There has always been the notion that sparkling wine or champagne is for special occasions, but I think it can make any occasion special. Sparkling wine and Champagne are great food wines that are perfect for appetizers and can continue on through dessert.
First, a quick distinction between sparkling wine and champagne: All Champagne is sparkling wine; not all sparkling wine is Champagne. For a sparkling wine to be called Champagne, it needs to be from the Champagne region of France, where the art of secondary fermentation in the bottle in which it will be poured was perfected.
What exactly is secondary fermentation, and why is it important? It is that fermentation that produces the bubbles. Without going into too much detail, wine, yeast and sugar are added to a bottle (liqueur de tirage), the bottles are sealed and it takes six to eight weeks for the fermentation to complete.
When the yeast eats the sugars, alcohol is created, as well as a byproduct: carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is trapped in the bottle. Many producers let those dead yeast cells stay in the bottle after the fermentation is complete for upward of six years. This is referred to as sur-lei aging; there is a gradual breakdown of the yeast cells (autolysis), which creates creaminess and bread dough-like characteristics.
When you hear people talking about “brioche” in Champagne, that flavor/aroma is from sur-lei aging. This method of secondary fermentation in the bottle is called Methode Champenoise primarily in Champagne and Methode Traditionnelle everywhere else.
Cremont is any non-Champagne sparkling wine produced in France in the Methode Traditionnelle method of Cremant d’Alsace.
As of 2006, in the United States, no one can label sparkling wine that is not from Champagne as Champagne. Those producers that had Champagne on the label before 2006 were exempt from this ruling, though they are required to have the area that it is produced listed as well.
The most glaring example of this is Korbel, which has California Champagne on its label. It, of course, uses the term Methode Champenoise, as well.
A growing market
There has been a huge increase in sparkling-wine consumption in the United States: According to a Vinexpo Trend Report, it represented a market share of 5.4 percent in 2011, but consumption in this segment is growing twice as fast as that of still wines.
Between 2007 and 2011, the consumption of sparkling wines in the United States grew by 17.69 percent, and this should increase by a further 25.26 percent between 2012 and 2016.
Forty percent of all sparkling wines drunk in the United States are imported, according to Wineinstitue.com. California produces more sparkling wine in the United States than every other state combined, but sparkling wine is produced in at least 10 other states, including Washington, where there are about a dozen producers.
Domaine Ste. Michelle is the largest producer of sparkling wine in Washington state, producing about 3 percent of all domestic sparkling wine consumed in this country.
All of the sparkling wine in Washington appear to be produced in the Methode Traditonelle way. A few of my favorites:
•Mountain Dome from Spokane, which has been producing sparkling wine in Washington state since 1984.
•Treveri Cellars, out of Yakima, produces some sparkling wines using nontraditional grapes, such as Riesling.
•Syncline Cellars makes Scintillation, as a non-vintage Rosé and as a vintage Blanc de Blanc (using Chardonnay grapes).
These are both incredibly well-made and beautiful examples and are great wines for any occasion. So drink more sparkling wine — and not just during the holidays!
JEFFREY DORGAN, the Washington Wine Commission’s 2009 Sommelier of the Year, is the wine director at the Space Needle. To comment on this column, write to MPTimes@nwlink.com.