Wine Ink: ‘Tis the Season. For Bubbles. | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Wine Ink: ‘Tis the Season. For Bubbles.

Kelly J. Hayes
Special to the Tribune

Nothing salutes the calendar's turning from one year to the next better than a glass of Champagne.

That frothy taste in your mouth, the creamy texture on your tongue and that undeniable tipsy feeling bequeathed by bubbles make it the perfect medium to toast the passing of the previous year and to celebrate the brightness of the future ahead. Yes, Champagne is the elixir that is more closely associated with the turning of the earth and the ways we mark the change than any other.

So the only question, as we head into the final week of 2015, is which Champagne do you want to drink?

BUBBLE BASICS

To begin with, for this holiday and for this year in particular, let's all salute the French and drink "real" Champagne. By that I mean Champagne from the Champagne region of France, which is the only place in the world where one can legally label a sparkling wine as Champagne. Got that?

There are dozens of other sparkling wines in the world, ranging from Italian Prosecco and Spanish Cava to Australian sparkling shiraz and the great sparkling wines made by outposts of French Champagne houses in places like Argentina and California. All can be wonderful in their own right and many use the same "méthode champenoise," which calls for a secondary fermentation of the grapes in the bottle that is both the tradition and the law in Champagne.

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But to be Champagne, the grapes must be: grown in the Champagne AOC, or appellation, which is in the heart of northern France; be made from just seven approved grape varieties — pinot noir, pinot meunier, pinot blanc, pinot gris, arbane, petit meslier; and be vinified using the aforementioned method in wineries located in Champagne. There are other laws about things like how the vines are pruned and how the grapes are pressed, that are somewhat "inside bubbles," but suffice to say that Champagne is unique in the world of wine.

Once you've decided to go French there are still a myriad of choices to make, but the most important is the style of Champagne you wish to drink.

Do you prefer a white or a rosé Champagne? Do you want a wine made from 100 percent Chardonnay which is a Blanc de Blanc, meaning "white from white?" Or one that is made from the darker grapes pinot noir and pinot meunier, aka a Blanc de Noir?

Do you prefer a Vintage Champagne, which means that the juice hails from a single year's harvest and was aged for at least three years? Or do you want an "NV", or non-vintage, Champagne that is an assemblage of wines from different years that have been blended together to make the Champagne? The NVs can be just as tasty, though by law they are only required to be aged for 15 months.

I know that sounds like a lot of decisions. However, if you have the time and resources, the best way to learn about the beauty of bubbles is to taste as many as possible. Maybe New Year's Eve is not the best time to educate your self about the differences between Champagne from different Cru vineyards or the subtleties of the different "Grower Champagnes" (those wines that are family-made in the region), but it can serve as a good place to start. 2016 is a great year to expand your knowledge. Open up a book or two, or go to your local wine shop to explore some of the more obscure labels and flavor profiles. Have some fun.

DO IT RIGHT

There about 100 major Champagne houses and almost all make wines worthy of celebration. In recent years, certain names — Dom and Cristal head the list — have become synonymous, and rightly so, with the finer things in life. More than simply outstanding bottles of bubbly, they have become brands or status symbols.

That's all fine and good for those who market Champagne, but to drink great Champagne one does not need to be a superstar athlete, rapper or billionaire. There are values to be found from the large Champagne houses and there are a number of small family-made wines, those "Grower Champagnes," that are making their way to our shores. For $50 to $60, you can find an outstanding bottle for your New Year's celebration. Do yourself a favor and ask questions of those in your local wine shop when you go to make your purchase. You may save some money and come away with both a story and a great wine.

Finally, when you are ready to pour, to get the most from your bubbles be sure that it is chilled (between 42 and 50 degrees is the sweet spot). Chill your bottle for at least two hours in the fridge or place it in a bucket of cold water with ice for a half-hour or so. Do not put it in the freezer. You might forget it there in the revelry and end up with a bottle of frozen CO2.

Use flutes for your Champagne so that you can see the dance of the bubbles as they race to the top. And, most importantly, look your lover in the eye when you make your toast.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass, Colorado, with his wife, Linda, and black lab named Vino. He can be reached at malibukj@aol.com.

A HAND FULL OF BUBBLES

Here are five bottles that will not disappoint. The prices range with different specials but are estimates of what you can expect to pay this holiday season.

Veuve-Clicquot Yellow Label NV, $60

From the Champagne House that invented the riddling rack, where wines are given a quick turn every two days to shake the sediments, one of the great traditions in Champagne. Today the Yellow Label is recognized globally as a brand of pure pleasure

Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial NV, $50

As the number one selling Champagne on earth, with sales exceeding 2 million cases, the Brut Imperial has improved with each release since Benoît Gouez took the helm as cellarmaster a decade ago. For 24 hours across the globe, as the clock strikes midnight in successive locales, the Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial NV will be hoisted in toasts.

Ayala Brut Rosé Majeur, $55

The only Rosé on this short list, this wine is a blend of 50 percent chardonnay, 40 percent pinot noir and remainder pinot meunier, a classic blend. Fermented in stainless steel, this beautiful pale pink sparkler has a hint of yeast, a trace of earth and a mouthful of nose tickling bubbles. The prettiest of these five in the glass.

Champagne Geoffroy “Expression,” $50

A “Grower Champagne” made from grapes grown in Cru vineyards by a family that has been in the region since the 1600s. A great way to explore the interesting world of Champagne’s small producers

Dom Perignon 2005, $199.99

I couldn’t resist a little bling. This 2005 Dom was recently released and was produced in a year that provided a challenging vintage. Small production means this wine will likely command high prices going forward. The blend is heavy on chardonnay and the word from those who have tasted it is that this decade-old Dom is a sensation.

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