After nine emails on champagne, you are probably wondering if I won the lottery in order to afford so much champagne. Well, I have a secret for you. There are some reasonably priced alternatives, from France itself, Europe, and of course, over here. We are just down the road from Napa and Sonoma, and of course, my favorite Carneros region.
Sparkling wine comes from many regions around the world, but cannot be called *Champagne unless it is from the Champagne wine region in France. But sparkling is made from a blend of grape varietals and goes through two fermentations just like champagne. However, the grapes are picked earlier to preserve the acidity and ensure a low sugar content. Then it undergoes primary fermentation as still wine.
Sugar and yeast are added to generate a secondary fermentation in the bottle, making the refreshing and effervescent bubbles that we all enjoy. Our cooler climate makes for some fabulous sparkling wines. In fact, many of the established French champagne producers have invested heavily in Napa and Sonoma. They obviously know that world class bubbles and wines are produced here.
The California sparkling are produced using the traditional method, and with the same grape varietals as France (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. The result are sparkling wines that range from fresh and fruity, to elegant and charming. And they are affordable and fantastic alternatives to Champagne!
Spain is well known for their Cava, which means “cellar.” Cava is produced in Penedes, outside of Barcelona. Cava is also made using the traditional method, resulting in a clean and crisp sparkling with natural floral and fruity flavors. Much like sparkling wine and Champagne, it is very food friendly, and particularly good at offsetting fattiness in foods. It is also nice on its own, or with orange juice in a Mimosa.
But my personal favorite for a sparkling alternative is the almighty Prosecco. It comes form the Veneto region of northeast Italy, where the climate is cool. Prosecco are usually dry, but can be made in a sweeter style by some houses. It is best served ice cold, due to its crisp nature. It is a great way to start a meal. It can be mixed with peach puree, though I prefer a peach sparkling wine, creating a Bellini, a rather famous Italian cocktail.
Prosecco is made from the Glera grapes. DOC Prosecco is produced in the regions of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia, in the hills near Treviso. Up until the 1960s, Prosecco was mainly a sweeter wine, almost like Asti, which is produced in Piedmont. Since then, techniques have improved and high quality dry wines are produced. Prosecco has risen sharply in popularity outside of Italy, with double digit global sales growth.
Give credit to Mionetto (now the largest importer of Prosecco) for introducing Prosecco to the U.S. market in 2000. Now, Prosecco is made using the Charmat method, in which secondary fermentation takes place in steel tanks, making it less expensive to produce. About 150 million bottles are produced annually.
Unlike Champagne, Prosecco does not ferment in the bottle, and should be consumed as early (young) as possible. It is most commonly served unmixed, but has increased its appearance in mixed drinks. It can also replace champagne in a Mimosa. Above all, the taste is fresh, light, and relatively simple. It is a perfect wine for the Thanksgiving holiday meal.
As the famous Hawaiian bar singer, Don the Ho once said, “Tiny bubbles make me feel fine.” I can only agree with him 100% of the time.