I’ve always enjoyed a glass of cold champagne but, until recently, I thought it was only for special occasions. In college I would treat myself and my friends to a bottle of a special almond-flavored champagne that one could purchase from the cooler in the back of the local drug store. At the time, it was a special treat and we would save up our beer money to buy it when we knew we would soon have something to celebrate.
While “kleenex” has become the go-to name for most facial tissues and “coke” what one might request when desiring any soft drink in the southern U.S., what many of us don’t know is that when we buy champagne, we’re usually buying “sparkling wine”.
While, most countries restrict the use of the term “champagne” to only those sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region of northern France, the United States does not, and allows some domestic producers (those who used the name before 2006) to use the title as long as they also list the wine’s actual origin on its label. Most other sparkling wines are simply labeled as “sparkling wine’.
To produce its unique effervescence, champagne undergoes a secondary fermentation process within the bottle. After bottling the wine, a few grains of yeast and a small amount of sugar are added to the bottle to begin a second round of fermentation. The gasses produced during this second fermentation become trapped within the bottle and create the sparkling or carbonated effect that leads to the familiar pop of the cork.
Korbel’s Sweet Cuveé is my current favorite. From one of the oldest California wineries, this extremely affordable champagne (they can call it that because them been doing so for generations) has a citrus and tropical fruit character that is sweetened by adding a mixture of sweet wine and pure sugar to each bottle just before labeling and shipping.
But for a really special occasion, I’ll shop for Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. This pricier, but not altogether outrageous, champagne claims to offer tastes of bread dough, vanilla, apple, peach, quince and pecan … but all I ever taste is the fabulous. It’s just so delicious! Founded in 1772 in Reims, France, Veuve Clicquot is believed to have played an important role in establishing champagne as a favored drink of “haute bourgeoisie” and nobility throughout Europe. I don’t blame them at all.
Whether you buy sparkling wine from the cooler in the back of your local drug store or an expensive champagne imported from northern France, remember to serve it cold and sip it slowly … enjoy the bubbles that climb the side of the glass to the surface where they release the aroma of the sweet special occasion that you’re celebrating and the company with whom you do so. Make some memories!
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