Here is a brief collection of insights I have found about my favorite sparkling wines.
Regarding drying your champagne glasses: As a matter of fact, in order to maximize you Champagne’s effervescence, leaving a tiny bit of lint in your glass is paramount. As we all know, popping a Champagne cork reduces the tremendous pressure maintained in the thick bottle and releases the carbon dioxide dissolved in the wine. The gas molecules come suddenly out of solution and must collect together in order to form a bubble. Gerard Liger-Belair, a physicist (or “fizzisist”?) at the University of Reims and the world’s leading authority on bubbles, filmed Champagne using high-speed video and a microscope, and discovered that bubbles can form at a rate of 400 per second. Most bubbles form on imperfections or microscopic particles inside the glass, such as pieces of lint that floated into the glass or were left behind by a towel. Molecules of CO2 collect on the particle until together they become buoyant enough to detach and float to the surface as a single bubble. Another bubble of collected CO2 molecules then forms in its place, resulting in the telltale fine lines racing up through the wine. So for optimal effervescence, we recommend wiping Champagne and sparkling wine glasses with a clean, dry (but not lint-free) cloth before using them.
And now for the flute: It’s worth first taking a moment to think about why the flute and Champagne became such fast friends. According to Moët & Chandon chef de cave Benoît Gouez, the narrow design of the flute was first called into duty as a means of wrangling unwieldy sediment. Champagne was commonly served with, or as, dessert, and if a glass was filled during dinnertime, then the sediment would have collected nicely and neatly at the thin glass’s bottom by the time a drinker was ready to partake.
Yet the flute largely has stood the test of time despite the fact that disgorgement—the removal of the lees from a bottle of Champagne—began as a practice more than 200 years ago. The result for the modern-day drinker then is that we’ve been suffocating our sparkling and hindering our own full enjoyment of its finest expressions.
This was a rather fortuitous union: Maison Perrier-Jouët was born from the wedding of Pierre-Nicolas Perrier and Rose-Adélaïde Jouët in 1810. United by a love of nature, a passion for champagne and a bold, entrepreneurial vision, the young couple wasted no time in founding their own Champagne House, ultimately joining both their surnames to create Perrier-Jouët.
“Drinking Champagne from a wider glass rather than a thin flute allows us to experience more of the aromatic spectrum,” says sommelier Daniel Braun, the owner of Princeville Wine Market on the island of Kauai. Not only do flutes still send a festive signal, but in such a soiree setting, when glasses of bubbles may be poured and left sitting for a time before being passed around, they’re actually useful in a different way. “There are many occasions that call for a flute, and I prefer to use them in settings where I may be concerned with a Champagne losing too much carbonation,” says Braun. The narrow flute helps a glass of sparkling to retain its satisfying effervescence for a longer period. Conversely, the still-common coupe glass encourages the loss of bubbles even more rapidly—the least-desirable outcome.
Personally, I enjoy a flute. I have several, some better than others. But I have been forced to drink my sparkling wine out of paper cups, plastic cups, wine glasses, and even coffee cups. And I will tell you the flute is the best!
In 2015 Champagne was officially declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), thus solidifying their claim that though sparkling wine can be made anywhere, only wines made in their region can truly be recognized as ‘Champagne’. Then in 2019, Le Colline del Prosecco di Conegliano e Valdobbiadene was awared the same honor recognizing their uniqueness in a sea of bubbles.
Want to try the ultimate Prosecco? Look for the word Cartizze. Superiore di Cartizze is, in effect, the “Grand Cru” of Conegliano Valdobbiadene. A tiny high-elevation hilly area of just 108 hectares/267 acres, Cartizze, notable by its pentagon shape, sits entirely within Valdobbiadene. It’s among the most expensive real estate in all of Italy and the sheer beauty of the landscape is breath taking. Soils in Cartizze tend toward sandstone and marl (a type of limestone). Cartizze wines tend to be the most complex and ravishing among all Conegliano Valdobbiadene Proseccos.
A word about Spanish sparklings: Don José Raventós, head of the Penedès bodega Codorníu, traveled throughout Europe during the 1860s selling his family’s still wines. On one such mission, Raventós found himself in Champagne and fascinated by the wine, he returned home keen to attempt his own sparkler. Using the three local white grapes still used in most cava today (macabeo, parellada, and xarel-lo) Raventós produced Spain’s first traditional method sparkler in 1872. Around this time, a small group of forward-thinking winemaking families, including the Raventós family, began meeting every Sunday after the ten o’clock Mass to discuss wine and share information. From these gatherings, an ambitious notion began to take shape. Why not convert all of the local still wines to sparkling and establish Penedès as Spain’s sparkling wine capital, analogous to the Champagne region in France? And the rest is history. Even though cava can be made in any of eight Spanish wine regions, more than 95 percent is made in the Penedès southwest of Barcelona. In addition to cava, sparkling wines that fall under the corpinnat umbrella (an association of sparkling producers who adhere to stricter standards than those for cava) are also made in the Penedès. Indeed, corpinnat wines can only be made in the Penedès.
Fouteen (14) sheep were stolen from Moët & Chandon’s experimental eco-vineyard in Champagne, France, at the beginning of the new year. The world’s largest Champagne producer, like others around the world, is studying the effectiveness of sheep as a way of keeping down grass and weeds in its vineyards. Parent company LVMH has pledged to eliminate the use of herbicides across its entire wine division. In general, miniature sheep breeds such as “Babydolls’ are preferred for munching vineyard grasses since they’re not tall enough to reach the grape bunches.
This story is actually more of an “Oh Yes” than an “Oh No.” On February 23, 1900, as a result of a violent storm, the cellars of Pol Roger Champagne collapsed, burying the equivalent of 2 million bottles of Champagne beneath the rubble. It wasn’t clear if any of the bottles survived until last year when the Champagne house managed to excavate 26 bottles, some dating from the 1898 vintage. The wine was apparently so delicious that the company vowed to search for more. Alas, until now, all rescue attempts have been deemed too dangerous. Enter the most modern of solutions: a Champagne-seeking robot, which Pol Roger intends to deploy as soon as possible. As an homage to the Star Wars robot R2-D2, we think Pol Roger’s robot should be named RD—after all, the 19th century bottles may finally get to be “recently disgorged.” BTW, Pol Roger makes some really good sparklings!
Stay tuned for more sparkling insights and fun!