If you’re anything like the Wine Wankers – you choose to step up your game at Christmas time. In fact, my pet hate are relatives who skimp on wine. And when it comes to bubbles, that means the good stuff. Ah yes, the good stuff, what does that actually mean? Sparkling wine falls into three distinct categories on Christmas day as far as I’m concerned. For the toast, you’ll need the really good stuff. And by that, I mean French Champagne. My preferred staples from years of tasting are Charles Heidsieck, Veuve Clicquot or Lanson. And if you really want to impress, Perrier-Jouët, Billecart-Salmon and Bollinger.
Drink French all day if you can afford it, but if you’re like most, you’ll be looking for a quality Australian or New Zealand sparkling wine to supplement. Look no further than Chandon or Jansz, which are often on special. But what happens when your 20 nearest and dearest friends drop by in the afternoon? Don’t panic; simply serve them a great budget sparkling wine such as Jacobs Creek Chardonnay Pinot Noir or Hardys Nottage Hill Pinot Chardonnay Cuvee Brut.
You’ll also notice I don’t call everything Champagne. That’s because only wines that herald from a small region north east of Paris in France can claim that title. Everything else is called sparkling wine, unless of course you prefer to call it fizz, bubbles or even shampoo! For the advanced Wine Wankers, the following might be stating the obvious. But in the interest of educating all our followers, this information will help you choose perfectly next time you’re at your local bottleshop. Quality Australia sparkling wine is modelled after real Champagne; so look out for the term ‘Methode Traditionelle’ written on the label. The bottle should also tell you it’s made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and the grapes were grown in a cool region. This cool climate gives the wine a more ‘refined’ flavour. Pinot Meunier is also occasionally used. Pinot Noir dominant wines (Blanc de Noir) are fuller in flavour, with characters of berry fruits; these are perfect when paired with food. Chardonnay dominant wines (Blanc de Blanc) are fresh and bright with citrus elements; great on their own as an aperitif. A blend of the two means you get the best of both worlds; simple!
‘Methode Traditionelle’ or ‘fermented in this bottle’ also means the wine has been matured on its dead yeast cells (called yeast lees). This winemaking process imparts a lovely toasty/creamy character to the wine. Don’t worry however, the winemaker removes the dead yeast cells just before they sell the wine. Look for the term, ‘matured on yeast lees for xx months’. Noticeable biscuit characters will be more pronounced after 18 month’s maturation. Plus, the bubbles will be tinier and longer lasting! Finally, vintage wines are said to be better than non vintage (NV) wines. That’s because vintage wines are only produced in the very best years. NV wines are a blend of several ‘average to good’ years and are blended to produce a balanced ‘house’ style.
With the buying out of the way; it’s now time to serve your precious cargo. It’s Christmas day, so step up to the plate and do it properly, for your mum’s sake! Chill non-vintage wines to 5°C. A slightly warmer temperature (around 8°C) for vintage wines will heighten the complex aromas and flavours. The secret to opening a bottle of sparkling wine is to actually try and stop the cork from coming out! Aim for a gentle sigh. Also, try to leave the foil that sits around the neck of the wine bottle intact. When you’re drinking expensive fizz, that’s what you’ll see sticking out from the top of the ice bucket (promotion is everything)! Serve sparkling wine in long stemmed, ‘tulip’ shaped flutes. The flute’s shape allows the bubbles to form properly while also helping preserve them for longer. Also remember to hold the glass by the stem otherwise the heat from your fingers will warm up the wine. ‘Charge’ everybody’s glass by first pouring a small amount of wine into each glass. Now wait for this to settle before filling everybody’s glass to about two-thirds to three-quarters full.