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Sparkling wines shine with more choices
Adding a little sparkle to your life is a fashion "do" this holiday season. But you don't have to suffer in sequins to be trendy -- you can choose from a host of sparkling wines to add a little effervescence to the season.
And you don't have to spend a fortune to do it. More bubbly at more price points is available than ever before, says Wilfred Wong, cellar master for the West Coast-based Beverages and More! chain.
"It's all about the dollars," he said. "People still want to enjoy wines, but they don't have the means to spend the money. More importantly, they know that there are deals out there."
Deals like cava, a sparkling wine from Spain, prosecco and Asti spumante, Italian bubblies, and sekt, an effervescent riesling from Germany. Also gaining popularity is sparkling muscat, a sweet wine.
Along with the rising popularity of new varieties, the packaging of sparkling wine is changing a bit. In Champagne, the region of France which produces the only sparkling wine that can be properly called "Champagne" -- authorities are requiring use of a lighter bottle starting with the 2010 harvest. Those bottles won't show up on shelves for a few years because the wine's still aging, but they are expected to save shipping costs and have less of an environmental effect.
The new bottles are 2 ounces lighter and, according to the Champagne Bureau, will reduce the annual CO2 output by 8,000 metric tons, or the equivalent of the annual emissions of 4,000 cars.
There are a few changes on what's inside the bottles, too. Gary Westby, champagne buyer for San Francisco-based K&L Wine Merchants, has noticed an increase in Champagnes made entirely from the pinot meunier grape.
Pinot meunier is one of the three traditional grapes of Champagne -- chardonnay and pinot noir are the other two. It's cheaper to grow, being indigenous to the area, but has in the past been considered sturdy although not particularly distinctive.
But now, some producers are growing meunier with an eye to quality, controlling yields and planting in prime growing areas, producing wines for around $30 a bottle, a bargain for Champagne. One to try is Michel Loriot Pinot Meunier.
"I'm finding there's quite a following now for meunier," Westby said.
On the American side, a new entry in the bargain sparkling wine lists this year was Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Brut Sparkling.
This is a charmat wine, meaning the wine is first fermented in stainless steel tanks, then put into small, pressurized tanks along with yeast imported from Champagne for the second fermentation that makes the bubbles. (For Champagne, the second fermentation takes place in the bottle, a more labor-intensive and expensive process.)
Woodbridge sparkling wine is light and crisp with flavors of apple and citrus. And it retails for around $10 a bottle.
Just not into grapes? Not to worry. There's a new brew for you, too -- a "champagne" made of beer.
A collaboration between Samuel Adams and Germany's Weihenstephan Brewery, Infinium comes in a Champagne-style bottle with a foil cover and the traditional popping cork. It's even partially fermented in the bottle, though not in exactly the same way as Champagne.
Infinium, which costs about $20 for a 750-milliliter bottle and is available on a limited basis for the holidays, took more than two years to create.
"We set out to do something that had never been done before," said Jim Koch, brewer and founder of Samuel Adams beers.
Beer has a little more in common with Champagne than you might think. Both beverages have yeast as an ingredient and beer comes with bubbles, though not as many as the sparkling wine.
Koch was looking to create a drink that had the fresh and fruity flavors of Champagne married to the full texture and structure of beer.
"I want to get out of the categories of saying beer is this and wine is that," said Koch, who sees the American beer industry as being about where the U.S. wine industry was 25 years ago.
"Beer is emerging," he said.