Wine Tastings

Adjusting Our Attitude about Champagne & Sparkling Wine

By: Mary Ross

IMAGE: KRUG (No caption)

We blame the categories’ celebratory image, but why fight it?  Maybe it’s not the image, but our attitude about celebration that needs adjustment.

Sure, Champagne is the classic acknowledgement of celebration, but elsewhere in the wine world, a glass of bubbly is an excuse in itself to get the good times rolling, turning even the simplest event into a special occasion.

“Are you celebrating something?  Or would you like to be celebrating something?  How about starting with sparkling wine?”  As a sommelier, my simple table opener generated year-round sparkling sales, along with customer responses like, “What a great idea.  We just fixed the garage door.  Let’s celebrate!”

“Nothing makes people feel more special than Champagne,” seconds Damon Ornowski, Master Sommelier and specialist for Paterno Wines International.  And which of our customers doesn’t want to feel special?


Pre-set Sparkling Wine

A restaurant’s reservation desk can pre-set the festive mood with the offer to pre-set sparkling wine.  (Keep a printed short list handy at the reservation desk, including glass and bottle prices, flavor descriptions and menu complements.)

Along with recommendations, a shift at the point of sale can remove the “not for daily consumption” warning from sparklers, which are generally segregated into exclusive sections in shops and on wine lists.  By integrating sparklers into day-to-day sections – organized by variety, nationality or flavor, as on a progressive wine list  – restaurateurs and retailers invite customers to enjoy sparkling wine on a regular basis, and can cash in America’s new food trends besides.

Asian cuisine, for instance, is now a popular mealtime choice throughout America, with flavors such as soy, wasabi and tropical fruit incorporated even in non-Asian restaurants.

“Sparkling wine is the ‘when in doubt’ choice with Asian cuisine,” says Ornowski, citing sparklers’ low alcohol, delicate complexity and acidity, which refresh the palate while weaving through intricate seasoning.  Even cardboard carton, carryout morphs into an exciting culinary experience with sparkling wine.



Pairing Abilities

The soft, round Langlois-Chateau  Crémant de Loire Brut NV, predominant in Chenin Blanc, is equally refreshing with a classic smoked salmon appetizer as with Vietnamese spring rolls and sushi.  ($19 suggested retail price.)  For a richer experience, try Argyle’s “Brut Extended Tirage” 1995 from Oregon, aged ten years on its lees for yeastiness and creamy texture. ($34)


To pair sparkling wine with an entree of the East or West, look for a high percentage of red grapes in the blend.  With 75 percent Pinot’s Noir and Meunier and a house style renown for powerful complexity Bollinger Special Cuvée Champagne ($54) is an elegant complement to seafood - such as lobster - poultry and white meats.

Even red meat eaters find exciting taste sensations, pairing dry rose Champagne with roast beef or filet.

Finally, Italy’s fabulous fizz of Asti fame adds pizzazz to dessert, even simple fruit and cheese. Look for Pio Cesare’s Moscato d'Asti ($26) with flavors sweet and juicy as a perfectly ripe nectarine.Asti and other sweet sparklers, such as Langlois-Chateau Crémant de Loire Brut Rosé NV ($21) extend sparkling sales to Valentine’s Day.



Here’s a sparkling wine cocktail that could be called “Sarah Jessica Parker” - most associated with sparkling wine, as well as several selections from the liquor shop:

 “Citrus Chic”

1-1/2 oz. Belvedere Pomarancza (with sweet orange flavors balanced with zesty lime)

1 ounce strawberry puree

3 oz. fresh watermelon juice

Dash of simple syrup

Splash of Santa Margherita Prosecco Di Valdobbiadene ($21)
Combine vodka, strawberry puree, watermelon juice and simple syrup in a mixing glass.  Shake hard with ice.  Strain into a chilled Champagne flute.  Top with sparkling wine.  Garnish with starfruit and lemon spiral.  (Created by mixologist Bridget Albert, Southern Wines & Spirits of Illinois.)



If history repeats itself, Champagne and sparkling wine sales will rise to a frenzy six times higher than average in the year’s final week.  With a little adjustment in attitude and marketing, we can extend sparkling wine sales throughout the year, making shops and restaurants both a destination for and a source of our customers’ celebration.




Mary Ross is an educator, author and international authority on wine and food.  She has been recognized with the Wine Spectator’s “Grand Award of Excellence” (1984), the Advanced Sommelier degree (1986) and is a Certified Wine Educator (2002). She is currently Director of Wine Education for Southern Wines and Spirits of Illinois.



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Bubble Rap

Our series of label reports and vignettes on Champagne & Sparkling Wine


The smaller the bubbles, the finer the Champagne: That has been the established principle for many producers and experts. These thin films of gas-filled liquid are the essence of pleasure for those who are captivated by its perceived glamour.

Complicated and time consuming to make but so facile to enjoy, Champagne or sparkling wine made in the Méthode Champenoise may have history behind it, or a skilled Winemaker. But nevertheless, years of skill and talent plays an integral role in the final blend to incite that exquisite sparkle.


Champagne Ruinart is Back!

Champagne’s oldest and one of its most esteemed Houses, Ruinart, is back in the U.S., as part of Moet Hennessy U.S.A. portfolio of brands.

“We perceive Ruinart as an analogy to haute couture in the world of fashion,” says Bernard Peillon, President for the Champagne House that dates back to 1729. “While other Champagnes are more akin to prêt-a-porter, Ruinart’s strategy is inspired by luxury, not mass production.”

Selective distribution is key for Ruinart and Peillon further points out the House’s consistent vision includes “obsession for creativity and attention to detail.”

Its concentration with fewer accounts and only in certain markets allows a “je ne sais quoi” quality that allows Ruinart’s sales force and distributors to nurture relationships. This includes a connection to the world of sommeliers. For the past 25 years, The Trophy Ruinart Competition has eked out the top palate talent in France through a number of high-level tests to elect the country’s best sommelier.

Now, for the first time, in June 2006, the Trophy Ruinart will be open game for representatives of 35 countries to unite in France for the series of blind tastings, food and wine pairing and questions on topics from viticulture to appellations controlées.

By showing personal attention to the sommelier in the U.S., Ruinart’s presence here should be equally encouraged by sommeliers who understand its value and can instill that reverence to their customers. “This is not about a wine director forcing an expensive bottle on his or her clientele. We envision creating loyal, educated Ambassadors for the Champagne.”

Ruinart’s distinct style for over three centuries has created wines of elegant refinement. Utilizing a high percentage of Chardonnay grapes, Ruinart’s House style is the delicate yet complex profile known as “gout Ruinart” (the Ruinart taste).

Ruinart Blanc de Blancs is 100% Chardonnay from Premier Cru vineyards from different years, while Ruinart Rosé is a blend of 45% Premier Cru Chardonnay and 55% Premier Cru Pinot Noir. (Pacific Wine & Spirits)

INSERT RUINART Blanc de Blanc image



While new vodkas and tequilas hit bar and store shelves at a ferocious pace, Champagne rarely offers distinctive new products beyond the rollout of each vintage. So the imminent arrival of Mumm’s Grand Cru, a new prestige bottling, was enough to lure the venerable house’s young Chef de Cave Dominique Demarville away from France for a trade lunch and tasting at L’Orangerie. Demarville brought not just the final product, an elegant bottle with a gold label, but also several of the components – the vins clair – for guests to taste.

The blending wines – various still chardonnays and pinot noir from Grand Crus properties in Avize, Cramant, Bouzy, Ay and Verzenay – were predictably tart, as full of acid as of flavor, each contributing its best qualities to the ultimate final product. Guests were able to see the puzzle of a complex blend of a new cuvée pulled apart to its individual pieces.

Mumm Grand Cru retails for approximately $60 and will become more widely available next year. (Southern Wine & Spirits) – Chris Rubin

PHOTO “MUMM”: Mumm Chef de cave Dominique Demarville shows off the new Mumm Grand Cru



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