The Short Buzz: A Sparkling New Year


Posted by R.K. Gella

Say Champagne, think celebration.  The two have become quite synonymous since Dom Perignon accidentally stumbled upon the recipe in the Abbey cellars during the 17th century (and to think the French monk initially sought to rid his wine of effervescence in which he considered a flaw.)

Four centuries later the world still prizes the tickle of bubbly.  And as the anticipation for grandest party of the year peaks, the revelers stock up on the tipple of choice for the occasion… sparkling wine.

Wait.  Sparkling wine?  Don’t you mean…

The reason for my refrain of using the term Champagne comes two fold:

1.    To present an accurate statement.
2.    To avoid any lawsuit the CIVC (Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne) may charge me for misrepresentation.

I jest on my second reason, but only slightly.  The CIVC has gone through tremendous length and litigation to preserve the integrity of their wine.  But preservation might have come at a cost.  For those unfamiliar with Champagne, choosing between Champagne (wines strictly from the designated region that comply with AOC classifications) and other sparkling wines (wines from a variety of regions that utilize different types of methods) may come down simply to the price tag.

In June the New York Times reported that there was a bright outlook for Champagne, with emerging economies growing a taste for the wine, however, financial turbulence has halted those expectations as demands for luxury products have dropped dramatically.

The Financial Times reports that Champagne sales have declined by 5% in the US over the course of nine months, leaving producers with the hope that sales increase during holidays.

Unfortunately, their hopes might be thwarted by Champagne alternatives.

In the US, Cava (a Spanish sparkling wine of Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel·lo an Chardonnay created in the same method as Champagne) has taken over sparkling wine sales in attribute to its quality and price point.  Cava, produced throughout eastern Spain (though primarily in the Penedes region), is often a fraction of the price of Champagne making it a more desirable buy.

And for those who are looking to drink immediately, sparkling wine is seldom left to age, benefiting frugal purchases, which comes as a contrary to the usual outline of purchasing still wines.

Other sparklers that can be equally as enjoyable and economical include sparkling Prosecco or Asti wines (Italian), German Sekt, and California sparkling wines (many investments come from French houses).

If you must stay in France, remember there are several regions outside Champagne that make quality sparklers without the hefty price tags.  Vouvray, located in the Loire Valley, crafts quite drinkable wines from Chenin blanc, while Blanquette de Limoux from Languedoc in southwestern France, applies noble craftsmanship using Mauzac, Chenin blanc and Chardonnay.

This is in no way to dissuade you from a vintage Veuve Cliquot La Grande Dame or Perrier-Joet Fleur de Champagne – especially if someone else is pouring it – these remain remarkable wines, yet what is truly more remarkable, and completely possible to find, is a wine in which quality rationally aligns to price.

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