Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Brotherhood Of The Bubbly



Are you one of The Great Unwashed who (like Yours Truly) has a bad habit of referring to all sparkling wines as Champagne? No, don’t bother raising your hand – I feel your shame. Fear not, fellow hoi polloi member, as I recently attended a seminar at The Astor Center of New York City called “Champagne Alternatives”, conducted by Tess Rose Lampert. The purpose of this class was to familiarize us with different types of sparkling wines that are not only other than Champagne, but are also not even from France. In addition, we would learn that these alternatives could frequently be much less expensive than actual Champagne.

Included in the tasting were the following, in the order listed below:


  1. Gruet Rosé Brut, NV
    This Pinot Noir-based United States product comes from New Mexico. The producer is a family that comes from a classic Champagne background; upon a visit to New Mexico, they found that both the weather and the terroir reminded them of their home region, so they decided they could manufacture good sparkling wine in that location.
  2. Nino Franco Prosecco Rustico, NV
    Fruitier and more acidic, this is a little flatter – fewer bubbles. While the classical method of sparkling wine dictates it undergo a second fermentation in the bottle, prosecco uses the Charmat method where the second fermentation occurs in the tank. If you’re looking for something to enjoy with your at-home brunch, this is the one; it makes great cocktails like mimosas.
  3. Miquel Pons Cava Brut, Nature Reserva , NV
    Generally, cavas make a good, less expensive alternative to Champagne. Because of its low cost, it is a nice sparkling wine for all occasions, whether or not you’re pairing it with food (although if you’re going to eat, shellfish is highly recommended).
  4. Alianca, Red - Tinto Bruto, Metodo Classico, NV
    This is characterized by its smokiness – both in its nose and taste. Despite the fact that it’s bubbly, you really know you’re drinking a red wine here because of the tannins, which makes your mouth go dry and induces puckering. That said, it’s best paired with something strong that would stand up to it like steak, mushrooms or pasta in a heavy cream sauce. It would probably overwhelm a more gentle food like white fish or salad and you definitely wouldn’t want to use it as a dessert wine.
  5. 2011 Paolo Pizzorni Brachetto d'Acqui "Sogno Rosso"
    This last one was my least favorite of the five; that’s because it was way too sweet for my palate – in fact, it almost tasted like a dessert wine to me. This red sparkler’s low alcohol content made our instructor comment that this was basically an adult grape soda; she suggested that it might be paired best with potato chips or salty meats.

Speaking of sweetness, sparkling wines may or may not contain additional sugar; by additional sugar, this means sweetener added as a flavoring agent, as opposed to the natural sugar that is part of the grape on which it is based. The amount of sugar – if any – can be determined based on its category, as seen in the table below. They can range from “dry” (no or little sugar added) to sweet (over 50 additional grams).


Sugar Content In Sparkling Wines

Sparkling Wine Category

Additional Grams Of Sugar per Liter
Brut Nature Up to 3

Extra Brut

Up to 6

Brut Up to 12
Extra Dry (Extra Sec/Extra Seco) Up to 17
Dry Up to 32
Demi-Sec Up to 50
Doux, Sweet Dulce Over 50



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