Sparkling 101

What’s in a Champagne?

Pop the cork off a vintage bottle of champagne and let your wedding celebrations begin!
Liz Von Hoene

A sparkling wine by any other name just may taste as sweet (or dry, depending on your palate).

“Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!” may not, say historians, have been uttered by the French Benedictine monk Dom Pierre Perignon in 1693 in his abbey near lovely Epernay, the center of the Champagne region. But Dom Perignon is widely credited, and thanked, for developing Champagne-making techniques that are still carried out today.

Certainly one taste of the irresistible bubbly and it’s easy to join the ranks of Napoleon, Mark Twain, Madame Pompadour, Oscar Wilde, and Dorothy Parker, who all famously adored Champagne. While nothing can quite compare to the taste of the French classic bubbly, there are plenty of sparkling wines worldwide that can be served--and satisfy--when budget or accessibility is in question.

Read on for a crib sheet of the best and brightest in sparkling wines. All are stars in the robust world of world-class bubblies, from the very dry (also called “brut”) to the sweetest (or “doux”) styles, and satisfy any palate.

Vintage Champagne

The term Champagne officially refers to sparkling wines made in France’s Champagne region, located north of Paris. Champagne is usually a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and the lesser Pinot Meunier grapes. “Méthode champenoise” is the traditional technique used to make Champagne its wonderful, sparkly self.

The best of the best, vintage Champagne is superior for a couple of reasons.

  1. It can only be dubbed “vintage” if it is solely produced from grapes grown and harvested during a deemed good year.
  2. They must be held in reserve of at least three years after the harvest to produce the telltale toasty, nutty flavor of a classic vintage Champagne.

The prestigious house of Dom Perignon, for example, only produces vintage Champagnes.

Non-Vintage (or N.V.) Champagne

Fortunately, there are plenty of wonderful non-vintage (or N.V.) Champagnes on the market. N.V. Champagnes can be made from blends of grapes made from a variety of vintages. Moet & Chandon, for example, produces both vintage and N.V. styles.

 
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