Keep it sparkling (wine) all year round!

The festive yellow label of Veuve Clicquot champagne fits in with the holiday crowd of carolers. Sparkling wines are gaining popularity for every day drinking - not just special occasions.
The festive yellow label of Veuve Clicquot champagne fits in with the holiday crowd of carolers. Sparkling wines are gaining popularity for every day drinking – not just special occasions.

Champagne is all the rage.

That’s what I’m reading in wine magazines and being told from local sommeliers, merchants and distributors.

There are some good buys on the market too. Domestic champagnes, especially from New York state and California, are getting better all the time and the prices are reasonable.

European sparkling wines are following suit. The French still turn out the highest quality champagnes which command top prices, but vintners are keen on attracting a larger customer base so they are offering more choices than ever before. It seems to be working; champagne sales are surging.

It’s ironic how a spotty economy is good for the champagne market. According to a Wine Spectator artcile, champagne sales increased 1.2 percent in 2012, posting total sales of $447 million. A better statistic from Data Impact reports that sparking wine consumption in the U.S. has increased 14 percent from 2007 to 2012.

A nice dry French champagne for the holidays and every day.
A nice dry French champagne for the holidays and every day.

It appears that Americans are getting more comfortable with the product. Producers are engaging wine drinkers about the crisp, sparkling tastes inside the attractively shaped bottles. Caramel, honey, apple, lemon and other citrus flavors, bursting in bubbles, excite the palate. And the finish ranges from the very dry — Extra Brut — to very sweet — Doux.

Two years ago, I visited two top-notch champagne producers in Sonoma and Napa Valley — Gloria Ferrer and Korbel. Winery tours included a delightful segment on how champagne is made, were delightlful. The best part, though, were the tastings. I became a champagne convert that day. At Korbel, there is a fine deli shop on the grounds where you can purchase a gourmet sandwich and a small bottle of champagne, and eat lunch. Fantastico!

Both Gloria Ferrer and Korbel market sparkling wines from $20 a bottle to more than $100.

In Europe, champagne comes close to being an every day wine, especially in northern France where the wine originated in the region of Champagne. While Americans tend to think of the bubbly as a toasting wine for special occasions, Europeans enjoy it with food or as a relaxing  aperitif

I love champagne. My problem is I don’t think of it when planning a meal. Yet I should be. One of my resolutions for 2014 is to put champagne on the wine list. Popping a cork is invigorating and pouring the bubbly from a beautiful bottle, the neck wrapped in foil, adds panache to any presentation.

Champagne is made from three grape varietals: Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, which are both red grapes, and Chardonnay. The red skins are removed prior to the fermentation process to make the “golden” sparkler we often select. Pink champagne is produced when a small amount of red skins are kept in contact with the crushed grape juice, prior to fermentation. Most fine champagnes are a blend of the three grapes.

There are many impressive French champagnes on the market and you don’t have to pay a king’s ransom to get them: Moet & Chandon, Louis Barthelemy, Moutard Pere & Fils, Taittinger, Bernard Remy and others offer distinctive, quality products in the $40 to $50 range. Closer to home, you can’t go wrong trying a California or New York state version.

For the economy minded, there is a Barefoot Bubbly champagne for $10 that comes highly rated. As for me, I’ll be trying a nice bottle of Veuve Clicquot ($45) over the holidays..

Happy New Year!

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