Here’s a big Howdy and Hello
To our brand new Heath Sparkling Tasting Room which opened its doors yesterday for the very first time! Most of you have already heard lots about it, and many of you have already received your second Heath Sparkling Wine Club allocation. These wines are awesome, and if you want more info check out the website at www.heathsparkling.com.
In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to check out a little history of champagne and sparkling wine, what makes the two different, and what makes them sparkle.
Sparkling wine is produced throughout the world, but in order for it to be rightfully called “champagne” it must be produced in the Champagne region of north-central France. Therefore, all champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is champagne.
Sparkling wine can be made one of four ways, with the best and costliest being the “Methode Champenoise” (all Heath Sparkling wines are produced this way). Here, the wine is naturally fermented in the actual bottle we buy, and the carbonation in the wine is the by-product of this fermentation.
This is the only legal means of production in Champagne, and the wine creates tiny bubbles (beads) which rise from the bottom of our flute for a long time. Sparklers produced by the methode champenoise will, in some manner, say so on the label.
Legend tells us that Dom Perignon (1638-1715), a Benedictine Monk and cellar master at the Abbey de Hautvillers, first discovered (or created) champagne. This is indeed legend; but what he did do was refine bottle making and corkage techniques (thicker glass and tying the cork to the bottle) to withstand pressure reaching 6 pounds per square inch. Still, about 1/2 his bottles would burst!
Many different grape varieties are used to produce sparking wines, and different regions of the world call sparklers by different names. In Champagne, only Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier can be legally used.
In the Loire Valley of France, Chenin Blanc is used to make “Cremant”, while Germany predominately uses Riesling to produce “Sekt”. In Italy, “Spumante” is made from Muscat, Prosecco, and Brachetto, while Spain’s “Cava” is from Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo. In Bulgaria, sparkling wine is called “Champanski”, which always makes me laugh!
As I’ve said before, we can tell a lot about what’s in the bottle by what’s on the label. A lot of the quality of a sparkler is determined by how it is made. Again, the methode champenoise produces the best bubbly, and we may also see this worded by something like “fermented in this bottle”. Lower quality wines will state “Charmat Process” or “Transfer Method”.
Labeling will also tell us how dry or sweet a sparkler is in terms of residual sugar. “Extra Brut” is less than .6%, “Brut” less than 1.5%, (all Heath sparklers are Brut), “Extra Dry” 1.2-2%, “Sec” 1.7-3.5%, “Demi-Sec” 3.3-5%, and “Doux” over 5%. The last two are very sweet and considered dessert wines.
Finally, a little bit about style. Great champagnes and sparkling wines are made from both white and red grapes. A wine labeled “Blanc de Blancs” is from a white grape (traditionally Chardonnay, like ours), shows little color, and is very clean and crisp. If we see “Blanc de Noir” or “Brut Rose” we have a more fruity wine, with color ranging from light copper to rose (like our Adoration).
So, I can’t think of a better time to say CHEERS...