We were puzzled when a woman recently asked if a raisin could restore the bubbles to a flat champagne. Her friends were laughing at her – so were we until we found a reference to the odd remedy on a couple of web sites.
A raisin dropped into a glass of flat champagne will produce bubbles because what little is left of carbon dioxide will bounce off the ridges of a wrinkled raisin. Of course, we tried it ourselves and concluded that once a dead champagne, always a dead champagne. The solution, as we advised the woman and her humored friends, is to drink the champagne before it goes flat. Duh.
The thought of restoring bubbles in champagne would horrify the Benedictine monks in Champagne who tried to produce a flat wine. Alas, they were thwarted by Champagne’s cold climate. Fermentation requires heat, so the process was halted once fall arrived only to resume in the spring once temperatures warmed. By then the wine was in the bottle – a ticking timebomb.
The monks shipped off their wines to the British only to hear that the bottles burst as the carbon dioxide built up from the renewed fermentation. While they were apologetic, the British loved the bubbles and invented a stronger bottle. If it weren’t for them, we may not have champagne today.
If you open champagne, don’t have the raisins standing by. Finish it.
It’s this time of the year we think most about champagne or sparkling wine. The vast majority of the sparkling wine is sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas when people find reason to celebrate. Unfortunately, raisins won’t help flat sales either. Higher prices from Brexit has flattened sales in Great Britain. French champagne sales have eroded further because of the growing popularity of prosecco. No matter what the competition or the economy, there is nothing like champagne.
We always feel special when we open real champagne. It’s not just the bubbles that dance from glass to mouth, but it’s the rituals associated with champagne. The pop of the cork, the bubbles and the clinking of glasses set off a series of sensory reasons to celebrate. We don’t know of anyone who pours it at funerals, for instance, or when they lose a job. Champagne is synonymous with happiness.
Cheer the holidays with champagne or sparkling wine. Here are some we recommend:
Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV ($60-$70). This non-vintage brut Champagne thoroughly impressed us. The 40 percent reserve wines in this cuvee add a depth of flavor. Very ripe apple and pear fruit in a delicious toasty, yeasty robe. Big, bold, and pleasing and clearly one of the best champagnes we have tasted recently.
- Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage ($60). Meaning “wild rose” in French, this blend of pinot noir, pinot meunierand chardonnay has distinctive black cherry aromas and blackberry, grapefruit flavors with a dash of tea.
- Champagne Jacquart Rosé Mosaique ($57). This champagne house, founded in 1964 by a group of winemakers, isn’t as known as many of the historic properties, but it is worthy of trying because of its bold style. Salmon color, lively mousse and strawberry/raspberry flavors.
Bruno Paillard Champagne Premier Cuvee ($50). A perennial favorite of ours, Bruno Paillard’s flagship cuvee continues to rack up the accolades. Reasonably priced, it delivers a lot of champagne finesse – fine bubbles, bread-like aromas and apple, cherry flavors. It is a blend of 30 crus and 25 vintages dating back to 1985. It is a classic blend of pinot noir (45 percent), chardonnay and pinot meunier. For an extra treat, try the elegant, all-chardonnay Paillard blanc-de-blanc grand cru ($70).
- Lucien Albecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut ($23). Although French, this sparkling wine comes from the Alsace region and cannot be called champagne. Made mostly from pinot blanc grapes, it has fresh apple and peach flavors.
- Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvee ($37). A blend of pinot noir and chardonnay, this California sparkling wine is vibrant with tempting peach and citrus flavors.
- Mumm Napa Brut Prestige ($27). This is a good value in the California sparkling wine market. Lots of apple and peach flavors with a dash of ginger and vanilla. A bit of pinot grisis added to the traditional blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier.
- GruetBrut ($15). The Gruet family was making champagne in France when a chance visit to New Mexico in 1983 launched its sparkling wine under the same name. Today, it remains one of the best buys in American sparkling wine and one with many awards. This dry blend of chardonnay and pinot noir shows delicate apple and citrus notes.
McManis Family Vineyards Chardonnay 2017 ($11). A great value, this simple, medium-body chardonnay is made from estate-grown grapes in River Junction. A little muscatcanelli and chenin blanc is added to perk up the aromatics. Peach and vanilla flavors.
- Sea Smoke Chardonnay 2016 ($60). This Santa Rita Hills producer continues to knock out homeruns with its chardonnay and pinot noir program. Dedicated to making wines as balanced and as perfect as possible, winemaker Don Schroeder manages to make them even better year after year. This chardonnay holds back on the new oak and filtering to let the fruit shine. Complex yet elegant with citrus aromas, tropical fruit and apple flavors and a bit of spice.
- Bootleg Red Blend 2014 ($38). If the beautiful label doesn’t grab your attention, the flavors will. Using grapes from Kendall-Jackson vineyards in Napa Valley, this red blend is patterned after The Prisoner that grabbed everyone’s attention years ago. It includes cabernet sauvignon (hardly dominant at 27 percent), petite sirah, zinfandel, merlot, malbecand petit verdot. Inky in color, it has that luscious, hedonistic appeal with garrigue, lavender aromas and blackberry, cherry and blueberry flavors. Despite the fruit-forward style, it has more complexity than we expected.