Shine On, Champagne

Whether with a capital “c” or not, this special imbibe celebrates the season


Elongated flutes of gold-hued elixir sparkle with the slightest hint of light caught by thousands of tiny bubbles that ride the length of the glass; this is champagne, and it is magic.

An imbibe often reserved for the most special occasions, champagne shines during the holidays, rightfully taking its place at the head of the celebratory table at gatherings large and small. What event isn’t more extraordinary when the air is pierced with the loud pop! of the cork announcing the presence of sparkling wine?

The sparkle comes from those bubbles—the result of adding additional yeast and sugar to wine, creating a second alcoholic fermentation in the bottle and turning the resting bottle in timely intervals.

The oldest recorded incident of this method comes in 1531 from Benedictine monks in southern France. Champagne is often associated with another French monk who did pioneering work on the production of the sparkling wine, Dom Perignon, in the late 17th/early 18th century.

  But all that sparkles is not necessarily champagne. And not all sparking wines use the traditional Méthode Champenoise process of a second fermentation in the bottle; some wines get their sparkle by having carbon dioxide injected into the quaff.

For a wine to be called Champagne (notice the capital “C”), it must be produced in the Champagne region of France and typically follows traditional production methods.
Most Champagne is made with Chardonnay (Blanc de blancs) and/or Pinot Noir (Blanc de noirs) grapes. Most is also non-vintage, meaning that juice from a number of harvests are blended to create the wine; non-vintage is usually indicated with the letters “NV” on the label. Most champagne is white; some is rose’.

Like other white and rose’ wines, sparking wines are best enjoyed chilled, with around 45F being a good medium temperature.

Chill the champagne in the refrigerator about three hours before you need it or in a bucket of ice water for about a half-hour. The bottle should never be placed in a freezer. Once opened, keep in an ice bucket to maintain temperature while enjoying.

The best glass for serving sparkling wine is a champagne flute, which is a tall, elongated glass designed to facilitate the flow of bubbles and concentrate the flavors and aromas of the quaff.

A Classy and Classic Champagne Cocktail
Here is my favorite recipe:
Sugar cube
Angostura or Peychaud’s bitters
Lemon Twist
Place the sugar cube in the bottom of a champagne flute and sprinkle 2–3 dashes of bitters on the cube; do not crush sugar cube. Fill the flute with sparkling wine, squeeze a lemon twist on top, and drop in as a garnish.

Optional: Add 1 teaspoon Cognac to flute before adding champagne.

Make Mine Virginia Wine
Sparkling wines are produced around the world, including Virginia. Here are five of my favorite Virginia sparklers:
Afton Mountain Tete’ de Cuvee 
(Afton Mountain Vineyards,

Barboursville Brut
(Barboursville Vineyards,
Chateau Morrisette Star Dog
(Chateau Morrisette,

Ingleside Virginia Brut 
(Ingleside Vineyards,

Thibaut-Janisson Blanc de Chardonnay (Thibaut-Janisson,

Sparkling Synopsis
Brut – a label designation; this is a dry sparkling, and perhaps the most common. It’s a good sparkling to pair with food.
Cava – a sparkling Spanish wine crafted in a traditional champenoise method using Spanish grapes like Macabeo, Parellada, and/or Xarel-lo. Styles range from dry to sweet. The differences in Cava and Champagne are often subtle, coming from grape varietals and terroir.

Demi-Sec – label designation; this is a moderately sweet sparkling, and is a good finish to a meal or paired with sweets.

Extra Brut – label designation; this is a very dry sparkling and often enjoyed on its own, such as at a cocktail party.
Extra Dry – label designation; this is a moderately dry sparkling, and is good to enjoy on its own, such as an aperitif.
Prosecco – a typically brut or extra-dry sparkling wine typically made with Glera (also known as Prosecco) grapes. It’s often lighter and crisper than traditional Champagne. Secondary fermentation is done either in stainless tanks, or in the bottle.
Spumante/Asti – a light, sweeter sparkling from Italy typically made with the Moscato grape. Secondary fermentation is done either in stainless tanks, or in the bottle.

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