Sparkling wine, or champagne as it is better known, is a favorite for celebrations and romance.
Sparkling wine is made by taking the simple formula for fermentation (sugar + yeast = alcohol and CO2), and not allowing the resulting gas to escape. When you ferment wine in a closed or sealed environment, the carbon dioxide (CO2) returns into the wine, only to be released in the form of tiny bubbles after opening.
Not all sparkling wines are made using the same method or grape varietals. They also vary in sweetness and carbonation. To better explain, let’s break down some of the most popular varieties of sparkling wine.
Champagne (Moet & Chandon Imperial Brut): True Champagne is only produced in the Champagne region of France. It is usually a blend of grapes – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – and sometimes Pinot Meuner. They use the traditional method of bottling, which means it is bottle-fermented. The wine has gone through one fermentation in the tank and then another in the bottle, which creates the bubbles. The second fermentation can take months to years, and then the wine goes through a riddling process to remove yeast and sugar sediment. It is then given a sugar dosage that classifies the champagne style as Brut, Extra Dry or Sweet.
Brut (Gloria Ferrer): Brut is a classification of sweetness in sparkling wine. The Brut style contains 6 to 15 grams of sugar per liter of wine. The wine is dry, but there is just a hint of sweetness. In this sparkler, the winemaker stopped the fermentation process just before the yeast ate all of the sugar, leaving a tiny amount behind in the wine.
Extra Dry (Mumm Napa Cuvee): Extra Dry is slightly sweeter than Brut and contains a few more grams of sugar. This type of sparkler is dry, but not as dry as Brut or Extra Brut, meaning it retains a slight sweetness. It’s not sugary sweet, although they are noticeably sweeter than Brut wines.
Prosecco (Santa Margherita): Made in Italy in the region of Veneto, it is made from Prosecco grapes, also known as Glera, and is produced using the “tank method,” which means its second fermentation takes place in a tank rather than individual bottles. It is then cooled and clarified, and it receives its sugar dosage in the tank. Prosecco is typically Extra Dry.
Moscato d’ Asti (Castello del Poggio): A sparkling wine produced in the style of the Asti region of Italy. It is typically semisweet, lightly carbonated and low in alcohol.
Rose/Blush (Bottega Sparkling Rose Gold): Also known as pink champagne, the wine is made from a red grape, which can vary by region and country, and it was produced in the rose or blush methods of limiting the grape’s contact with its skin or blending a red wine with a white wine. They can vary from sweet to dry and generally have more fruit and floral flavors.
Blanc de Blancs (Francis Coppola Sofia): Made entirely from white grapes (typically Chardonnay), Blanc de Blancs are very different in flavor and lighter in color. Because champagne is typically made with Pinot Noir grapes that are light in flavor, Blanc de Blancs has a richly complex flavor with citrus notes that bring a lively acidic quality that is crisp and bright, but finishes dry and creamy.
Spumante (Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante): Spumante simply means sparkling wine in Italian. It does not identify sweetness level or type of grapes used. Another Italian sparkling wine that is well-known is Lambrusco, which is a red sparkling wine made from the Lambrusco grape of the Emilia-Romagna region. They are traditionally sweet, but some producers are now creating dry versions.
Wine of the Month: Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut
Aged for a minimum of 18 months, the Sonoma Brut shows delicate pear and floral notes with persistent effervescence and an effortless finish, making it a tremendously versatile sparkling wine.
Carefully crafted from hand-harvested Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. This brut is dominated by Pinot Noir, enabling the complex aromatic and palate profile that this red-skinned grape contributes.
On the nose, pear and floral notes are backed by toasty almond. On the palate, lively citrus, toast and apple flavors are overlaid with persistent effervescence, a creamy mid-palate and toasty finish.
Winemaker: Gloria Ferrer
More than 30 years ago, Jose and Gloria Ferrer created the Gloria Ferrer vineyards and winery in Sonoma County. It was the first to specialize in sparkling wine. Coming to California from Spain, the Ferrers relied on their family’s heritage as Spanish winemakers to develop their dream in America.
They acquired Pinot Noir and Chardonnay clone grapes from the Champagne region to begin creating their sparkling wines using the tedious méthode champenoise.
Gloria Ferrer is also known for her extensive collection of vintage wine and champagne glasses. Each glass was carefully selected from their travels to many countries and regions and is unique in design and craftsmanship.
“I remember very well when I began to collect glasses. It was in Venice in 1956 that my uncle gave me the idea while sitting at the dinner table in the Piazza San Marco. My father quietly got up and went into an antique shop near Saint Marco’s Cathedral and returned with a beautiful red Murano crystal glass with a golden dauphine in the stem. He gave me the glass and a kiss. The collection had begun.
In my collection, numbering around two thousand, there are all types of glasses. They vary in age and color. They are engraved and cut, painted and enameled, simple and ornate, transparent and opaque, molded and blown, antique and modern. Although we are convinced that the ideal glass for drinking cava is transparent crystal and the most suitable shape is the flute or tulip, I believe that in a collection there should be a little bit of everything. I confess that my favorite pieces are those with braided stems or serpentine interiors (perhaps trapped inside for centuries) or those ornate glasses with a white laticinio forming filigree in their stems or in the base. Those that have a teardrop of air on the knot of the base are my weakness, without forgetting those glasses of green, blue or ruby color from the beginnings of the sixteenth century.
For years, I’ve been roaming through antique shops all over the world. My husband has, with loving patience and graceful generosity, accompanied me the majority of the times. We have searched endlessly for the hard-to-find glasses in between knick-knacks and odds and ends, discovering them forgotten and lost in the most unlikely places in the world. It is these glasses, with their unknown history and their romantic toasts, which form my own collection.” – Gloria Ferrer
Food Pairings for Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut:
A tremendously versatile wine that is equally delicious with shellfish, crab, roasted chicken or sushi. Seasoning affinities include lemon grass, fennel and white pepper. Look to hard-aged and triple-cream cheeses with Meyer lemon compote for the cheese course.
Beet Bruschetta with Goat Cheese & Microgreens
1 bunch baby beets
1/2 cup spreadable goat cheese
1 cup microgreens
1/2 loaf FRESH Ciabatta bread
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, additional oil for grilling bread
2 tsp balsamic glaze
pinch of salt and black pepper
Remove the stalks, leaves and root tip of the beets. Place in a saucepan filled with water; bring to a light simmer. Let cook for 30 minutes or until fork-tender. Remove the beets from the water, and use your thumb to rub off the skin from the outside of the beets. Thinly slice the beets on a mandoline.
Brush the slices of the ciabatta bread with olive oil. Grill the bread in a grill pan or place under the broiler for 2 minutes or until golden. When bread is cool, spread the goat cheese over the slices. Top with a handful of microgreens and 4 slices of beets. Drizzle each slice with olive oil, balsamic glaze, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
Makes 8 to 10
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