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VALENTINE'S DAY SPARKLING WINES

From the (late) Greenwich Citizen:

Champagne’s popularity seems to have dropped faster than Alex Rodriguez’s lately. Sales of sparkling wines over $25 fell 33% in the United States this past holiday season. Consumers traded down (the market for bottles under $18 was much healthier… its sales fell only 15%) or traded out (think of all those company parties no one threw this year). The story line in Champagne, as elsewhere, is recession.


Yet consumers who enjoy sparkling wines should be looking forward to the future for two reasons: lower prices and more choice. On the one hand, Champagne producers are facing a glut of around 50% of normal production in the next few years, which will make prices fall.


On the other hand, the huge demand for sparkling wines over the past 15 years has led to the emergence of non-Champagne sparklers from almost every wine producing country on earth. These sparklers are now established in the major wine markets. They are not likely to leave anytime soon. They include Cava, Prosecco, Cremant, California offshoots of the Champagne houses, Moscato, Sparkling Shiraz from Australia, Asti, and others.


Valentine’s Day is an excellent excuse for getting back in touch with your inner bubbly personality. Still, beware that different contexts call for different sparklers. Many of you will get together with a person who is special to you. Is she a friend you want to know better? Tension is your enemy. Try a simple Prosecco. It’s a friendly glass, light, yet the fizz will make you both smile.

Someone who definitely has your eye, and you his? The ford is already spanned: look to a brut or rosé Champagne that combines visual excitement, substance, flavors and that will put you in each others’ arms. Cost may be an issue in these times, so there is the alternative of California Champagne-method sparklers.


An established, mature romance? Celebrate the complexity with a grower champagne. You will feed your minds with a discussion about how different it is from other Champagnes you have had, and the slow build-up of flavors will eventually reach critical mass, igniting when you taste a nuance that is particularly meaningful to you.


If a proposal is in order, you’ll want a vintage Champagne or even a Special Cuvee. The moment is unique; if ever you have wondered why these wines are special, now is the time to find out. Even if you later decide that the wine was the biggest ripoff since Madoff, you will still smile about everything else that day.


For those of you who think of Valentine’s Day as a cheap Hallmark holiday, it falls on a Saturday this year. You are in luck: you can have brunch. With Prosecco cocktails or Mimosas made from Cava.


What are the differences among sparkling wines, and why should you pay more for one or another? A very good sparkler starts with good base wine, from top-quality grapes. The wine exhibits yeastiness and toasty caramel flavors that are the by-products of fermentation. Its acidity should come out as a nice lemony/citrusy flavor.


Champagne uses two fermentations to achieve these qualities: one to make the base wine from the grapes, and the second – in the bottle – to create the sparkle of carbon dioxide bubbles.


Vintage champagnes are champagnes that use grapes from one vintage only, deemed to be of such exceptional quality that they are worthy of vintage status. These Champagnes range from $70 to $125, and come from the same houses as the non-vintage Champagnes.


Special cuvees, on the other hand, can be from many vintages, but they use exceptional raw materials and processes. They range from $125 to $300, and their names are familiar: Dom Perignon, Cristal, Cuvee Winston Churchill, La Grande Dame, and Comtes de Champagne.


Non-vintage champagnes are blends from many different years. The “grower” champagnes sell for $50 to $75. Some of the best come from: Aubry, Billiot, Egly-Ouriet, Gaston-Chiquet, Gimonnet, Jean Milan, and Pierre Peters. They are the finest expressions of non-vintage style Champagne. The “Great House” champagnes generally cluster around $26 to $50: Pol Roger, Lanson, Bollinger, Deutz, Piper-Heidsieck, Laurent-Perrier, Perrier-Jouet, or Taittinger. In the Great House Champagnes, there are also some relative steals, like Heidsieck Monopole (no relation to Piper-Heidsieck), or Pommery.


The best American sparkling wines are: Domaine Chandon, Taittinger, Roederer Estate, and the best, Schramsberg (the wine of Robert Louis Stevenson that is served at the White House). All are under $20 except for Schramsberg, at around $35.


Spanish Cavas have come into their own these past 5 years or so. Avoid the Freixenet or Codorniu; these taste like burnt toast and are skinnier than Paris Hilton. Rather, go for Cristalino, a solid, if unspectacular Cava at lower cost. And for dessert, don’t forget Moscato d’Asti and Brachetto d’Acqui, for around $10 to $20. Moscato tastes like oranges, apricots and peaches, and blankets your tongue with bubbles. It will have guests giggling with pleasure. Brachetto is a red sparkler that also has great fragrance. Cremant is a wonderful substitute for Champagne as well, but made in other areas of France from other grapes. It can be had for $15 to $20.

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