February is almost here...and a fine bubbles-worthy month it is! We can toast to the most famous groundhog of all seeing (or not seeing) his shadow on the second. This year, on February third, the XLVIIth Superbowl winners and their fans will pop a cork to celebrate, while the XLVIIth runner-ups might pop a cork to commiserate. Chinese New Year, the Year of the Snake, while not typically a champagne-popping occasion, is on the Tenth, followed closely by Mardi Gras, an infamously drunken festivity, on the twelfth. We'll raise a glass to lovers and non-lovers alike, as we celebrate the holiday of love...Valentine's Day on February 14th...and we'll spend a lot of 'dead Presidents' on those bottles of bubbly! Speaking of "dead Presidents," let's not overlook the much loved three-day weekend many get as we pay homage to Presidents Washington and Lincoln. Then, on the 24th, many corks will fly as the stars come out to acccept and celebrate little golden statues, better known as The Oscars.
With all these reasons to celebrate, let's get a better understanding of the beauty and complexity of bubbly. Notice the term bubbly, for starters. Champagne is a region of France, and the name Champagne on the bottle indicates it came directly from that region. Anything else made in the style of champagne is referred to most commonly as sparkling wine.
Champagne is one of France's coolest growing regions, and in the early days (think late 1600's) when the cold temperatures of winter interrupted the fermentation process, only to begin again as the weather warmed in the springtime, the foaming wines it created were cause for concern. Champagnes rise from frustration to festivity is largely credited to a Benedictine monk known as Dom Perignon. It was through his business and winemaking acumen that winemakers of Champagne came to realize that their problem could be their niche.
The three grapes used in the production of Champagne are chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. Interestingly enough, while most champagnes range in color from light straw to golden amber, two of the three grapes are red-skinned varietals. Sparkling wines, by contrast, can be made from any chosen grapes, made sparkling by their production methods.
In our modern era of winemaking, we are now able to control the secondary fermentation process, and the degorgement (the freezing and removal of spent yeast cells). As in centuries passed, unless the growing season and resulting grapes were of exceptional quality, most French champagnes are blends (excpet for blanc de blanc, which is made solely from chardonnay grapes) of multiple vintages. This is why you will rarely see a vintage date on a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine.
Every bottle of champagne, sparkling wine, prosecco, cava, or whatever term is being used has it's roots in the tradition of French Champagne. As you pop the cork, raise your glass in a toast to the region, to it's grapes, and to it's winemakers, who realized the value of making frothy sparkling wine something to celebrate.