Borgata’s Wine Manager, Laura Turenne, knows a thing or two about the bubbly beverage most people enjoy as they ring in the new year. We picked her brain about different champagne options, where these fizzy drinks come from, and what her preferences are. Read up on all of Laura’s tips and recommendations, and celebrate the right way.
What is the best way to tell if you’re drinking a “cheap” champagne or something more high-end?
Price points for all wines, both still and sparkling, are based on many factors but paying a higher price doesn’t always mean you are getting a superior product. Typically, the more nuanced, complex and balanced a wine may be, the better it is considered to be. When something is out of balance, meaning that one factor is significantly more prominent or lacking than others in a particular wine, that denotes something of lower quality. When you find a lovely melding of perceived alcohol, acidity, fruit and body, you are enjoying a quality product. And how do you tune your palate to appreciate these differences? Pop open a bottle and practice! Better yet, open up a few different wines (sparkling or otherwise) with the people in your social bubble so you can compare and contrast side-by-side; exploring your palate to assess the differences.
How do the grapes in champagne differ from those in wine?
First things first: All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne!
The grapes in still and sparkling wines are just the same. As a matter of fact, most sparkling wines are first crafted into still wines and then go through a second fermentation to add that sparkle.
Where things really start to change are the methods of wine-making and the grape varietals allowed by law in certain regions. In Champagne, France for example, Champagne can only be made from Pinot Noir, Meunier, Chardonnay or some combination of thereof. In Italy, Prosecco is made primarily from the Glera grape. In California, there are no varietal restrictions at all! Each grape lends its own qualities to the mix.
What should consumers look for when purchasing or ordering sparkling wine?
I’m a big believer in ‘drink what you like’. If you are not sure what that is just yet, experiment with some wines-by-the-glass on your next visit to a restaurant. Or maybe ‘attend’ a virtual tasting from home after having stopped to pick up a couple of bottles of the styles to be discussed. The goal is to determine what YOU like best. Some people like their sparkling wines crisp and light, others prefer a creamy brioche flavor. Some like bone dry, others like sweetness levels bordering on dessert. Once you can articulate your preferred style, you can lean on your sommelier or retail staff to point you in the right direction.
What constitutes a champagne as extra dry ?
Back in the 18th and 19th centuries when sparkling wine from Champagne first started making an impact on the international scene, it was actually quite sweet. To the point that modern audiences would consider it something to pair with dessert. Over the years the fashion has slowly evolved towards a drier style. The specific levels of sugar in a bottle of Champagne define its category. From sweetest to driest the levels are : Doux, Demi-Sec, Dry (Sec), Extra Dry (Extra Sec), Brut, Extra Brut, Brut Nature. It can seem quite confusing, but the Extra Dry category actually has some detectable sweetness on the tongue ; it’s considered extra dry in comparison to the original sweetness that was common back in the day. The overwhelming volume of current production of Champagne is Brut and above.
Besides the aging, what is the biggest difference between vintage and non-vintage champagnes?
The difference between vintage and non-vintage Champagne starts with the winemaker’s choice to use only a single year’s harvest in the Champagne. A ‘vintage’ refers to the year in which the grapes were harvested. Mother Nature plays a big part in defining the flavor and structure of the grapes each year. Some years the harvest will be high in acidity, others may have an abundance of ripe sugars, etc. Most Champagne houses have a ‘house style’, meaning that if you drink a bottle of Veuve Clicquot NV (Non-Vintage) today and then enjoy another bottle five years from now, they should taste very similar. So how do you create that consistency if every year you are dealt a different hand from the cosmos? You hold back a little of the base wine each year to blend into future bottlings! This gives Champagne houses the flexibility to blend multiple vintages together to build the desired flavor profile. With Vintage Champagne, you play only the hand you are dealt that specific year. For this reason, most Champagne houses only release a vintage bottling for the years in which they feel the crop is truly superior on its own; worthy of standing out. Even then, the production of a vintage bottling is usually only a small percentage of their overall production for the year. These bottlings also undergo significantly longer aging before being released to the public, which tends to bring about a richer and more complex end result.
What is your favorite champagne cocktail & why?
My favorite classic fizzy cocktail is a French 75. It’s simple, refreshing and elegant.
For a special occasion, what is your go to bubbly?
Personally, I don’t need a special occasion. Just last week I opened a bottle of Vintage Rosé Champagne at home with a friend simply because I was in the mood and knew the friend would appreciate it. Celebrate every day!
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