Who doesn’t love a little bubbly?
I had a recent visit to the Gloria Ferrer vineyard, sans kids could I just add. It left me falling in love with the bubbles once again. It’s not typically what I reach for, but this visit left me thinking I should be drinking more of it, especially the Carneros Cuvee. Pause for a second and picture me holding a glass of bubbly without kids jumping, screaming, pulling or asking me for anything. B-B-B-back to reality.
Gloria Ferrer uses the Methode Champenoise, a winemaking method that results in the best Champagnes and sparkling wines – without getting too wine-geeky on you, it requires a second fermentation. Which would be like being pregnant -TWICE- with the same kid. Got it? It’s expensive and painful, but quieter…
The vineyards at GF have been around for a while, with some impressive facilities. The vineyard manager, Mike Crumly, has spent years on clonal trials, and even traipsed to France to humbly ask for some clones and advice. After a walk through the vineyards, it is obvious every care is being made to grow top quality grapes, from hand harvesting at night (keeps grapes cool, preventing spoilage/early fermentation), good clonal selection (where they pick healthy roots and vines to graft together) and knowing his vineyard better than anyone. I had a little crush on Mike. He is doing everything a vineyard manager should do when caring for grapes, not to mention the fact that GF pays its workers and gives them benefits. #amazing.
When I first started studying wine, I often heard things like,
“Wine starts in the vineyard. Without good grapes, you cannot make good wine”.
The executive winemaker Bob Iantosca and winemaker Steven Urberg are bringing to the bottle an amazing expression of what this winery is about.
When it comes to sparkling wine, you can tell the top quality wines partly by looking to the bubbles. Tiny bubbles are thought to signal quality because the smaller and more numerous they are, the smoother the “mousse” is. (This is a tasting term. A description of the mousse is referring to how fizzy a sparkling wine feels in the mouth. A soft mousse is not too fizzy. A harsh mousse is overly fizzy, like a carbonated soft drink.) I feel like if we asked kids to watch the bubbles in different soda and observe which might have a better “mousse” it would be extremely fun and keep them busy for awhile. It’s the end of summer – I’ll try anything for a few moments of peace.
Back to the bubbles…
It’s an instant party when you uncork bubbles but to understand what you are drinking, let’s talk about the question all my friends ask me…
What’s the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine?
Although ‘Champagne’ is a term loosely thrown around, referring to anything with bubbles, most sparkling wines are not technically Champagne. The short answer is that Champagne is sparkling wine named after a region where grapes are grown within a legally defined area in the Champagne, France appellation (although this doesn’t stop people from using the name Champagne in other countries or regions, somewhat illegally, maybe). It’s like calling a Target American Girl doll knock off, an “American Girl doll”. It’s just not the same thing. The only grapes legally allowed in Champagne are Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier, and Arbane. Also, there are many regulations dictating everything from growing to bottling – and in particular governing exactly how Champagne is made.
I won’t bore you with soil details, but the Champagne region also has a very particular type of chalky soil that is known as the secret ingredient. This is why sparkling wines made using the same method as Champagne can still taste different: everything from soil and elevation to climate will impact the quality of the grapes.
Although, if you want to talk soils, my son might be able to talk ‘dirt’ with you, extensively…
In contrast, sparkling wine is found around the world: German Sekt, Italian Asti & Prosecco, Spanish Cava, French sparkling wine (outside of Champagne it is often called ‘Cremant’) and last but not least, American sparkling wine. Sparkling wine can be made in various manners, including methode champenoise (aka traditional method), a double-fermentation process used by most Champagne wine houses – or perhaps more commonly, in a pressurized tank. To be named ‘sparkling,’ there must be a presence of bubbles (Carbon Dioxide), a natural result of fermentation.
Phew… This is like explaining why my kids can’t have a mocha frappuccino, a snowman cookie and a brownie at Starbucks.
So let’s look at the two other popular bubbles! (I would talk about them all, but I’m exhausted already.)
This means “cave’ or “cellar” in Spanish, and it is made via the same method as Champagne but with different grapes. Fascinating history here, but essentially the Penedes region of Spain was the cutting edge in developing a ‘Champagne region’ in Spain. To be labeled ‘Cava,’ the wine must be made in the traditional method (i.e., a second fermentation in bottle). You will often see the term “Metodo Tradicional’ on the label.
The 3 main white grapes used here are Macabeu, Parellada, and Xarel-lo.
Prosecco is a sparkling wine made in the Veneto region of Italy with a grape called ‘Glera’. This brings us to the other method often used to produce sparkling wines, which is called the ‘Tank Method’. This is essentially used in bulk production and inexpensive bubbles, although this does not mean it produces inferior wine. Quality depends on the quality of the base wine used and the producer. (In plain talk, there is good and bad Prosecco.) The tank method essentially means the second fermentation takes place in large tanks prior to filtration. Due to the wines ageing in large tanks with less pressure than those aged in bottles via the traditional method, Prosecco bubbles are lighter and spritzy.
Which brings me to the next question.
Is Champagne (and sparkling wine) made from red or white grapes?
In Champagne, the main grapes are Pinot Noir (red grape) and Chardonnay (white grape), so the short answer is both. Some are made from white grapes only (aka ‘blanc de blanc’).
What else do you need to know?
Although my son is an angel (ahem!), when he wants more juice or more candy (omg, never), I have to do a mental checklist of what he has already consumed that day (minus what he snuck), which yields a crazy ’sugar’ kid or normal or an angel. Just like ‘dosage’, which is essentially the last step in creating what kind of bubbles the winemaker wants you to drink.
The liquid consists of a mixture of reserve wine and very pure cane sugar. The quantity of residual sugar in the bottled wine (the remaining natural sugar from the grapes, and any sugar that is added) determines the type of champagne.
Just wanted to highlight a few of the bubbles I sampled at Gloria Ferrer:
Since you’re experts now, Gloria Ferrer was established by Spanish Cava giant Freixenet in 1982, and named after the wife of Jose Ferrer. Watch a quick video of Jose and Gloria holding hands and talking about the start of this winery and you might be hooked for life.
2007 Royal Cuvee Brut ($37USD)
67% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay
Stone fruit, citrus, pear and apple
Pair with: mussels, brie, and fish
2012 Blanc de Blanc ($45USD)
2004 Carneros Cuvee ($75USD)
As well as a spectacular pinot noir…
At the end of the day, isn’t every day made special with some bubbles? Tell me what your favorite is!
Terms used around the world for sparkling wine – for decoding what you’re drinking
BRUT NATURE “naturally raw” or “bone dry”
EXTRA BRUT “Extra raw” – a wine labelled ‘extra brut’ should contain less than 6 g/l residual sugar. Usually this is very dry, but if the wine is made well, it will not be austere.
BRUT “Raw or bone dry” for wines made without (much) added sweetening or dosage. With sparkling wine it really means ‘bone dry’. Varies between dry and very dry but can taste ripe. The upper limit for the residual sugar of a brut Champagne has been reduced from 15 to 12 g/l.
EXTRA SEC “Extra dry” with 12-17 g/l
SEC “Dry” It’s a French word which literally means “dry” – but in the wine world, it means “not sweet.” Sec in sparkling wine/Champagne means a relatively sweet wine and demi-sec even sweeter. Which becomes confusing because when used to describe still (non-sparkling) wines, sec indicates that the wine has little if any residual sugar left after fermentation.
DEMI SEC “Sweet” – this has 33-50 g/l. It can be misleading; although demi-sec literally means “half-dry,” demi-sec sparkling wines are usually slightly sweet to medium-sweet.
DOUX “Intensely sweet” – more than 50g/l
BLANC DE BLANC Champagne made from white grapes (generally Chardonnay)
BLANC DE NOIR Champagne made from the juice of Pinot Noir (red) grapes
CUVEE Particular blend to be used for sparkling wine
NON-VINTAGE In Champagne, a non-vintage blend is based on current harvest. In Sparkling wine, it is typically a blend from 2 or more years worth of grapes.
VINTAGE Must by law, be 100% from the year indicated (EU 85%)
PRESTIGE CUVEE considered top of producers range. Think Cristal, Dom Pérignon, and Pol Roger’s Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill. The first prestige cuvée was Moët & Chandon’s Dom Pérignon.
Tell me what your favorite is…