Editor’s Note: This weekly sponsored column is written by Arash Tafakor, owner of Georgetown Square Wine and Beer (10400 Old Georgetown Road).
As this weekend’s New Years Eve festivities approach, most of you are going to buy a nice bottle of champagne or sparkling wine to celebrate the New Year. Usually I would go in-depth of what champagne exactly is, the process of making champagne and all the different types of champagne, but I will save that for another time. For simplicity purposes I’m just going to write up a quick guide that should ease you into buying a nice bottle to pop open for your celebration.
You will notice that actual champagnes from France have a higher price tag than other sparkling wines from the rest of the world. This difference in price is justified.
Producers from around the world have tried to duplicate the quality and taste of champagnes for years to no avail. Some come close, but champagnes from France are truly unmatched (in my opinion). According to French law, champagnes must be a cuvee of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes.
There are many types of champagne available at most reputable wine stores. Picking one maybe pretty daunting unless you can read French. You cannot go wrong with a big name such as Moet, Pierre Jouet, Taittinger, Piper Heidesick, and my personal favorite Veuve Clicquot (on sale for $39.99). These champagnes are crowd pleasers, and have been produced for more than a century. Louis Roederer and Ruinart are also classic champagne producers that are of excellent quality.
All these producers make a rose varietal of their cuvee. Roses tend to be slightly sweeter, and not as dry as their brut counter parts. Avoid overpaying for champagnes such as Ace of Spades and Cristal. Although these champagnes are of good quality, the price has been inflated due to pop culture referencing them in music videos. If you do feel like paying the extra price for vintage champagne, try Dom Perignon or first growth champagne.
Even though sparkling wines are not true champagnes, most use the same method of secondary fermentation. This method is called methode champenoise, which is where producers bottle the wine and add sugar and yeast. Secondary fermentation takes place producing carbon dioxide, which is where the bubbles come from in champagnes and sparkling wines. All this takes place in the bottle you buy from your local retailer.
Now the less inexpensive sparkling wines have their secondary fermentation in pressurized stainless steel tanks known as the charmat process. This process is much cheaper for producers and often produces bulk sparkling wines. Unless mixing with orange juice stay clear of these sparkling wines, they often are high in sugar and alcohol and produce hangovers.
When picking out a sparkling wine, it is very important to see on the label “Traditional Method” or “Method Champagne.” This indicates that the sparkling wine was made the same way champagne is made in Champagne. Most cava’s from Spain and sparkling wines from California use the traditional method and are very good alternatives to Champagne.
I hope this brief guide will help you pick out a great sparkling wine for you to celebrate the New Year with. Please drink and celebrate responsibly.