Flutes may be out, but sparkling wine and champagne are always in

Champagne and sparkling wines are always part of holidays and special occasions because they are associated with celebrations and commemorations. Served ice cold as a welcoming beverage for a celebratory toast or when they are used to launch ships, the true character of champagne and sparkling wines, especially in this country, gets overlooked. In our European travels, we have noticed that people drink sparkling wines for all occasions, especially meals.

I have read that people living in the Champagne region of France drink it whenever and with whatever they choose. Since cava from Spain and northern Italy’s prosecco has become fashionable and flooded U.S. markets, we are seeing more sparkling wines paired with food at restaurants. Although, how it is served may be changing.

After returning from a seminar on champagne and sparkling wines, I questioned a friend about his biggest takeaway.

“Flutes are out,” he said.

This was a hard pill for me to swallow. Beginning with a wedding gift 48 years ago, I owned champagne flutes years before I invested in wine glasses. For decades, I have refused to serve champagne and sparkling wines in anything but flutes, fearing ridicule and derision.

Not any glass shape is optimum but, if my research is accurate, genial tulip-shaped pinot noir glasses work best to corral the aromas. Flutes, apparently, underscore the acid, emphasizing the effervescence more than the flavors.

While champagne and sparkling wines are typically stored in an ice bucket between servings, drinking them too cold can also disguise the flavors. They should be served at 46 to 53 degrees, letting the fruit flavors reveal their potential as the temperature rises.

I recently served a bottle of 2012 Roederer Estate “L’ Ermitage” Anderson Valley Brut Sparkling Wine (95-pt/ $40), one of the highest rated releases by Wine Spectator magazine. We enjoyed it cold, but everyone commented that the nuanced toasted hazelnut and stone fruit flavors were more expressive after some time in the glass. Full disclosure, I poured it into flutes.

Contrary to popular belief, champagne and sparkling wines pair well with food. In fact, they probably have the broadest palate of any wines, pairing well with appetizers, entrees and dessert. A good champagne or sparkling wine accompanying a diverse cheese plate of Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk. Also, the triple cream Brillat-Savarin and Rogue River Blue from southern Oregon is heaven on earth.

The menu of sparkling wines from the Anderson Valley’s Roederer Estate are as expansive and impressive as the beautiful grounds. It is a must stop on your next excursion to the Philo area in Mendocino County.

In addition to the “L Ermitage, the Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley NV (93-pt/$24) was named one of Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines of 2018.

The Penedès region of Spain, just outside of Barcelona is known for the production of the country’s finest cava, using the traditional champagne method. I developed an appreciation for cava while touring the region in 2013.

Among numerous choices, the Segura Viudas Cava Reserva Heredad Brut (92-pt/$25), a blend of local Macabeo and

Parellada grapes, was aged on the lees for up to 30 months and is receiving accolades for its complexity and rich texture.

Similar richness, balance and flavor complexity is described with the NV Jacquart Brut Mosaique (90-pt/ $35) from Champagne. Wine Spectator detailed “notes of crushed blackberry, candied ginger, lemon zest and cream.”

Two recommended local favorites that are both readily accessible and priced under twenty dollars include the Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noir (90-pt/$17) from the Carneros region and Napa Valley’s iconic Mumm Napa Brut Prestige (91-pt/$17). A blend of chardonnay (45 percent), pinot noir (45 percent), pinot gris & pinot meunier (10 percent), the Prestige offers complex fruit and spice flavors with a lingering finish found in sparkling wines twice the price.

Made predominantly from the glera grape varietal grown in the Valdobbiadene region, north of Venice Italy, prosecco has become popular as a light, crisp sparkling wine that also pairs well with various aperitif’s to create cocktail drinks.

Although there is a plethora of prosecco on the market, La Marca Prosecco DOC Extra Dry (89-pt/$13) and various releases from Zonin 1821 are available at most wine outlets.

So, throw out your flutes, break out your finest tulip-shaped glasses, open some bubbly and enjoy the rest of the holidays.

Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at sfewine@gmail.com. He is a guest columnist.

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