WINE REVIEW DECEMBER 2019

SPARKLING SEND-OFFS

Producers of sparkling wine around the world cringe when they hear “ time to break out the bubbly!” as New Year’s celebrations approach. It’s not because they are upset by the once-a-year boom in sales but because the lion’s share of these yearend consumers don’t recognize the pleasure of enjoying sparkling wine with meals throughout the year.

If price is a factor, as it certainly is with the outrageous excise tax on wine in Thailand, consider the always pleasant Prosecco sparklers from Italy. Villa Sande, Cascine and Ca’Vescovo, among others, retail for between Bt600 and Bt800 per bottle. Ranging from dry to demi-sec they are nice complements to everything from scrambled eggs to grilled chicken. In the same category at similar prices are numerous Australian sparklers with Yellow Tail and Jacobs Creek brands among the leaders.

These are wines made using what is known as the bulk process in which the bubbles or carbonation resulting from secondary fermentation occurs in large tanks after which the wine is transferred to individual bottles. Wines made using the substantially more expensive traditional method, mandatory for all Champagne, require that secondary fermentation takes place in each bottle. So other than stratospherically higher prices for the latter, often ten or more times that of their bulk processed cousins, it’s fair to ask what’s the difference.

Visually and in the mouth the bubbles in traditionally made wines are much finer, more persistent and softer on the palate due primarily to developing over much longer periods and in far smaller space than bulk processed wines. Hints of yeast or bread dough make up part of the aroma of traditionally made wines along with characteristic flavors of chardonnay and/or pinot noir, the principal grapes used in these wines. Other than prosecco grapes being mandatory in sparklers from that Italian region nearly any grape variety can be blended into bulk processed wines.

While approximately 90% of traditional method wines are produced as brut, meaning between 3 to 12 grams per liter of sugar, most consumers tend to prefer slightly higher residual sweetness in their wines. Bulk processed sparklers aim at this preference by containing between 15 g/l and 18 g/l unless labeled semi-dry or sweet which can be as much as 50 g/l.

If your year-end celebrations focus on a rousing banquet with multiple toasts go for a case or two of bulk processed sparkling fun and don’t worry about a few spilled glasses. On the other hand if it’s a sedate dinner starting with a plate of fresh oysters followed by a surf n’ turf main and wrapped up with a classic cheese plate, enjoy a bottle of Veuve Clicquot then toast the New Year with a memorable Dom Perignon. Add some sparkle to your table a couple of times a month to enjoy the New Year all year!

Written by: R. James Mullen