naturel Sparkling Old Vine Lemberger, Kiona Vineyard, Red Mountain AVA, 12.4% alcohol

The wine is medium copper, a little frothier, and a little cloudier. The nose is pleasantly floral and fruit-forward without any yeasty funk. It continues to delight on the palate with bright fruit and high acidity. There is still the hint of a cider characteristic. It is my favorite between the two.

My Verdict: I definitely enjoyed trying the pét-nats. It will probably not replace Champagne as a celebratory special-occasion wine, but I can see pét-nats in the rotation at a summer barbecue. What do you think?

Monday, November 30, 2020


I love, love, LOVE Champagne! 

However, there will be times when one is forced to move to Schitt's Creek, where these prized sparklers can't be found. Or perhaps one's wallet is feeling light this year, but the festivity must go on. Be of good (holiday) cheer, you do not have to resort to Zhampagne. There are yummy sparklers made via méthode champenoise that will not break the bank.

David Rose getting some Zhampagne

First, let's delve into this multi-step process to make Champagne. 

Méthode Champenoise

Champagnes go through two fermentations. In the first fermentation, the yeast turns natural sugar in the grapes to alcohol, creating the base wine. This is then bottled with some liqueur de tirage, a mixture of wine, sugar, and yeast, which then kickstarts a second fermentation. This time, carbon dioxide, a fermentation bi-product, is trapped in the bottle and will eventually be released in tiny bubbles for the special occasion.

Bottles in pupitres for riddling
After the second fermentation, the bottles are then aged with the remaining yeast particles, known as the lees, for at least 15 months. This prolonged contact allows the wine to develop a creamier and fuller texture with a nutty bready aroma.

When aging is complete, the bottles are held at 35° in special racks called pupitres. Every day or two, the bottles will be lightly shaken, turned, and put back in the rack at a gradually increasing angle. This process is called riddling or remuage

After a few weeks, the bottles will be virtually held upside down. The lees will settle in the neck of the bottle to be frozen and removed via a process called dégorgement

Finally, the bottle is topped up with liqueur d'expédition, usually a mixture of base wine, sucrose and sulfur dioxide, to balance and stabilize the wine. A cork is then secured in place with a wire cage. 

Viola! That concludes the process that is known as méthode champenoise, also known as the traditional method.

Other than Champagne

While elaborate, méthode champenoise is well-practiced outside the Champagne region. Even within France, there are sparkling wines that are produced in the traditional method. The famous ones are the eight appellations of Crémant; namely, Alsace, Jura, Bourgogne, Savoie, Die, Limoux, Bordeaux, and Loire. Compared to Champagne, the rules for making Crémant are less stringent, particularly in the length of time spent aging on the lees. What you may lose in flavor profile, you gain in price point.

Freixenet Headquarter
The European bubbly that is often lauded as the closest thing to Champagne, however, is the Spanish Cava. And at a fraction of the price! Here's a fun fact, the largest producer of traditional method sparkling wine is Freixenet, headquartered in Saudurni d'Anoia, Spain. Personally, I am partial to Cava as it brings back fond memories of our Christmas vacation in Barcelona several years ago. 

On the other side of the pond, many Champagne houses have opened their satellite wineries in the likes of Napa, Sonoma, and Willamette, affording us the expertise of the best in French sparkling winemaking. However, not to be overlooked are producers in less known areas like Washington and New Mexico. But before you grab a bottle from the grocery store, make sure that the label indicates that the bubbly is made in the traditional or Champagne method.

Other than Zhampagne

Now, if a bottle of Champagne is not within your reach, I have a few recommendations for Champagne-style sparklers this holiday season!

Flama d'Or Brut

  • Winery: Castell d'Or 
  • Region/Appellation: Cava, Spain
  • Retail Price: $11
  • Minimum Aging: 14 months
  • Winery Notes: Straw-colored yellow with slight golden highlights with a good release of small bubbles forming a rosary and a persistent crown. A fine aroma of aging, followed by floral scents and ripe fruits. In the mouth, it is extremely vivacious, compensated by a pleasant equilibrium and elegance. The aftertaste is fruity, evoking apple, pear and a hint of citrus. Fresh, pleasant, well-balanced and a good, fine structure of the bubble.

Gruet NV Blanc de Blancs

  • Winery: Gruet Winery
  • Region/Appellation: Middle Rio Grande Valley, New Mexico, United States
  • Retail Price: $17
  • Minimum Aging: 3.5 years
  • Winery Notes: Gruet Blanc de Blancs is a Brut styled sparkler, medium lemon in color with a fantastic bead in the glass that remains incredibly lively throughout the palate. Aromas of intense notes of brioche, followed by green apples, lemon zest, honeysuckle, and tropical fruit.

Treveri Blanc de Blanc

  • Winery: Treveri Cellars 
  • Region/Appellation: Yakima Valley, Washington, United States
  • Retail Price: $15
  • Minimum Aging: 24 months
  • Winery Notes: The most well-known of sparkling wines, Treveri Blanc de Blancs captures hints of green apple and brioche, balanced out by a cool, crisp finish.
So here you go! No need to resort to Zhampagne. Here's to a sparkly bubbly holiday season. Cheers!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Raiding the Cellar - Thanksgiving 2016

Thanksgiving can't come soon enough!

Besides preparing my favorite dishes, I absolutely love wine pairing. This year, however, I will not be shopping for Thanksgiving wines. Thanks to numerous winery visits, too many wine club memberships, and an excessive wine buying habit, my wine cellar is overflowing. So my challenge is to pick a few bottles from my collection for the big meal:

Thanksgiving wine pairings - Cava, Riesling, Grenache, Burgundy

NV Castell d'Or Cava Flama d'Or Imperial Brut 
(Retail: $10)

OK, this is an easy one. You can't go wrong with sparkling wines. They go with everything; as an aperitif with cheese and crackers, a complement to the roast bird itself, or even a digestif with pumpkin pie. In addition, you could concoct all kinds of cocktails - a splash of orange juice, a splash of Campari, and/or a splash of St Germaine. It is like a party in a flute.

I love to indulge in a good grower's champagne or one from a high quality champagne house, like Veuve Clicquot and Möet et Chandon. I love the dry taste of dough and fruit, the weightlessness brought on by a million bubbles.

However, there are many budget-friendly options: like a Crémant or a Cava. Both are sparkling wines made the same way a Champagne is made, but outside of Champagne: in France and Spain respectively. Known as method champenoise, these sparkling wines go through a secondary fermentation in the bottle. This is accomplished by adding a mixture of sugar and yeast, called the liqueur de tirage, to the still wine. This secondary fermentation creates the bubbles in the sparkling wine as carbon dioxide is released.

While I am out of Champagne right now, I do have a couple bottles of NV Castell d'Or Cava Flama d'Or Imperial Brut. The sparkling wine is made of a blend of Spanish grape varietals - Xarel·lo, Macaque, and Parellada. It is probably my favorite budget-friendly Cava, and it will be a great way to start the celebration.

2013 Brady Cellars Grenache
(Retail: $37)

If you prefer a red for Thanksgiving, Grenache is an excellent choice. It is medium-bodied, fruity, and vibrant; a great accompaniment to turkey, ham, and all kinds of Thanksgiving sides.

Old world Grenache-based wines, like Chateauneuf du Pape and Priorat, have a smokey and earthy profile that make great pairings for dishes that are spiced with sage, rosemary, and thyme. New world Grenache is even more fruit-forward and can be very aromatic and easy to drink.

My pick for the meal is the first vintage of Grenache by Brady Cellars.  A relatively young winery that has been focusing mostly on Bordeaux grapes, Brady took a stab at making Grenache in 2013 both as a rosé and a red. Both were wildly popular. The red won him a gold medal at the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Very shortly, they were all sold out. I'm lucky to have a bottle of the 2013 Grenache left. Unfortunately, he didn't make a 2014 vintage. But his 2015 vintage Grenache is really promising based on last month's barrel tasting.

The 2013 Grenache is extremely aromatic, floral, and delivers delightfully on the palate. The blend of fruit and spice is elegant. It is going to be perfect with the meal.

2008 Joseph Drouhin Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Les Damodes 
(Retail: ~$80)

The other red that is often selected for Thanksgiving is Pinot Noir. It is often the no-brainer pairing. Like Grenache, Pinot Noir is often medium-bodied, very aromatic and vibrant with fruit, spice, and earth. A good Pinot Noir also offers a bright acidity that increases its aging potential.

Famous Pinot Noir comes from Burgundy, where the wines are prized for their elegant and complex expression of the terroir. This is particularly important because Pinot Noir is a finicky varietal. It thrives where there is the perfect combination of climate, soil, and topography. Even within Burgundy, you can absolutely taste the subtle differences in the wines from the different subregions.

There are also good Pinot Noirs from the new world, such as New Zealand and the United States. In fact, Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon is often regarded as a nod to Burgundy in terms of acidity and flavor profile.

The pick for the meal is the 2008 Nuits St. Georges Premier Cru from Joseph Drouhin. The Les Damodes vineyard is located near Vosnes-Romanee with an east exposure. With a mix of clay and limestone in the soil, this is a promising wine of great finesse, befitting the special occasion.

2010 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling 'Rotlay' 
(Retail: $55)

Riesling is the Thanksgiving meal's best friend. The high acidity and minerality of a dry Riesling pairs well with turkey and refreshes the palate as it cuts through the rich gravy. A sweeter Riesling is perfect with pumpkin pie topped with a dollop of vanilla whipped cream.

Known as the noble grape from Germany, the best Rieslings come from the Rhein and Mosel regions.  As one might expect, the Germans have a very organized way of classifying Riesling to help consumers, but sometimes confuse them instead. One of the classifications is based on the increasing ripeness of grapes during harvest; from Kabinett (or cabinet) to Spätlese, Auslese, and all the way to Eiswein (or ice wine). The riper the grapes during harvest, the more sugar will be in the juice.

Unlike many cheap sweet wines, a good German Riesling is complex, with delicious minerality and bright acidity. You can also find wonderful Rieslings in Austria and in the United States, particularly Washington state.

This year, I'm picking the Rotlay from Selbach-Oster for dessert. A wonderful producer, Selbach-Oster defies the traditional practice by combining grapes of varying ripeness levels from the Rotlay parcel into a single wine. As a result, this Riesling cannot be classified although it is closest to an Auslese. A few notches below the Eiswein in terms of sweetness, the Rotlay contains just enough sugar to please the palate and make for a delightful finale.

My Verdict: These are the picks from my cellar. I have updated the notes after opening all of them up. What are your picks? Ultimately, the best wines are the ones you enjoy with people you love. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!