December has arrived, it is time to bring out the bubbles. I’m talking about Sparkling Wine, Cava, Prosecco and yes, Champagne. I’m a firm believer in drinking bubbles all year, but especially in December. December is a month of celebration and festivities. It is a time to gather with friends and family. There is no better way to celebrate the special times than to open a bottle of bubbles.
Now, how to decide what to purchase, what to serve and how to store the bubbles. First, you need to determine how much sweetness you wish to have in your glass. There are four levels of sugar in sparkling wine; Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry and Demi Sec.
- Extra Brut is the sparkling wine with absolutely no sugar. This is the driest of wines.
- Brut is the most popular. Most Champagnes are in the Brut style. There is a small amount of sugar, lending itself to a hint of sweetness.
- Extra Dry is slightly sweeter than Brut. Most Proseccos are in the extra dry style.
- Demi Sec is a sweet sparkler. Serve this with dessert, there is noticeable sugar in a demi sec.
Now you need to decide if you want a fruity type of sparkling wine or one that is drier and less fruity. The Italian method of production, the Charmat-Martinotti method, produces a sparkling wine that has a fruiter taste, the Champagne method will give you a drier wine. The Champagne method (fermented first in the tank, then again in the bottle), takes longer and is more expensive to make.
Speaking of cost, you will need to figure out what your budget will allow. How many bottles will you need? If you’re serving more than 10 people, my opinion is to head for a prosecco or cava. Prosecco and cava wines are generally of fair quality for a good price (around $15.00 or less). These wines are usually brut or extra dry and will pair beautifully with a variety of foods; appetizers such as cheese, nuts, or fresh vegetables, and entrees of chicken, turkey, and seafood, and of course anything Italian or Spanish of origin.
For a smaller crowd, you could go with a sparkling wine or champagne. One of my favorite sparkling wines is Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut from Columbia Valley, Washington. This wine is made from primarily the chardonnay grape, with a little pinot noir and pinot gris, and has a lovely crisp flavor, with pear and apple notes to it. The Domaine Ste. Michelle comes in a brut rosé, and an extra dry version, as well as the brut. My favorite is the brut because it is always a perfect pairing with fish, poultry, pork and of course dancing to Frank Sinatra. It is generally easy to find a bottle of the Domaine Ste. Michelle on the shelf at your favorite wine shop, and the price should be around $17.00.
If you’re willing and able to get a bit more luxurious, and you want Champagne, then check out Piper-Heidsieck Brut Cuvee. The Piper-Heidsieck folks make a wonderful collection of wines; Cuvee Brut, Cuvee Sublime, and Rosé Sauvage are their three most popular wines. Again, the Brut Cuvee is my pick, because this will work beautifully with most foods, and all festivities. The Piper-Heidsieck Brut Cuvee is crisp, with a taste of toast, herbs and a little apricot. The price averages around $39.00 and you should be able to find this Champagne in most wine shops. If you’re looking for something a little sweeter, check out the Piper-Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage. This is a spectacular rosé champagne, and will make a stunning appearance at your celebration.
The general rule for figuring how much wine you’ll need is four glasses per bottle. The type and shape of glass you use is up to you. There are no longer any hard and fast rules as to what glass you must use, it depends on your preference. The narrower the glass, the longer the bubbles will stay in the glass (less surface for them to escape). I personally prefer a white wine glass for any wine with bubbles. It’s more comfortable to drink from and it’s still narrow enough to keep the bubbles in.
When serving a brut or extra dry wine, try adding one or two fresh raspberries to the bottom of the glass before pouring the wine, it’s a very nice touch for a special occasion. The raspberries will float to the top adding a bit of flavor and a beautiful spot of color.
Oh – and please be careful when opening a bottle of bubbles. Always put a towel of some form over the top and hold the bottle away from you, away from any people, and away from all windows and glasses. No swords or knives, just a dish towel or something to that effect. I recommend opening the bottle outside in case it runs a bit over upon opening. You don’t need an opener, just twist off the wire cage and gently pull up on the cork, and smile while you’re doing this, it helps.
If by chance you have a bottle of bubbles that has not been totally consumed, please use a wine vacuum to remove the oxygen from the bottle, and then store the bottle in the refrigerator. Your sparkling wine should stay reasonably well for one or perhaps two days. I do not recommend re-vacuuming the wine a second time, but it will work at least once. If you have bottles that are not opened, please store them in a cool, dry place, away from light. You can safely keep an unopened bottle of bubbles for a year in a cool, dark place. If you want to keep your unopened bottle of bubbles longer than a year, you need to check with your wine shop about this. The amount of time you can store an unopened bottle of bubbles depends on the vintage, type of wine, and location of storage.
What wine will you be serving at your next gathering?