I’m a firm believer in celebrating every day – our relationships with others and the good fortune that we do have. One of my favorite Italian traditions is Aperitivo – that pause at the end of the work day before dinner when people connect and mark the day’s events. A daily social respite or even a light dinner that is civilized, fun and relaxed. And I love the classic celebratory Aperitivo drink – sparkling wine. There is no need to open a pricey bottle of bubbly every time you gather with friends. Many delicious sparkling wines from outside of France’s Champagne region do in fact employ the secondary fermentation process of Method Champenoise or Charmat, and non-champagne sparkling wine producers are able to pass along the benefits of lower land costs and less expensive grapes while still maintaining high quality. Do avoid sparkling wine that is produced by pumping under pressure carbon dioxide directly into still wine, producing wine with coarse bubbles that go flat very quickly. While sparkling wine is festive and perfect for social occasions, its clean acidity and fine bubbles make it a great accompaniment to a variety of foods – a wonderful compliment or contrast. So open a bottle of bubbly, enjoy some small bites and celebrate the day!
No more hunting from store to store for that bottle you are desperately seeking. Locate your favorite bottle of sparkling wine at the nearest store with ease.
Visit Wine-Searcher at: www.wine-searcher.com
But sure to develop your own palette and know-how. Find a local wine shop, get to know someone there who knows their selections well, and order a mixed case ever so often with their recommendations. Use a notebook or journal to keep track of what you liked and didn’t, and then discuss your notes with them next time so they can make further suggestions. They will get to know your style and you will discover all sorts of new and interesting wines. And typically when you buy a case at a time many stores will give up to 10% discounts.
Stephanie Johnson, Wine Director at City Winery, www.citywinery.com
I have enjoyed prosecco, the staple of Italian Aperitivo, for years. Try Burtolotti Valdobbiadene ($15). But drinking the same type of sparkling wine all the time can get boring. For a change I often have Lambrusco, an Italian red sparkling wine traditionally made for Emilia-Romagna wine growers’ own personal use and local consumption. It pairs particularly well with meat. Try Labrusca Lini 910 Lambrusco Rosso ($15). Labrusca Lini 910 also makes a great white sparkling wine called Lambrusco Bianco.
The term crémant on French sparkling wine bottles indicates the use of the Methode Champenoise in regions outside of Champagne. And there are crémants from many French wine regions that are delicious. Look for Crémant de Bourgogne, Moissenet-Bonnard ($18, Burgundy), Brut de Savoie Pierre Boniface ($19, Savoie), Chidaine Montlouis Brut ($20, Loire) and Crémant D’Alsace Domaine Agapé ($18, Alsace).
A fantastic Austrian sparkling wine from the heart of Weinviertal is Punkt Genau, Sparkling Grüner Veltliner ($16). From Germany Brüder Dr. Becker, Scheurebe Sekt Extra Trocken is also really delicious. These two are my current favorites!!
For Spanish sparkling wine I like Leopardi Brut Rose Cava, Llopart ($20). And Iron Horse Wedding Cuvée ($39) is a yummy domestic sparkling wine.
Sparkling wines always taste best when consumed locally. Maybe it’s the gorgeous scenery, the relaxing holiday, or truly the fact that the wine has not undergone as extensive handling as it does when shipped long distances, but sparkling wines consumed locally are always that much better. When on holiday be sure to visit the local wine shop or grocery store and purchase a few bottles for yourself rather than depending on restaurant selections.
Stephanie recommends Louis Roederer Champagne ($40), produced by the makers of Cristal, as a delicious and good-value option. Other noteworthy champagnes I enjoy are Marguet Pere & Fils Grand Cru Champagne 2004 Vintage ($49) and Pol Roger Brut ($39).
A great glass is a very important component in the enjoyment of sparkling wine. And any sort of plastic vessel is definitely a no-no! I like the Gala Champagne Flutes (set of 4 $38), and for a more modern feel, Iittala Essence Glassware (set of 2 $40) from www.finnishgifts.com.
German-made Schott Zwiesel Crystal Champagne Flutes Pure Tritan (set of 6 $77.95) are produced of titanium crystal that rigorously stands up to daily use and picnics. A little more pricey but sure to be enjoyed is the Ichendorf Arles Crystal Glassware’s Saucer or Champagne Cup (set of 6, $342), at www.unicahome.com.
The taste of sparkling wine, as with any liquid, changes with temperature. Nothing is really worse than a warm or tepid glass of sparkling wine. At the right temperature (43 to 45 ºF) the smell and taste can be fully appreciated. Keep your bottle cool with the easy-to-use and transportable VacuVin Rapid Ice Wine Chiller ($10.99). For those bottles you don’t finish at one sitting use the VacuVin Champagne Saver & Pourer ($11.95).
Visit VacuVin at www.vacuvinonline.com
On a winter’s eve there’s nothing more inviting than dining on warm Cheese Fondue, Fondue Bourguignonne or a Raclette Grill. For my Fondue Bourguignonne, also called Beef Fondue, I use broth rather than oil – it’s easier and lighter. Social dining at it’s best. Don’t forget the bubbly!
Playlists that transport.
- “Look to the Sky“ - Antonio Carlos Jobim – Wave
- “Tiro Ao Álvaro“ - Adoniran Barbosa, Vento De Maio (May Wind)
- “Madalena” – Elis Regina, Essential vol. 1
- “The Girl from Ipanema” – Billy Strange, The James Bond Theme/Walk Don’t Run
- “Gold & Diamonds” (DJ Kawaski Remix) – Victor Davies, Hear the Sounds (remixed)
- “Con Mi Sombra“ - S-Tone Inc., Hotel Costes, Vol. 9
- “Charade” – Xavier Cugat, Soundtrack Masters: Xavier Cugat
- “ Mambo Jambo” – Club des Belugas, Chill Lounge @ My Bathtub
- “12 Per sempre” – Didi, Caffe Bella Italia
- “ Venus” – S-Tone Inc., Luz y Sombra
- “Quatre Pieces Collees”- Maxim Illion, Night Over Rio
- “La Vie en Rose” – Grace Jones, 20thC Masters, The Millennium Collection: The Best of Grace Jones
- “Les Champs-Élysées” – Joe Dassin, Les Champs-Elysees
- “Comment te dire adieu _” – Francoice Hardy, Coment te dire adieu
- “L’amoureuse” – Carla Bruni, Comme Si De Rien Rietait
- “La disparition” – Keren Ann, La Disparition
- “Les manteaux” – Amelie-les-Crayons, La Porte Plume
- “Si j’avais su que notre amour (Duo rêvé avec Chris Isaak)” – Anais, The Love Album
- “Paris dix heures du soir” – Coralie Clement, Rendez-vouse en France
Visit Apple iTunes at www.apple.com/itunes/
The Widow Clicquot by Tilar Mazzeo is a captivating and inspirational biography of the early French entrepreneur Madame Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot, the founder of Veuve Clicquot Champagne, as well as a fascinating history of champagne. A personal favorite insight gleaned is the British, in an effort to preserve wine once tapped, were converting their barrels of imported wine from the Reims region into sparkling champagne and bottling by the 1670s, a full decade before sparkling wine was first produced in France!