I love to hear the pop of a "Champagne" cork — my heart skips a beat and my mood instantly turns to festive anticipation. With the holiday season in full swing, I thought it would be fun to share some tasting and buying tips of that golden, glamorous glass of sparkling bubbles.
With so many choices available, how can one choose between a Champagne, Crèmant, Cava or Prosecco … not to mention sparkling wines from California? I always get Cavas and Proseccos mixed up; I can’t remember the difference or which one I prefer without tasting them side by side, which doesn’t help when I’m standing in the middle of the bubbly section at my local wine store. And what is a Crèmant?
Well, fear no more. Several contributors from The Last Best Plates were happy to meet up with Debbie Endres, owner of Uncorked Wine & Cheese Bar in downtown Livingston’s historic depot, along with Gigi Aelbers Kellett of Synergigi Interior Design, who created the luscious interior mood of Uncorked. We arrived, dressed in our holiday best, delighted to educate ourselves — all in the name of bubbly.
Endres and Jessica Milton, one of her local wine distributors from Cardinal Distributing, walked us through a tasting class with a wealth of information and three wonderful varieties of sparkling wine and one Champagne; all from different countries or regions, each ranging in prices and distinguishable characteristics. Some of these bubblies, along with a large variety of others, can be purchased at Endres’ other business, The Gourmet Cellar — a wine, cheese and specialty food shop — which adjoins Uncorked.
We started with a Prosecco brut from Maschio ($13). Just like Champagne can only be made in the Champagne region of France, Prosecco can only be made in Italy, in the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions, North of Venice. The first noticeable characteristic of Prosecco is that it has larger bubbles than Champagne and Cava because it undergoes a second fermentation called the Charmat method. This takes place in stainless steel tanks rather than individual bottles such as the méthode champenoise or “traditional method.” It is then bottled under pressure, making it less expensive to produce. Because of the fermentation process, Prosecco doesn’t age in the bottle, thus it doesn’t have the complex yeasty or toasted bread tasting notes as méthode champenoise. Prosecco has a light, young, crisp and spritzy feel on the pallet with simple tasting notes of green apple, pear and white peach. Some Proseccos come across very peachy, which gives them their distinctive character and reminds me of summer. Because of its fruit forward characteristics, Prosecco tends to be more on the sweeter end of the spectrum, but is still quite dry compared to other sparkling wines.
Our second tasting was a Cava brut from Poema ($11.50). Cava is produced throughout all of Spain from a variety of grape blends, in the same traditional method as Champagne. Because of this method of fermentation, Cava has smaller, longer lasting bubbles than Prosecco and a slight nutty and toasted bread element achieved from the aging and fermenting with the yeast and sugar in the bottle. It isn’t as creamy as Champagne, but has fresh, earthy subtleties and balanced fruit characteristics of citrus and Granny Smith apples, making it less sweet than Prosecco. Cava is my favorite everyday or brunch-crowd bubbly. It’s a great value and can be enjoyed alone or mixed with a splash of orange juice on Christmas morning. It’s also great for making Champagne cocktails for any occasion.
Our third tasting is one of my new favorite alternatives to Champagne, Crèmant de Bourgogne Blanc de Noirs brut NV from Terres Secretes ($25). Crèmants are all the luxury of Champagne, but without the hefty price tag. They are produced from the same méthode champenoise in wine regions all over France, but the best tasting Crèmants hail from the northern cool-climate areas, which also happen to be where the Champagne region is. The grapes used in the northern regional Crèmants also are very similar to the same grapes used in Champagne. This particular Crèmant de Bourgogne has a beautiful complexity and creaminess usually only found in Champagne. The small and plentiful bubbles accompany the balanced yeasty bread and mixed berry taste, creating a drier, richer bubbly.
Endres carries a delicious variety of others priced between $18-25 per bottle — including Crémant de Limoux in blanc and rosé, which is one of her favorites.
Finally … the Champagne! Moet Imperial brut by Moet & Chandon ($48) was everything I was hoping for and more. I first noticed how many teeny, tiny bubbles were present in each and every sip, creating a velvety, creamy texture that is sumptuous on the pallet. The tasting notes were the perfect melding of yeasty, buttery brioche with vibrant green apple and citrus. Each sip was full-bodied and fluffy — intriguing.
Endres has beautiful little mini bottles of Moet in single servings (187 milliliters each) for $11.95, which make fun stocking stuffers. They come with attachable golden flute toppers, so you can sip straight from the bottle without smudging your lipstick.
No matter your budget or taste preference, there is a bubbly out there. Uncorked also offers sparkling wine tasting flights and Champagne by the glass from the menu.
Sparkling bubbly is truly an experience, an iconic luxury, best enjoyed in small, savoring sips in an exquisite setting of your choice.
*All prices mentioned are subject to change.