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Posts tagged ‘Sparkling Wine’

5 Main Types of Dessert Wine


wine folly



Skip the heavy dessert option for something that will make your mouth twinkle. Dessert wines are meant to be enjoyed in small glasses and treasured like a glass of Scotch. Learn about the 5 major styles of dessert wine, from delicately fizzy Moscato d’Asti to rich brooding vintage Port.


Dessert Wine Basics Sweet wine is produced with extra sweet wine grapes. In order to make them sweet, the fermentation is stopped before the yeast turns all the natural grape sugar into alcohol. There are several ways to stop the fermentation, including super-cooling or adding brandy to wine. Both methods create an environment where yeast won’t survive. While there are hundreds of different types of dessert wines available in the market, most fall into 5 main styles. This guide outlines the 5 styles and includes examples of each.

Types of Dessert Wine Guide

Most dessert wines can be categorized into 5 styles: Sparkling, Light & Sweet, Rich & Sweet, Sweet Red and Fortified.

Throughout this guide you’ll notice that some wine grapes are used for dessert wines more than others. There are two reasons for this: one is historic – the grapes have been used for sweet wines for centuries – The other is physiological – the grapes have inherent sweetness in their natural aromas making them perfect for sweet winemaking.


An example of these types of wine grapes is Muscat Blanc. This wine grape is around 1500 years older than the more en vogue Cabernet Sauvignon.



Sparkling Dessert Wine


Sweet Sparkling Wine Types
The sensation of bubbles and high acidity in most sparkling wine makes them taste less sweet than they actually are. When you taste more of the different varieties, you’ll notice certain grape varieties smell sweeter (and thus taste sweeter) than others. For instance, if you try a Demi-Sec traditional Champagne (which is usually a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) it will taste less sweet than a Demi-Sec Sparkling Moscato even though both may have the same amount of sugar.


Brut Champagne Sweetness Levels
Find out about Champagne sweetness


When looking for sweet dessert wine Champagnes and other bubbly wines, keep your eyes peeled for these words on the label:


  • Demi-Sec* (‘off-dry’ in French)
  • Amabile (‘slightly sweet’ in Italian)
  • Semi Secco* (‘off-dry’ in Italian)
  • Doux (‘sweet’ in French)
  • Dulce (‘sweet’ in Italian)
  • Moelleux (‘sweet’ for some French wines)
    *not to be confused with ‘Sec’, ‘Sekt’ or ‘Secco’ which is the term for ‘Dry’ in French, German and Italian, respectively



Lightly Sweet Dessert Wine


Lightly sweet still white wines
Lightly sweet wines are refreshingly sweet; perfect for a hot day. Many of these sweet wines pair well with spicy foods like Indian and Southeast Asian cuisine. Light sweet wines are meant to be enjoyed at their freshest although some examples, such as Riesling, age well.


Expect these wines to be exploding with fruit flavors and well suited for fruit-based and vanilla-driven desserts. For instance, consider Gewürztraminer: this wine is known for its lychee and rose petals aromas. A Gewürztraminer might pair well with a pear and kiwi tart.


  • Gewürztraminer
    A highly floral wine with moderate alcohol that’s commonly found in Alsace, Alto-Adige (Italy), California and New Zealand.
  • Riesling
    Available in both dry styles (common in Australia, Alsace and the US) as well as sweeter styles more commonly available from Germany. A wine with high natural acidity which helps cut the sweet taste.
  • Müller-Thurgau
    A less common variety also from Germany and found in parts of Oregon that has floral aromas with slightly lighter acidity. Classic porch wine and well-loved with sausages.
  • Chenin Blanc
    Chenin Blanc is commonly made in a sweeter style in the US and it’s also produced in large amounts in South Africa and the Loire Valley of France. Pay attention to labels when buying Chenin Blanc because many South African and French producers create dry versions that taste more similar to Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Viognier
    (specifically Condrieu from the Rhône Valley)





Richly Sweet Dessert Wine


Richly Sweet non-fortified dessert wines
Richly sweet wines are made with the highest quality grapes in an unfortified style. Many of these wines can age 50+ years because sweetness and acidity preserve their fresh flavor. Some of these wines are historically important including Hungarian Tokaji (‘toe-kye’) which was loved by the Tzars of Russia; South African Constantia which was an obsession of the Dutch and English; and French Sauternes which was loved by Americans in the early 1800′s.


There are several ways to produce richly sweet dessert wines and you can understand them better by how they’re made.


Late Harvest

Late harvest means exactly what it’s called. As grapes hang on the vine longer in the season they become even sweeter and more raisinated, resulting in a wine that has a higher residual sugar (or alcohol, depending on how long you let it ferment). In Alsace this style is called “Vendage Tardive” and in Germany it is called “Spätlese”. There are many late harvest wines in the US which are sold as dessert wines and typically have around 15-17% ABV.

Noble Rot

Noble rot is a type of spore called Botrytis cinerea that rots fruits and vegetables. While it sounds and looks disgusting it adds a unique and highly sought-after flavor of ginger and honey in wine. There are many wines made from ‘noble rot’ grapes including:

  • Sauternes, Barsac, Cadillac and Monbazillac
    are French Appellations in and around Bordeaux that use Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle to make a golden-hued sweet wine.
  • Tokaji
    is a wine from Hungary made with botrytis Furmint grapes that are rated in different levels of sugar, from 3-6 Puttonyos (6 is the sweetest and most expensive).
  • Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese Riesling
    In the German Pradikat system (a sweetness labeling system), Auslese is the first level with a higher proportion of botrytis-affected grapes. Besides being sweeter than the lower level ‘QbA’ and ‘Kabinett’ German Rieslings, they also tend to have higher alcohol.

Straw Mat

Grapes are laid out on straw mats to raisinate before being pressed into wine.

  • Italian Vin Santo
    is made with Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes and has rich nutty date-like flavors. There are several styles of Vin Santo made throughout Italy.
  • Italian Passito
    Another straw wine made with several different kinds of grapes, both white and red. For instance, Passito di Pantelleria is Muscat-based and Caluso Passito is made with the rare grape Erbaluce from Piedmont.
  • Greek Straw Wines
    Greece also produces Vinsanto which is made with high-acid white Assyrtiko grapes; Samos is a sweet wine made from Muscat grapes; and Commandaria is a sweet wine from Cyprus that dates back to 800 B.C.E.
  • German Strohwein/Austrian Schilfwein are increasingly rare sweet wines made from Muscat and Zweigelt grapes in Austria and Germany.
  • French Vin de Paille Most notably from the Jura region of France, which is adjacent to the alps, these Vin de Paille are produced using Chardonnay and ancient Savagnin grapes.

Ice Wine (Eiswein)

True ice wine is extremely rare and expensive for two reasons: 1) it only occurs in bizarre years when a vineyard freezes and 2) ice wine must be harvested and pressed while the grapes are still frozen (usually in the middle of the night). Ice wines are commonly produced in cold regions like Canada, Germany and Switzerland where the aforementioned prerequisites can be met. Most ice wines are made with Riesling or Vidal grapes although anything, even Cabernet Franc, can be used to produce an ice wine. You’ll find them to be honeyed and richly sweet, similar to a ‘noble rot’ wine.



Sweet Red Wine


Sweet Red Wine Types of dessert wines
Sweet reds are on decline except for cheap commercial production. However, there are still a few well-made historically interesting sweet reds worth trying. The majority of these awesome sweet red wines are from Italy using esoteric grapes.


  • Lambrusco
    A region producing a refreshing bubbly wine in both dry and sweet styles. Since it’s a sparkling wine, it will have a yeasty undertone along with raspberry and blueberry flavors. Sweet versions are labeled as “Amabile” and “Dulce”.
  • Brachetto d’Acqui
    A still and bubbly red or rosé wine made with Brachetto grapes from the Piedmont region. Famous for its floral and strawberry aromas as well as its affinity to pairing with cured meats.
  • Schiava
    A rare variety from Alto-Adige that is nearly wiped off the map. Smelling sweetly of raspberry and cotton candy while being refreshing and only a touch sweet.
  • Freisa
    Once one of the great red varieties of Piedmont, Freisa is related to Nebbiolo with lighter tannins and floral cherry notes.
  • Recioto della Valpolicella
    Made in the same painstaking process as Amarone wine, Recioto della Valpolicella is lush, bold and rich.
  • Late Harvest Red Wines
    There are many red dessert wines in the US made with grapes such as Zinfandel, Mourvedre, Malbec and Petite Sirah. These wines explode with sweetness and heightened alcohol content.



Fortified Wine


Fortified wines are made when grape brandy is added to a wine and can either be dry or sweet. Most fortified wines are higher in alcohol content (about 17-20% ABV) and have a longer shelf life after they are opened.



Port wine is made in the Northern part of Portugal along the Douro river. The wines are made with dozens of Portuguese traditional grapes including some of the most famous: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz. The grapes are collected and fermented together in open tanks where the grapes are stomped daily as the wine begins to ferment. At a point in the fermentation, the wine is strained and blended with a neutral grape spirit (with nearly 70% ABV) that stops fermentation and creates the fortified wine. After this process, there are a series of winemaking steps that lead into the different styles listed below.

Full Article on Types of Port Wine
  • Ruby & Crusted Port (sweet)
    This is an introductory style of Port wine that tastes of freshly minted port and is much less sweet than Tawny Port.
  • Vintage & LBV Port (sweet)
    LBV and Vintage Port are made in the same style but LBV are designed to be enjoyed in their youth (due to the style of cork enclosure) and vintage Ports are meant to be aged about 20-50 years before drinking.
  • Tawny Port (very sweet)
    The process of aging a Tawny Port happens at the winery in large wooden casks and smaller wooden barrels. The longer the Tawny Port ages, the more nutty and figgy it becomes. A 30-40 year Tawny is the best.
  • Port-Style Wines a.k.a. Vin Doux Naturel (sweet)
    Port can only be made in Portugal although many producers all over the world make port-style wines such as Zinfandel ‘Port’ or a Pinot Noir ‘Port’. We refer to these wines as vin doux naturel(see below).


Sherry comes from Andalusia, Spain. The wines are made using Palomino, Pedro Ximinez (a grape, not a person) and Moscatel grapes. Wines are produced using varying amounts of the three grapes and are purposefully oxidized so that they develop nutty aromatics.

  • Fino (dry)
    The lightest and most dry of all the Sherries with tart and nutty flavors.
  • Manzanilla (dry)
    A specific style of Fino Sherry from a more specialized region that’s even lighter than Fino.
  • Palo Cortado (dry)
    A slightly richer style of sherry that is aged longer producing darker color and richer flavor. These wines are typically dry but will have fruit and nut aromas with salinity.
  • Amontillado (mostly dry)
    An aged sherry that takes on nutty flavors of peanuts and butter.
  • Oloroso (dry)
    A very aged and dark sherry that has higher alcohol content due to the evaporation of water as the wine ages. This is more like the scotch of Sherry.
  • Cream (sweet)
    A sweet style of Sherry made by blending Oloroso with Pedro Ximinez Sherry.
  • Moscatel (sweet)
    A sweet sherry with fig and date flavors.
  • Pedro Ximinez (PX) (very sweet)
    A very sweet sherry with brown sugar and figlike flavors.


Madeira is a wine produced using up to 4 different grapes on the island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Madeira is very unlike other wines because, in order to produce it, the wines undergo a heating and oxidation process – techniques that would traditionally ‘ruin’ a wine. The result is a rich fortified wine with walnut-like flavors, salinity and an oiliness on the palate. Because of the 4 different grapes used, Madeira range from dry to sweet making them work well alongside a meal or even as a pre-dinner drink.

  • Rainwater & Madeira
    When the label just says “Madeira” or “Rainwater” assume that it’s a blend of all 4 grapes and somewhere in the middle in terms of sweetness.
  • Sercial (dry)
    Sercial is the driest and the lightest of all the grapes in Madeira. These wines will have higher acidity and be dry with notes of peaches and apricot. It’s not too uncommon to see Sercial Madeira aged for 100 years.
  • Verdelho (dry)
    Verdelho has citrus notes and will develop nutty flavors of almond and walnut with time.
  • Bual (sweet)
    Bual leans on the sweet side with notes of burnt caramel, brown sugar, fig, rootbeer and black walnut. It’s common to find 10 year old ‘medium’ (meaning: medium sweet) Bual Madeira although there are several well aged 50-70 year old Bual as well.
  • Malmsey (sweet)
    Malmsey Madeiras have orange citrus notes and caramel to their taste along with the oily oxidized nutty flavor.

Vin Doux Naturel (VDN)

Vin Doux Naturel are made in a similar style to Port where a base wine is created and finished with neutral grape brandy. The term vin doux naturel comes from France, but this classification could be used to describe a wine from anywhere.

  • Grenache-based VDN Typically from the south of France, such as Maury, Rasteau and Banyuls from Languedoc-Roussillon
  • Muscat-based VDN Muscat de Rivesaltes, Muscat de Frotignan, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, Ruthernglen Muscat (Australia), Orange Muscat and Vin Santo Liquoroso (Italy).
  • Malvasia-based VDN mostly from Italy and Sicily such as Malvasia delle Lipari Liquoroso
  • Mavrodaphni From Greece, Mavrodaphni is a sweet red wine with many similarities to Port.


Finding the Perfect Match Beyond Champagne & Oysters



Finding the Perfect Match Beyond Champagne & Oysters

© The Collection-http://www.wine-searcher.com

In this excerpt from his new book, “The Scent of Champagne,” Richard Juhlin addresses the thorny issue of pairing Champagne with food.



“Champagne today is the best wine to pair with food created by the world’s leading gourmet restaurants. No other wine can so perfectly accompany and accentuate the subtle nuances that the multifaceted dishes made from locally produced delicacies have. In France, they unfortunately usually drink champagne for dessert, whereas the rest of the world drinks it as an aperitif. Admittedly, champagne is the perfect aperitif, with its mouth-watering acidity and fast-acting, refreshing effect, but with the right foods, one can get even more out of their drinking experience. 

The right balance of food and drink

When it comes to pairing food and wine, the old rule is that the heavier and stronger the dish, the heavier and fuller the wine should be, and vice versa.

Whichever way you choose to compose your meal, it is important to consider the balance between food and drink. It can be achieved so that the wine adds something that the food lacks, or by choosing a wine with similar flavors that are already found in the food. A wild game dish, for example, can be complemented by champagne’s animal tones, or a nutty caviar dish with an equally nutty champagne.

The aroma’s significance is usually forgotten when wine and food are paired. The wine’s combination with umami can often be negative, with a metallic and bitter flavor. This is avoided primarily by creating taste bridges by adding any suitable ingredients that neutralize the effect. Salt and acid are often useful ingredients in these flavor bridges.

Today’s fashion is entirely based on creating harmony between food and wine, so that no flavors are arguing with each other. I think, however, that I have noticed that many fine wines lose in definition and purity when combined with food in this way.

According to these principles, if I bought a Billecart-Salmon Cuvée NF [Nicolas François],the wine would balance with a dish rich in acidity and salt, and I would get a nice and smooth harmonic taste in the mouth, but the small nuanced tones of the vintage made by the producer would be smoothed out. It is similar to the way you work in the music studio world, which I previously did. It is popular to treat the sound image with a compressor and cut off all the tops and bottoms for a polished, impersonal, and slightly flattened sound. Personally, I am much more careful that my food does not have an overabundance of any of the basic tastes that otherwise would numb my taste buds. I always start with the wine and choose a gentle dish as a companion. 


Finding the Perfect Match Beyond Champagne & Oysters

© Skyhorse Publishing/Greg Gorman

What to avoid combining with Champagne

What are the wine’s worst enemies? The most critical ingredients are vinegar, raw onions, citrus, tropical fruits, grapes, lingonberries, sorrel, artichoke, Jerusalem artichoke, rhubarb, and fiery spices. Although these conflicts can be balanced when cooked right, flavor bridges and wine selection can circumvent the problems.

Eggs are interesting because they are not only rich in umami and sulfur, but also have such a fatty texture that the taste buds get covered and prevent you from tasting the wine. The fun part is that the high acidity in champagne neutralizes the sulfur, and the mousse cleans the tongue, so that even the raw egg yolk and champagne can be a good contrasting marriage. Bacon and eggs is my most common budget-tight suggestion with non-vintage champagne.

Many believe that you can drink champagne with all kinds of food, and it does not fit any better with a particular dish. It is true that champagne fits with most types of food, but the wine can also be elevated to heavenly heights in combination with the right dishes. The bubbles and the acidity cut like a knife through cream or butter sauces, purées, eggs, and other greasy, mild dishes. Vegetable dishes, fish, and shellfish are lifted by the elegant champagne, and the beverage in other cases can refresh the mouth after stronger flavors.

But you should beware of dishes with too much acidity. Citrus fruits with champagne or strong vinaigrette sauces give an acidic overall impression, and hot spicy dishes can be devastating for most wines.

Classic combinations

Sure, you can combine champagne with relatively simple and cheap meals, but I think you can treat yourself with more fancy food on the occasions when you open a bottle of champagne. Oysters and champagne are, of course, a classic as well as champagne with Russian or Iranian caviar. However, it is important to choose a young, dry, and light Chardonnay-based champagne to withstand the salty sea flavor. Oysters have a milder taste if they are baked in the oven and come with a cream sauce or mild cheese. All shellfish except crab and shrimp go well with champagne, but the question is whether or not scallops or lobster with champagne is the best combination.

Salmon and flat fish with white wine sauce and middle-aged cuvée champagne is another successful gastronomic marriage. The sauces that are to meet champagne should be made with light broths, especially fish stock or chicken stock that are either assembled or cooked with butter, crème fraîche, or cream.

Mushrooms – and more preferably truffles – taste wonderful together with a pinot-based champagne characterized by gentle animal and vegetal notes. Asparagus is generally considered to be difficult to bring together with wine, but champagne is a great exception. Asparagus with Hollandaise sauce or Parmesan accompanied by delicate cuvée champagne can be like drinking spring. The timid flavors of Japanese cuisine are very well suited for the bubbling beverage, but beware of Asian dishes containing wasabi, soy sauce, or hot spices.

A blanc de noirs suits game excellently. Personally, I think the most perfe
ct combination of all is old champagne and foie gras. The sweet, crunchy flavors of fully mature champagne are a much more refined option to liver than Sauternes. The acidity of champagne prevents the fatty liver from becoming too powerful an experience.

Salmon, shellfish, mushrooms and foie gras all go well with Champagne, says Juhlin

© Skyhorse Publishing | Salmon, shellfish, mushrooms and foie gras all go well with Champagne, says Juhlin

A simple Champagne menu

Because champagne has proven to be the most flexible of beverages, there are endless variations of food pairings. I work frequently with the top chefs and know that you can reach heavenly heights when everything is correct. To help you simplify it all, I have selected a small cheat sheet that you can always follow successfully unless you have the time and inclination to experiment yourself. My simple champagne menu contains many dishes, but it is only an attempt to make the dinner feel more luxurious without being too difficult to cook. That way, you can also serve more champagne and showcase the district’s entire records easily. This template can always be followed whether canapés are made from tin bread and caviar or Russian blinis and exclusive beluga caviar.

1. Canapés & Blanc de Blancs

Start with simple canapés and a blanc de blancs from any good grower in the Côte des Blancs. For example, Pierre Peters, Legras, Charlemagne, or Bonnaire.

2. Salad & Non-Vintage Champagne

Continue with a salad without too much lemon or vinaigrette, and non-vintage champagne from a famous house such as Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, G.H. Mumm, or Perrier-Jouet.

3. Fish & Vintage Champagne

A smaller dish with a simple butter sauce accompanied by vintage champagne in the medium-bodied style. For example, Henriot, Pol Roger, Billecart-Salmon, or Taittinger.

4. Game & Pinot Champagne

As the main dish, serve game with mushrooms and vegetables and a mellow, pinot-dominated, heavy champagne such as Bollinger, Gosset, André Clouet, or Egly-Ouriet.

5. Coffee & Chocolate

Finish with coffee or tea and some good dark chocolate, but skip the champagne for dessert.”

* “The Scent of Champagne,” by Richard Juhlin, is published by Skyhorse Publishing at $75. It will be published in the U.K. in January 2014 at 46.31 pounds.    



The Science of Bubbles

L-R: Flower-like bubbles at the top of a Champagne glass; Champagne corks leave the bottle at 30 mph; Champagne under the microscope

© Gérard Liger-Belair/iStock/AFP | L-R: Flower-like bubbles at the top of a Champagne glass; Champagne corks leave the bottle at 30 mph; Champagne under the microscope

How to find “finesse” in Champagne, and the best glasses to drink it from.

Pop! The Champagne cork just flew off at 30 mph, and as much as 80 percent of the CO2 contained in the bottle raced out into your dining room. Better drink up fast!

Opening the bottle carefully is one of the ways to most enjoy a bottle of sparkling wine, says Gérard Liger-Belair, a physicist who has written a book on the topic.

Liger-Belair became interested in the science of Champagne while languorously drinking a beer after his finals at Paris University more than 20 years ago. He liked the sound, a small popping you can hear as the bubbles burst at the surface. He liked the way they propelled the drink’s aroma into the air. And he found the bubbles at the surface of the glass beautiful.

Many physicists might have been content to study the bubbles of beer. But this was Paris, and a French physicist. So he went to nearby Reims, in the heart of Champagne, to study, photograph and occasionally drink bubbles. There are worse jobs.

While there, he also observed a change in world taste. In the recent past, Champagnes with bigger bubbles were considered better. But perhaps because of the proliferation of sparkling wines made through methods other than secondary fermentation in the bottle, today there is a desire for finer bubbles.

If finesse is what you seek, here’s how to find it.

“The two main factors responsible for finesse of the bubbles are the level of dissolved CO2 in the Champagne, and the height of the glass,” Liger-Belair says.

Let’s take those factors one at a time. First, how much CO2 do you have?

The average bottle of Champagne contains about 9 grams of dissolved CO2 – enough to produce about 20 million bubbles. You don’t want to have no CO2, because then you’ve got flat wine; ugh. What you might want is a wine with less than the average amount.

“The age of the Champagne is a parameter of importance,” Liger-Belair says. Corks do not provide an absolute seal, so some CO2 escapes over the years. “Old Champagnes show small bubbles because of their age.”

Many experts would choose the tulip-shaped glass in the center from this line-up of Champagne glasses

© Fotolia | Many experts would choose the tulip-shaped glass in the center from this line-up of Champagne glasses

Another factor is the amount of sugar added to the bottle for secondary fermentation. More sugar = more bubbles. Drier Champagnes will generally have a finer mousse. This is part of the reason for the current trend for zero-dosage sparkling wines.

In Franciacorta, Italy, vintners produce a style of wine they call satèn with fewer bubbles. Maurizio Zanella, president of Ca’ del Bosco in Franciacorta, said: “You can eat without turbulence in the stomach. You don’t have to burp. These are wines you can eat with, but with quality.”

Now, let’s talk about glassware.

The last 30 years have seen a complete shift in Champagne glasses from the wide, shallow coupe that was allegedly modeled on Marie Antoinette’s breast.

In order to showcase the bubbles, restaurants moved to the flute – a tall, narrow glass.

“Bubbles grow in size as they rise toward the Champagne surface,” Liger-Belair says, and today this is a mixed blessing. You can see more and bigger bubbles in a flute with a large pour, and for this reason it’s still the right glass for celebrations such as weddings, where the visual aspect is most important.

However, many winemakers, sommeliers and glass producers have discovered that the flute is not the best way to drink Champagne because it concentrates CO2 at the top of the glass, making it painful to try to enjoy the aroma.The chief executive of Riedel, Maximilian Riedel, is even waging war on the flute. “It is my goal that the flute will be obsolete by the day that I pass away,” he recently declared.

He’s supported by leading Champagne producers, including Krug and Dom Pérignon. Olivier Krug told Wine-Searcher that a flute “can never express” the generosity of its Grande Cuvée; he worked with Riedel for five months to design and develop a glass specific to the wine – Le Joseph. Likewise, Dom Pom’s cellar master, Richard Geoffroy, is no fan of the flute. He recommends a Spiegelau Authentis for the house’s vintage Cuvée and a Riedel Vinum XL pinot noir glass for its Rosé.

“I like the Riedel Champagne glass,” says Hugh Davies, CEO of Schramsberg, a sparkling-wine specialist based in Napa. “It is bowled at the bottom and a bit more narrow at the rim. This really helps us enjoy the aroma of the sparkling wine. I am not a fan of really tall flutes. They may assist in presenting bubbles, but they aren’t as good for exploring the aromas and flavors of the wine.”

Gérard Liger-Belair testing Champagne at his University of Reims laboratory

© Hubert Raguet | Gérard Liger-Belair testing Champagne at his University of Reims laboratory

Liger-Belair is working on designing the perfect Champagne glass, so look out, Riedel. For now, he recommends using a white wine glass for enjoying the aroma, with a larger pour than you would use for still wine. Test this for yourself: the higher the pour level, the more bubbles you will see, even though the level of dissolved CO2 is the same.

Don’t use a wide glass unless you’re trying to tame an overly bubbly wine, in which case you can follow a trend among some high-end sommeliers: decant it.

And don’t worry about getting your glasses precision-cleaned. Bubbles don’t form on perfectly flat surfaces; they form on microscopic particles like dust, or imperfections in the glass itself. Gas builds up there, trying to escape the liquid, until it makes its race to the surface.Visually, sparkling rosé is prettiest, and not just for the color. “The foam of rosé Champagne seems more persistent, probably because of the tannins found in red wine,” Liger-Belair explains.

To preserve the bubbles, you should keep a stopper in the wine while it’s in the ice bucket, and certainly overnight in the refrigerator. The firmer the seal, the better it will preserve the wine; the idea that something like a teaspoon on top will help is an old wives’ tale.

“Inevitably, the second time the Champagne will be served, its level of dissolved CO2 will be less than the first time,” Liger-Belair says.

No matter what stopper you use, CO2 will escape the liquid to fill the space under the cork. The more wine you drink, the larger that space gets. So the more delicate your bubbles are to start with, the more imperative it is to finish that bottle tonight.

That gets back to your bottle-opening technique. If you can ease off the cork, you’ll preserve those precious bubbles that Dom Pérignon allegedly called “drinking the stars.” That quote may be apocryphal, but looking at Liger-Belair’s photographs, it also seems accurate.

Related story:

Scientists Uncover the Secrets Behind Champagne’s Bubbles

Politically Incorrect Food Pyramid for Wine Drinkers

Wine Folly



Let’s be honest here: when you’re out for a serious night of wine drinking what should you eat? Take a look as we tackle this question with a complete disregard to health (although Dr. Miller says the French Paradox Diet is legit!). The Wine Drinker’s Food Pyramid came to be whilst drinking with a group of winemakers and sommeliers in South Africa after a spirited Pinotage tasting. Naturally, it’s very scientific, because experts were involved.


Food Pyramid for Wine Drinkers




A proper night of drinking includes 5 sections




In the form of a sparkling wine or a mixed cocktail. Examples include: a gin and tonic, sparkling wine or beer.
White wine
Are you with mixed company ( you know, the ones you wouldn’t drunkenly skinny dip with)? Then pick something that won’t make anyone angry. Sadly, this leaves you only 2 varieties: Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. However, if you’re with serious wine drinkers, you’ll be surprised how many of them will drool over a slightly sweet Riesling or Chenin Blanc.
Red wine
The better your friendship, the older the bottle.
Dessert wine
Substitute your desire for something sweet with a glass of dessert wine. What we’re drinking right now: Vin Santo, PX, late harvest Riesling, Pinot Noir and Port.
When you’ve become too hairy (or hoary) for late night coffee and need to settle the nightmare of drinks you’ve just put into your body, it’s time for an Amaro.


Tips on drinking well


  1. Forget ordering by the glass, make sure you’re with enough pals to get a bottle.
  2. Water is essential, drink a full glass with every serving.
  3. If you are sensitive to alcohol (something I’ve always had a problem with) portion control is your friend


It's That Time of Year: Everything You Need To Know About Champagne and Sparkling Wine



Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
Some of the greatest and most coveted Champagnes are rosés, like this Bollinger Non-Vintage Champagne Rosé, one of my favorite wines of all time.

In the wine trade, they call it “OND”: October-November-December, the last quarter of the Gregorian calendar and the 92 days of the year during which more wine is sold than in any other period of the year.

And from the romantic dinner for two to the whole mispucha blowout, from the company holiday party to the Christmas eve family get-together, more sparkling wine is served this time of year than in the other months combined.


And, of course, it wouldn’t be New Year‘s Eve unless we tickled our noses and palates with some fine bubbles.

For many of you, the trip to the wine shop or supermarket to pick up that bottle of “Champagne” might be the only time you buy a bottle of sparkling this year. Therefore, I’ve created the following list to help you navigate the do’s-and-don’ts of sparkling wine (and so that you won’t feel like an idiot on your way to popping that cork).



Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
Just because it sparkles doesn’t mean that it’s “Champagne.”

1. Know How to Use the Word “Champagne” Correctly.

Technically, I should have called this post “Sparkling Wine: 10 Things You Need to Know.” But sparkling wine just doesn’t sound as sexy as Champagne, does it?


For a wine to be called “Champagne,” it must come from the region of Champagne in France and it needs to be made using the proper grapes and technique.


There are myriad kinds of sparkling wines out there: Prosecco, Franciacorta, Cava, Vouvray, Saumur, Sekt… Don’t call it Champagne unless it’s Champagne.


Only the French can write méthode champenoise on their sparkling wine (when it’s made in Champagne). Other appellations can make wine using the same technique. But then it can only be called “classic method” or “traditional method.”


Note that many unscrupulous American winemakers write Champagne on their labels. They are not bound by European Union regulation and so Champagne producers have no way of stopping them.


2. Most Champagne and many other sparkling wines are made from red grapes, not white.


Although some are made from 100 percent Chardonnay grapes (Champagne’s blanc de blancs or white from white [grape]s), most Champagnes are made from Pinot Noir as the primary grape.


Wine gets its color from the skins of the grapes. For the production of most Champagne, the grapes and skins are separated after pressing. As a result, the wine is “white.”


Many sparkling wines from France‘s Loire valley are also made from red grapes, like Saumur, which is produced using Cabernet Franc.


3. Don’t take anyone’s eye out when opening a bottle of sparkling wine.


Sparkling wine is pressurized, and it’s very easy to let a cork slip and fly when opening it. It’s a whole barrel of fun until someone loses an eye, as the saying goes.


Remove the foil from the cork. Holding your thumb on the cork, remove the wire cage by twisting it six times (it’s always six times). Immediately place your thumb back on the cork after removing the cage. Hold the bottle at a 45° angle, and with your palm securely over the cork, turn the bottle, very slowly, from its base (you don’t need to turn the cork). You’ll find that the cork will gently pop out.


4. Always have a nice kitchen towel or napkin on hand when opening sparkling wine.


If the wine has been agitated, it might overflow when opened. The towel will also come in handy to wipe the bottle down if it’s been in ice. And if you’re having trouble turning the bottle when attempting to open it, wrap the towel around the cork and hold it tightly. This will give you some traction.


5. Don’t serve sparkling wine too cold.


There’s nothing Americans love more than refrigeration. But sometimes we tend to over-chill our wines. Especially when serving expensive, fine Champagne, you don’t want to mask its nuance and complexity by serving it too cold.


If it’s on ice, let it sit on the table for 10-15 minutes so its not freezing cold.


We often open sparkling wine in company, and it’s consumed relatively quickly. You and your guests will enjoy it more if you serve it at a decent temperature.



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