A Sarcastic Appetite

A Primer on Sparkling Wine for Summer
June 1, 2009, 9:08 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Here in New York, summer is maybe, finally, probably definitely here, which means (well, for me, anyway) long languid afternoons and evenings outside favorite restaurants and wine bars with friends, soaking up the bus fumes off Second Avenue until the humidity becomes unbearable and cold-blooded creatures like myself must retreat back inside to the safety of air-conditioned rooms. Ah. I’m looking forward to it.

So what to drink, then, when you want something light, something refreshing, and something that will whet your appetite?

Sparkling wine, of course. (It really does whet the appetite – I’m not making it up!)

Now, I’m not talking about the really cheap stuff (I’m looking at you, André) and nor am I talking about the really expensive stuff (Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, anyone?). I’m talking about the middle of the road stuff, and the off-the-beaten-path stuff. There is plenty out there for you to drink that sparkles, tastes good, and won’t break the bank. Here’s how to find it.

First, we must begin with the geography of things. Champagne is sparkling wine produced in a specific manner (méthode champenoise) in a specific region of France. Pol Roger, Veuve Clicquot, Laurent-Perrier are all true Champagnes, though by no means the only ones. Those sparkling wines produced in France, but outside of the Champagne region, are called either Mousseux or Crémant. Now we’re talking: Crémants from Burgundy (“Crémant de Bourgogne“) are produced in the same manner as traditional Champagnes, but can’t market themselves as such – and are therefore far less expensive and an excellent alternative to the real deal.

In Italy, sparkling wines are known as Prosecco, Spumante, or even Asti. Now most restaurant wine lists feature Proseccos and they’re somewhat reasonably priced – often cheaper than many still wines offered – but they’re a steal if you buy them yourself and know what to look for. I like Zardetto Prosecco di Conegliano, which you can find for about $10 or $11, or the Nino Franco Prosecco Di Valdobbiadene Brut, for about $15. (Any bubblies produced in either of these regions – Conegliano or Valdobbiadene – will be pretty good.) If you’re looking for a sparkling rosé and don’t mind forking over some extra cash, try the Mionetto NV Sergio Rosé, for about $22-$25.

Now onto Spain, where sparkling wine is called Cava. You might recognize Cristalino, which is fairly cheap; I prefer the equally cheap and readily available Freixenet (“FRESH-uh-net”) which retails for about $10 per bottle. Or find your own; most Cava is produced in the Penedès region in the northeast, so begin your search there.

In Germany and Austria (and the Czech Republic too), sparkling wines are known as sekt. Fitz-Ritter, from the Pfalz region in Germany, produces excellent sekts – but they’re pricier than your average bottle of Prosecco or Cava and will set you back about $17 or $18 for a bottle. These are sparkling Rieslings – but the dry kind, not the sweeter sort (unless you’re into that).

And last (but not least!), the U.S. has been steadily gaining ground in the production of high-quality sparkling wines for many years now – Gruet, from New Mexico, being chief among them. I’ve seen it retail for anywhere between $13 – $18, so do some comparison shopping if need be. Chandon (a bottle runs about $20) and Schramsberg (non-vintage varieties will set you back about $27 – $33) are two other very highly regarded California houses producing nice Champagne-style sparkling wines, but again, their renown serves to drive up the price a bit, so keep that in mind.

And there you have it: Sparkling Wines 101. There’ll be a pop quiz later this week, so study hard and taste test! Now all you have to do is practice saying “Cheers” in another language….

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