Russ Winton: Wine List

Russ Winton: Champagne is enjoyable year-round

Russ Winton

It seems like every year at this time I ask the same question, "Why don't we drink more champagne?"

It's delicious, readily available and not very expensive, so why don't we drink it year- round? I guess we're programed to think Champagne is for New Years and special events -- and that's that!

One of my favorite quotes is from Madam Lily Bollinger of Bollinger Champagne. When asked by a reporter when she drinks champagne she replied: "I drink it when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it -- unless I'm thirsty." You gotta love Madam Lily and since this is champagne season let's review some basics of this wine.

To be called champagne, the wine must come from the Champagne region of France. This region is located 90 miles northeast of Paris, has a very cool climate and is known for it's chalky soils that produces highly acidic wines. Three grapes can be used to make champagne: pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay. champagne is made by a process called methode champenoise which includes a secondary fermentation in the bottle creating those wonderful tiny bubbles.

In the United States we refer to champagne as sparkling wine, in Spain it is referred to as cava, in Germany it is called sekt, in Italy prosecco or spumante and in other regions of France, it is labeled cremant. Most are made in the method champenoise style but cannot legally state that on the label. Because of the secondary fermentation, the pressure inside a bottle of bubbly is about 90 pounds per square inch. So knowing how to open the bottle is very important to you and those around you.

Make sure the bottle is well chilled. Cut off the foil, keeping your hand over the cork at all times. Always point the bottle at a 45 degree angle away from you. Undo the wire cage and place a cloth napkin over the cork. Carefully twist the base of the bottle clockwise and twist the cork counterclockwise. The cork should ease right out with a quiet sound of PHFUTT! Using this technique, you won't lose any wine in the process.

The sweetness of the champagne will be noted on the bottle. Brut means dry, usually less than 1.5 percent residual sugar. Extra dry doesn't mean "extra dry" but means sweeter than brut. Finally sec means semi-sweet which is very sweet.

Here are some recommendations for sparkling wines/champagnes that are available in the Merced area. Less than $10: Freixenet Cordon Negro Cava, Sigura Viudas Cava, Christalino Cava, Zardetto Prosecco, Korbel, Domain Ste. Michelle, Yellow Tail and Barefoot Bubbly. $10 to $20: Domaine Chandon, Mumm Cuvee, Piper-Sonoma, Gloria Ferrer, Scharffenberger, Roederer and Domaine Carneros. More than $20: Piper Heisdsieck, Schramsberg, Mumm, Moet-Chandon, Perrier-Joet, Veuve Clicquot, Taittinger and Dom Perignon (available at Costco for just $119!) Whatever you choose, make sure you drink what YOU like and have a great holiday season. And here's a toast, to Madame Lily Bollinger -- cheers!

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