Let’s talk bubbly. It seems appropriate to talk bubbles this time of year. People say, “Oh no, the bubbles get me”. It goes down easy, that’s for sure. We’ve all been there. But what’s worse is not knowing what you’re drinking. There’s nothing better than a fine bubbly to wind down summertime. It’s one of my favorites in the warm months. The ideal serving temperature is a cool 45-50 degrees. I feel it should never be reserved only for holidays or special occasions. I believe it needs to be a staple in everybody’s summer cellar. It’s chilled, easy to sip on, with or without food, refreshing, and well, just plain yummy.
Bubbly is known by many names. I’ll refer to that beautiful bubbly as sparkling, for simplicity’s sake. When shopping, you’ll see champagne (only if from Champagne, France), cremant (from anywhere else in France), sekt (Germany), spumante and prosecco (Italy), cava (Spain), and everywhere else in the world, it’s known as sparkling. They all have different profiles and different varietals of grapes are used, so it helps to know your stuff.
There are different ways to make sparkling, but I won’t go all wine nerdy on you. You should know that the traditional method is the preferred method for quality. There are also different degrees of sweetness. The sweetness is not the same scale across the board. There is great variance. Many people think that sparkling is only a white grape, but reds are used also, and most are blends of different varietals. There are sparklers that can age and ones that are meant to be consumed now. Then there’s price. They can be really cheap or extremely expensive. So, how do you choose when you’re ready to buy at the store?
Knowing a few wine terms and buying from a wine shop that has a good reputation, with a knowledgable staff is key. I’ll lay out a few technical terms that are good to know when talking sparkling in the wine shop. Follow this scenario…so, I go into my local reputable wine shop that is known for having a broad selection, from decent to premier. They ask to help me. I tell them I’m looking for a sparkling wine. I like a white, single varietal or blend doesn’t matter. Brut is the most common style, being dry which has less than 1.5% sugar. If you like a little sweeter, then go with extra dry, or extra sec (1.2-2.0% sugar). Even sweeter is sec (slightly sweet with 1.7-3.5% sugar). I prefer a traditional method fermentation. It needs to have a nice mousse (how the small, steady string of bubbles feels in your mouth). When the bubbles are too big, they feel sharp on the tongue, and can be a sign of poor quality. If you ask for those few basics, you should be able to end up with a nice sparkling in your price range. So, go explore, try different ones, and find out what suits your palate.
Now you have your sparkling. Now what? Chill it. The best way to chill your bottle is an ice and water mix. Just ice will not chill correctly. Submerge your bottle in your ice water for a while and when it’s ready to open, take safety measures. There are 6 atmospheres of pressure inside that bottle. A flying cork can travel 65 mph. Ouch! So first, make sure the bottle and your hands are thoroughly dried. Remove the basket (the wire) and foil. Second, keep your hand on the cork until it is removed, applying force to prevent the “Pop”. Next, at a 45 degree angle, hold the cork, applying pressure, and turn the bottle with the other hand from the base of the bottle. When you feel the cork pushing out, keep pressure on removing slowly, allowing only a quiet “wisp”, keeping the carbon dioxide in the wine where it belongs. If it foams, it was not properly chilled. To stop foaming, return to 45 degrees and it will stop. Opening a bottle might be the most important component in enjoying your sparkling. Serve in a sparkling/champagne glass.
Now, go get a bottle, chill it down, set up some soft cheeses, like a brie or camembert, and appreciate the summer. And if there’s any left over, hopefully not, it’s always good for next day mimosas. Have fun!