It’s that time of the year again: time for bubbles! Americans once again are embracing not only the Prosecco bottlings of Italy and the Cavas of Spain, but also the fine Champagne of France.
In 2009, 12.5 million bottles of Champagne were shipped to the United States. In 2010, the bottle count jumped to 16.9 million. And in 2011, it rose again to 19.2 million.
If you’ll be raising a glass of bubbly with friends this holiday season, it wouldn’t hurt to know a little bit about what’s in the glass — you know, for cocktail party conversation. Commit the following factoids to memory, and you’ll be the most interesting person at the party…
• With a couple “grandfathered” exceptions, the only wine that can be labeled “Champagne” is that which comes from the Champagne appellation of France.
• Even within France’s boundaries, the Champagne designation is protected. Sparkling wine made outside that appellation typically is labeled “Cremant.” Some bubbly made in the Loire Valley may be labeled simply as “Vouvray.”
• A “vintage Champagne”— one that designates a specific year on the label — almost always will cost more than a winery’s “non-vintage” bottlings. That’s because vintage wines are made only in years that are well above average in wine quality.
• The term “non-vintage” is a misnomer. Such wines really should be termed “multi-vintage,” because they embody the juice of grapes from at least two growing seasons.
• Opening a Champagne bottle in a manner that results in the cork flying out not only is dangerous, but can produce a good deal of spilled wine. Once the bottle’s “cage” has been removed, the cork should be gripped tightly and the bottle twisted slowly. Replacing the “pop” with a “poof” eliminates spills — not to mention possible eye injuries.
• If you’re called upon to offer a toast this holiday season, you could do worse than to borrow this one from American writer Wallace Irwin: “I used to know a clever toast, but — pshaw! — I cannot think of it. So fill your glass to anything and, bless your souls, I’ll drink to it!”
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Tomorrow: Keeping track of calories during the holiday season.