SMACK DOWN: Champagne, Cremant, Prosecco, Franciacorta, Cava and Pet-Nat!

Line-up for 2019 blind tasting: Global Sparkling Wines. Dave the Wine Merchant

Since December sales accounts for about 33% of all sparkling wine sales, it seems a good time to explain some basic differences between the most popular types of Sparkling wine – Champagne, Cremant, Prosecco, Franciacorta, Cava, and Pet-Nat! 

To see our selection of sparkling wines, click here.

Comite Champagne - logo

Champagne: Though this is often used as the generic term for any sparkling wine, it is actually highly regulated. For a sparkling wine to be called champagne (the word is lower case when referring to the wine, upper case when referring to the region) it must come from the demarcated region due East of Paris. Other distinctive features of champagne is that the wine is made from three primary grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (moon yay), a mutation of Pinot Noir. In addition, these wines must undergo their secondary fermentation in the very bottle you buy, as described in the steps, below.

This process used to be called “Method Champenoise” around the globe, but champagne producers lobbied the EU to require the term “Method Traditionelle” be used unless the wine is from the demarcated Champagne region. But the process is the same:

  1. Harvest occurs early while the grape’s natural acids are still high and sugars are low
  2. Dozens of lots of still wine are produced, not intended for consumption, these wines are quite astringent and searingly crisp!
  3. Master blenders then go to work to pull from various lots, creating the house style, intended to be consistent year after year
  4. The blended wine is bottled with some yeast and a small dose of sugar and then the bottle is capped so the CO2 from the fermentation can’t escape
  5. The resulting fermentation goes into the wine and creates the joy of the bubbles!
  6. After the yeast have consumed all the sugar, the spent yeast cells are left for years in the bottle, adding dough/bread notes and softness that offsets the astringency of the base wine
  7. When time to bottle the final product, the spent yeast cells are moved to the neck of the bottle, which is then frozen, the cap is popped off, and the force of the bubbles pushes the ice plug out leaving the remaining wine crystal clear.
  8. Finally, the bottle is topped off, and a final dose of sweetness may be added at this point before the bottle is corked, cleaned, labelled and sent out for celebrations everywhere!

Cremant de __________: This is the term applied to most French sparkling wines that originate outside Champagne and are produced using the “Methode Tradionelle” process (above). Other than the region and the allowance of additional grape varieties beyond Champagne’s traditional threesome, the wines are generally of excellent quality and value. The most common include Cremant de Bourgogne (Burgundy, using Chard and/or Pinot), Cremant de Loire (Chenin Blanc and a smattering of red grapes), Cremant de Alsace, Cremant de Savoie…

Prosseco: One of the most popular sparkling wines due to its affordable price and light fresh taste of apples and pears, Prosecco is the one sparkling wine on the global stage that does not ferment in the bottle. Instead, fermentation takes place in large tanks after the initial fermentation. Because this process can occur on an industrial scale, Prosecco is far less expensive than most global sparkling wines. There are two style, Spumante (sparkling) and Frizzante (lighlty fizzy), but the highest expression comes from the small region of Conegliano Valdobbiadenne.  The grape, formerly called “Prosecco”, was changed to Glera in 2009. Same grape, different name. Because Italy.

Franciacorta: This is Italy’s finest sparkling wine and is limited to the Province of Brescia in the beautiful Lombardy region (right), granted DOCG status in 1995. Allowable grapes number almost 20, and the dosage (final addition of sweetness) categories are the same as those of Champagne, but the Non Vintage wine can’t be released until at least 18 months in bottle, and Vintage Franciacorta for 30 months.

Cava: The majority (95%) of the cava is produced in Spain’s Penedes region in Catalonia. But there are also cava cellars in the regions of Aragón, Castilla y León, Extremadura, La Rioja, the Basque Country, Navarre and Valencia.

Typical grapes include a very different trio than those used in Champagne – Macabeo (white), Parellada (white) and Xarel-lo (also white!) – though Pinot is also allowed. The Rose version of Cava is made by bleeding off juice from red wine (Garnacha, Pinot noir, Trepat or Monastrell). Cavas must undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle, or else be designated as Sparkling Wine.

Pet-Nat: Hipster wine bars are over-flowing with Pet-Nat wines, described as the world’s trendiest sparkling wine. I find they are divisive among many wine lovers. The term is short for Petillant Naturel a sparkling wine that is fizzy, easy-drinking and intended for near-term consumption. Unlike all the wines above, you’ll find bottles of Pet-Nat are closed with a crown cap (like you’ll find on a Coke bottle). The secondary fermentation is started (yeast and sugar added to the bottle), and after several months, that bottle is sent to market without any disgorgement, dead yeast cells still in the bottle, leaving the wines hazy and flavorful. Because the wine is a natural product undergoing changes from week to week, Pet-nats seldom taste the same from bottle to bottle or month to month, and can often be a bit, um, ‘enthusiastic’ upon opening – be sure to have a towel handy and open over a sink!

Pet-nat wines can be a bit, um, enthusiastic upon opening!

Post by Dave the Wine Merchant

The Booty Call – A Very Short Screenplay

Opening: Night scene – Camera pans a woman’s upscale bedroom. The bedroom is neat and well decorated.  Woman is in bed, alone, and fast asleep. She may be sleeping in the nude, we can’t really tell.  Alarm clock on the night stand reads 1:15.  There is no sound, and then her cellphone rings.
(Groggily) Hello?
Hi.  It’s me, what’re you doing?
(not happy) I was sleeping.  (Testily) What do you want.
Nothing, I was just lying here, thinking how much I miss you, wanting to hear your voice.
Yeah, I miss you too, but we’ve been through all this… I thought we agreed not to call each other.
Are you alone?
(Sigh) Why are you calling?  Have you been drinking?
Yeah, I was out with the crew from work.  It’s what made me think of you, there were so many cute couples.
(Silence, then…) Remember, it was you who decided we should see other people.
Are you?  Seeing other people?
I don’t want to talk about it.
You want to come over and just cuddle?
THAT is definitely not a good idea. (A loud pop is heard over her phone, then a fizz)  What was that?
I just opened a perfectly chilled bottle of Billecart Salmon Brut Rose.  Am I drinking alone?
(long pause) I’ll be right there.
Billecart Salmon Brut Rose - Booty call!

You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!

Champagne corks are a bigger threat to eyes than Red Ryder BB Guns!  Learn why...“You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!  

That famous line from ‘A Christmas Story’ (one of our family’s favorite holiday movies!) haunted young Ralphie at every turn as he plotted and connived to get a Red Ryder BB Gun under his Christmas tree.

Well, far more eyes (~600 per year!) are lost to this most innocent-seeming item, the closure from a container of no interest to kids.   Of course I’m talking about… well,  just watch the video…

 

Cheers!

Dave “the Wine Merchant”

Sparkling Wine with Tuna Tartare on Chips

Try this once and I think you’ll want to bring it out for all your holiday parties, beginning with Halloween and on through New Year’s eve, or even Valentine’s Day.  I’m betting it is destined for your permanent recipe book, it is just that good.  Sparkling wine loves the saltiness of both the fish and the chip.  Speaking of chips – be sure to use a fresh bag of Ruffles “Naturals”.  (And no, I don’t own their stock!)

Ingredients
1 Egg yolk (as fresh as possible, this is not cooked except by the acid in the vinegar)
1 tsp peeled and grated ginger
½ Clove garlic, minced
1 ½ tsp Japanese hot mustard (or 1 tsp dry hot mustard)
1 Tbsp Mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
1 Tbsp Soy sauce
¼ Cup rice vinegar
1/3 Cup peanut oil
2 Tbsp Sesame oil, combined with the peanut oil, above.
¾ Pound Sushi-grade tuna, cut into 1/8 inch dice.  (if no sushi-grade tuna is available, freeze
regular tuna steaks for several hours to kill any unpleasant parasites)
1 Shallot, finely chopped
2 Tbsp snipped fresh chives
Salt and pepper to taste

1 Bag ridged potato chips (I recommend Ruffles “Naturals”)

Procedure
In a food processor, combine the first six ingredients (up to the soy sauce) and process until smooth.  With the motor running, add the vinegar and when combined, introduce the peanut and sesame oils.  Stop the motor as soon as the oils emulsify.  Cover and refrigerate.

For the tuna, combine the chopped tuna with the shallots, chives, and pinches of salt & pepper.  Mix in enough of the dressing to moisten well, toss again, and add more if needed.  You don’t want the fish to sit in a puddle of dressing at the bottom of the bowl, and you’ll likely have dressing left over – use it as a dip, salad dressing or a topping for grilled fish.

Presentation
When eaten in a casual setting, I enjoy scooping the fish onto my chip taken from a large bowl, or even the bag, depending on the occasion.  More formal gatherings call for the largest of the chips to be placed on a platter, the fish dropped onto them by the teaspoonful, then topped with one or two chives (cut about 2“ from the tip), or a razor-thin lemon wedge.

Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

NOTE: This recipe originally appeared as an insert to accompany a sparkling wine selected for members of my wine sampling programs.  Click here for membership information.