After a year of less than sparkling economic news it is time to fight back. Like most New World sippers, we tend to drink sparkling wine when celebrating a significant milestone - anniversaries, birthdays and weddings get most of the attention. But why not be more proactive in your sparkling wine consumption?
You don't really need an "occasion" to enjoy sparkling wine, but if you do, how does "I've had enough of this recession" sound?
With the Olympics just around the corner along with a bit of light at the end of the economic tunnel, I thought a short primer on bubble might get us all in the mood to celebrate. The truth is sparkling wine is an extremely versatile food wine that appears to have an innate ability to lift the spirit of anyone who sips it - something we could all use in a challenging economy.
Okay, it's not as if we think you should drink to forget, but a glass or two of sparkling wine per week should not be out of the realm of possibilities. Spanish and French consumers are both excellent role models when it comes to embracing bubble, no matter what the occasion. Could they know something we don't?
Getting to know sparkling wine doesn't have to be a lot of work. What you should focus on is where the wine is made and which technique is used to get the bubbles in the bottle. Champagne, the region, is the only place champagne, the wine, can be made.
All other bubbly versions should only be referred to as sparkling wine. Commit to memory: all champagne is sparkling wine but not all sparkling wine is champagne.
In North America our fizz options include France, Italy, Spain, California and British Columbia with a smaller selection from Chile, Argentina, Australia and Germany. Now, where does one begin?
Spanish sparkling wine, easily identified worldwide as cava , would be my choice. For the unaware, cava is made in the same method as champagne (the second fermentation is inside the bottle thus creating the tiny bubbles). Although European Union rules prohibit Spain from using the French term méthode champenoise on its labels, look for the Spanish equivalent, método tradicional .
In Spain most cava is invariably a blend of macabeo, parellada and xarello grapes. There is attractive nutty character to these dry sparklers as well as a whiff of fresh fruit. Tapas were made for cava and the Spanish tend to explore the classic pairing daily from about 5 p.m. until early morning.
In France, non-champagne sparklers or Crémant are made in most areas although the most interesting and affordable usually come from Limoux and the Loire. The term Crémant is used across Europe to signal the wine is harvested by hand, aged for one year in bottle and, of course, that it is made using the méthode champenoise. If the wine is carbonated or made using other bulk methods it is simply tagged Mousseux, which is French for "sparkling wine."
In Germany, nearly all sparkling wines or Sekt are carbonated in huge tanks. In South Africa, Cap Classique designates sparkling wine made in the traditional French method, while in Italy Prosecco says it all as it describes the style of sparkling wine and the grape used to make it.
Remember sparkling wine should be served chilled (5º to 6º C) but not frozen. Put the bottle in the refrigerator for 30 minutes (the top milk shelf is the coldest spot), or plunge it into ice and water for 15 minutes before serving.
You can serve sparkling wine in any glass. The classic, tall thin glass called a flute does a great job of showing off the bubbles but the new tulip shaped flute that is slightly wider at the tip is also ideal.
Shaking the bottle and expelling the cork halfway across the room looks good in the movies but when you open sparkling wine it's best to grasp the cork in one hand and rotate the bottle with the other until the cork gently and quietly slides out. After that, it's up to you to make you own fun.
Here's a list of 10 excellent bubbles to get you started:
Codorníu Cuvée Raventos Brut N/V, Sant Sadurní d'Anoia, Penedès, Spain $20
Expect nutty, toasted floral flavours in a taut and nervous style. Heat some cheese sticks in the oven and you have a stellar pre-party pairing.
Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Noirs N/V, Columbia Valley, Washington, United States $20
Dry, taut palate with cranberry, strawberry, citrus, granny smith, floral flavours. This screams for tapas and pre-dinner appetizers.
Graham Beck Brut N/V, Breede River Valley, South Africa $25
This Cap Classique bubbler is made at the winery's Robertson facility and is packed full of citrus, green apple, honey, garlic, toasted nut flavours. A fine match for grilled prawns.
Lucien Albrecht Crémant d'Alsace Brut Rosé N/V, Alsace, France $25
This is a delicious Crémant with a faint pink/coppery/salmon colour and strawberry/cranberry fruit flavours, all a whiff of minerality. Excellent with sushi. Private stores only.
Môreson Blanc de Blanc Brut Cap Classique, South Africa $25
Crisp, round, foamy palate with some sweetness. Baked peach, pear, nutty, toasty, honey flavours. Well done.
Mount Riley Savée Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Marlborough, New Zealand $29
Crisp and fresh with grapefruit, gooseberry, lime and melon flavours. Steamed mussels, anyone?
Segura Viudas Heredad Brut Reserva N/V, Penedès, Catalunya, Spain $34
Very elegant and suave with citrus nutty fruit flavours. Best served with seafood tapas and or slightly salty light meats.
Sumac Ridge Pinnacle Méthode Classique 2001, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada $35
Fresh, dry and zippy palate with nutty, mineral, sour cherry, earthy, citrus flavours. More Cava style, so serve with appetizers.
Villa Teresa Prosecco Veneto N/V, Veneto, Italy $16
Expect plenty of green apple- and pear-flavoured fruit with a dusting of almonds and oranges. A classic patio party sipper and it's organic.
Yellow Tail Bubbles Rosé Semillon N/V, South Eastern Australia $14
Yellow Tail often hits a home run when it sticks to its market. A sweet, fruit-forward bubble that slides down easily. Served well chilled with some grilled prawns.
Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more of his thoughts on wine log onto www.gismondionwine.com