A Word on Bubbles: Devil’s Wine, its Evolution, and ome Present-Day Standouts

You don't have to spend a lot to have a bubbly New Year's Eve.

Did you ever wonder where those fine-textured, sensual bubbles on your palate came from when sipping a glass of Champagne or sparkling wine? There has actually been quite a bit of controversy over the years as to who exactly is responsible for creating one of the most fascinating wines in history. It happened quite some time in the past, almost 350 years ago by an English scientist named Christopher Merret, who originally presented his findings to the Royal Society in 1662. 

To the contrary, the French claim that the monk Dom Perignon was its founder. The truth?  Around the same time as Mr. Merret’s findings, the French did discover wine with bubbles, but only by accident, proclaiming it “devil’s wine” when such bottles exploded from the carbon dioxide (and 40 years before Dom Perignon even made his first appearance to the wine world). This “accident” was only fizzy because the wine had yet to complete an initial fermentation before being bottled. That is compared to the method of inducing a secondary fermentation in the bottle, which is what Mr. Merret founded, as well as what the best Champagne and sparkling wine producers use today.

The famous method, previously referred to as Methode Champenoise, is now known as Methode Traditionnelle.  Unfortunately, too many imposters were labeling themselves as Champagne producers, thereby forcing the Champenois to lobby what is now the European Union in order to change the laws.  The term Champagne (Champenois) should only be associated with wines that are grown and produced in the Champagne region of France.  Everything else well, is just sparkling wine.

No matter what your preferential tastes may be (or budget), there is a world of sparkling wines out there to choose from to suit you needs. Champagne reigns supreme above all others when it comes to the stylistic quality that can be only be found in Champagne. The region of Champagne has a unique terroir (climate, soil, aspect, etc.) that is unmatched elsewhere in the world. However, this is not to say other sparkling wines from elsewhere cannot provide a sense of quality and uniqueness in their own style. In the end you drink what you like, as well as what you prefer to spend on a particular bottle. 

Today, examples of quality-driven sparkling wines can be found in numerous countries around the world, from Austria to Brazil. Spain is known for its sparkling wine referred to as Cava.  Cava may be produced in the traditional method with the secondary fermentation in the bottle, or by another method that yields a lighter style of sparkling wine called the Charmat method, in which the secondary fermentation takes places in large tanks before being bottled. Spanish Cava has a great deal of value, with the majority of the wines in the top tier falling under the price of Champagne (Segura Viudas Cava Brut Reserva Heredad NV - $21). The Italians produce a sparkling wine in Veneto called Prosecco, which is made in the Charmat method and is perfect for those who prefer a less complex style that is simple and light, yet still very pleasing (Nino Franco “Rustico” Prosecco di Valdobbiadene NV - $14). In Germany, sparkling wine is called Sekt.  And in Australia, red sparkling wine is being produced, which is particularly interesting if seeking something fun and different (Bleasdale “The Red Brute” Sparkling Shiraz NV  - $19). 

Domestically in the United States, sparkling wine is produced around the country.  In California, a number of Champagne houses have set up American outposts, making exceptional sparkling wines for the price (Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut NV - $19). Some fantastic sparkling wines are also made in New York, Oregon, Washington State and even New Mexico (Gruet New Mexico Brut Rosé NV - $17).

But if what you seek is the benchmark for all sparkling wine, and do not mind spending a bit more for the sake of celebration (or just simply because), then look no further than the region of Champagne. Champagne is a diverse region with numerous styles and price points. In the United Sates, most are familiar with the usual suspects of Vueve Cliquot Yellow Label and Moet & Chandon White Star. These are fine, but there are many other exciting Champagne houses to toast over if considering something special for the occasion. 

The best values exist in the Grower Champagne category, or Champagne producers who grow their own grapes, as opposed to sourcing the grapes from other reputable growers as the larger Champagne houses (referred to as Negociant Champagne such as Vueve Cliquot, Taittinger, Bollinger etc). Examples of such Champagne houses include Gaston Chiquet, René Geoffroy, Pierre Gimonnet, Egly-Ouriet and Fleury, each of which produce amazing Champagnes in the $50 range. Beyond that, some of the best Champagnes to indulge in include Krug, Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, Jacquesson Grand Signature, Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle La Cuvée, and arguably one of the most epic Champagnes available, Salon (a personal favorite).           

Cheers and Happy New Year,
Stephen Asprinio
www.stephenasprinio.com