“I only drink Champagne when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it ““ unless I'm thirsty.” Lily Bollingers' famous quote about her relationship with Champagne pretty much sums it up. Who doesn't love a bit of bubbly these days?
Although Champagne is a sparkling wine, not all sparkling wine is Champagne. It has everything to do with how and where it's made. Getting the bubbles and complexity into Champagne takes time and patience; a process called Méthode Traditionnelle. It's all about the blending of specific grape varieties to create a premium cuvée, then allowing it to ferment not once, but a second time in the bottle.
Only those sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region of France can be labelled Champagne. Other sparkling wines produced by Méthode Traditionnelle from other wine regions of the world like Niagara must be called sparkling wine, although they have as much excitement to offer (if not more) as their traditional French counterpart.
If you live in or around the Niagara wine region you're poised to take advantage of some of the best sparkling bargains the world has to offer.
I saw it myself. A bottle of Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Brut at $29.95, sitting on an LCBO shelf right next to the Bollinger Special Cuvée at $79.95. The Bollinger is mature and nutty in character with a firm texture and elegant stature with roast coffee, hazelnut and citrus flavours in a dry style. The Cuvée Catharine Brut has more of a brioche, butter and vanilla flavour on a full-bodied, rich structure and lovely biscuit-like finish. Both amazing products of comparable quality, both produced in the same Méthode Traditionnelle, yet, two very different prices ““ wow!
Look a little further into Niagara's sparkling and you'll find more great value and more choices than ever before. Chateau des Charmes Estate Bottled Brut at $22.95, Cave Spring 2006 Dolomite Brut, $24.95 (winery availability only), Hillebrand Trius Brut, $24.75, Riddled by Flat Rock Cellars for $24.95, Mike Weir '07 Sparkling Brut at $24.95 and a unique bubbly, Peller Estate Signature Series Ice Cuvée at $31.75. Peller's Ice Cuvée has a bold addition of ice wine in the final dosage. The result is interesting: vanilla, passion fruit and citrus nuances that work to create an exotic character on a full bodied, rich structure.
Sparkling wine has a very fine bead of bubbles that stream up from the bottom of the glass in a continuous and unending line. The styles and weights are unending from light style sparklers that offer delicate scents of soft apples, biscuits and fresh cream to heavier styles that lend aromas of baked apples and pungent yeast. They present a racy, lacy elegant texture that dances on the palate seducing you to sip again and again; the perfect drink for romance and celebrations.
13th Street Winery crafts a delicious '07 Cuvee 13 Rose at only $24.95 (winery availability only). This dry sparkling wine offers a contrast of fresh berry and baked apple along with elements of mushrooms, toffee and cocoa, beautifully presented on an elegant structure. The wine dances across the palate with a long, long finish.
Many believe it was a blind Benedictine monk by the name of Dom Perignon who invented sparkling wine. Apparently he was standing in a damp cellar, sipping from his glass and he declared, “I'm drinking stars.” The truth is, no one invented Champagne, in fact far from being the “inventor” of such wine Perignon spent most of his life combating it.
The truth is, sparkling wine just happened (as wine itself happened) as a natural process. In the cool climate region of Champagne, France, the cold winters effectively stopped fermentation and warmer springs restarted it again. The second fermentation put a rush of bubbles into the wine and sparkling wine was the result.
The sensory beauty of it, the glimmer in the glass, the bewitching scents, the nerve-tingling taste; it's simply a love affair for serious wine drinkers. Yet most of us reserve it for special occasions ““ pity. We could all be a little more like Lily Bollinger and drink it every day of the week and at Niagara prices, there's not better time to start than now.
– Lynn Ogryzlo is a food and wine writer and “¨international award-winning author of Niagara Cooks. You can reach Lynn for questions or comments at niagaracooks.ca.