Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Uncorked: Bubbly 101

By: Laurie Wallin
Capital Cooking Contributor

The holidays are a time for celebrating, and what says celebration more than a nice glass of bubbly? However, there are a number of options out there, and it can get confusing. Certified Sommelier Giuseppe (Joe) Ricciardi of Dolce Vita restaurant and Dolce Veloce wine bar in Fairfax, VA, lent his expertise to provide Capital Cooking with some tips on choosing the right bubbly that fits your taste buds and your budget.

There are several ways in which sparkling wines are made. The first is Methode Champenoise, where the second fermentation of the wine occurs in the bottle. Another is the Charmat/Martinotti process, where the sparkling wine’s second formation occurs in large, stainless steel tanks. In addition, some sparkling wine is simply made by adding carbon dioxide to the bottle of wine. As you can imagine, the final method is the most cost-effective, but also produces a lesser-quality sparkling wine. 

There are also a number of specific sparkling wines. Prosecco is mostly made from Glera grapes – grapes which have been in existence since the Roman times. Franciacorta is a sparkling wine made in the Lombardi region of Italy using the Champenoise method, using Pinot Bianco, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay grapes. If you see the term “Blanc de Blanc,” that means the wine is exclusively Chardonnay grapes. Champagne, of the famous French region of Champagne, is a sparkling wine made of Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay Grapes. In addition to the Blanc de Blanc term also associated with Champagne, the use of the term “Rose” refers to the use of Pinot Noir grapes. Cava is produced in Cataluna, Spain, and is an excellent alternative to Champagne – this sparkling wine is made with Macabeu, Parillada, and Xarel grapes. 

While having the opportunity to try several sparkling wines, I asked Joe what the most important things a consumer should look for in a sparkling wine. His response? Clarity, consistency, and color. The clarity of the sparkling wine should be crystal clear – anything less suggests a lesser-quality wine. For consistency, the bubbles should be on the small side (the smaller, the better) and their persistence and consistency as they rise in the glass signals a good quality sparkler. Lastly, color – the wine ideally would be a faint yellow, the color of straw – a darker color could signal an aging or bad wine, and a lighter color could be due to the blend of grapes used. 

In addition, I asked Joe for some recommendations on his favorite sparklers for the holidays. He steered me to the Mille Millesimato Prosecco. This prosecco had a smooth, crisp flavor, and at a price point of around $20, can’t be beat. Joe recommends paring this wine with soft cheeses, lobster, tuna carpaccio, and shellfish. 

For those looking for something a bit more indulgent, Joe highly recommends the Bellavista Franciacorta Cuvee Brut. Out of the Franciacorta region of Italy, the Bellavista vineyard showcases the best of the Franciacorta region. 

The wonderful thing about sparkling fine is that there’s bound to be a bottle that will be a perfect fit for your occasion, palette, and price range. These wines, among others, can be found (and purchased) at Dolce Veloce (http://www.dolceveloce.com/).

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