Holiday Wines For All Tastes, Budgets

Air Date:
Heard On The Larry Meiller Show

The end of the year brings many opportunities for get-togethers. Judith Siers-Poisson learns how to choose wines to fit a range of tastes and budgets.

Featured in this Show

  • Ring In The New Year With Some Knowledge About Sparkling Wines

    Ringing in the new year with a glass of bubbly is a fun and delicious tradition. Here’s some background information on sparkling wines — as well as tips and recommendations as to how to best enjoy them — from Jessica Bell, founder and CEO of the website My Wine School.

    What Is Champagne Anyway?

    While “champagne” is often used conversationally to describe any sparkling wine, the name is actually legally limited to only a few. Technically, sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France is the only type that can be labeled as “champagne.” According to Bell, there’s a good reason for that.

    “They actually spend a lot of time and money to make a specific style,” she said, “and also, a specific quality. Champagne is high-quality sparkling wine.”

    Bell said that limiting the use of the name champagne not only helps consumers know what they are getting, but also helps the producers.

    “It’s really a protection for all of these small farmers,” she explained. “Their livelihoods depend on it.”

    But just because a bottle isn’t officially champagne doesn’t mean that it’s not a good option. Bell said that especially for those who would prefer not to spend upward of $35 for a bottle of bubbly, it pays to look at some sparkling wines outside of champagne.

    Basically, Bell said, if a sparkling wine is marketed as having been made using the “traditional method,” it means the same process as champagne was employed. There are other regions of France and other countries altogether, she said, that use that champagne method to good effect. For example, the sparkling wines produced in France outside of the Champagne region are called cremant. In Spain, they’re called cava.

    One of the reasons that champagne and some of the “traditional” sparkling wines are pricey is the intensive process that goes into making them. Bell explained that the champagne method dictates that the sparkling wines are largely made in the bottle that they’re sold in.

    “That is a costly method of making wine, bottle by bottle,” said Bell.

    In contrast, the sparkling wine that is called Prosecco is made in a large tank and then bottled, which is less expensive process overall.

    No matter what process is used, used, sparkling wines share one thing in common: bubbles. Bell said that in fermentation, yeast eats sugar to produce not only alcohol but carbon dioxide, which creates the bubbles. She explained that when fermentation happens inside of a closed container, the carbon dioxide then goes back into the wine, which makes it “sparkle.”

    The Expert’s Recommendations

    For those who enjoy a sweeter sparkling wine, Bell said to look for a moscato d’Asti, a sweet lambrusco or a bottle that says that the wine is demi-sec or sec. For a drier sparkling wine, the word brut is a good indication.

    For a domestic sparkling wine that’s also a good value, Bell likes Roederer Estates in California, which draws on French traditional methods for their production.

    Once the wine itself is bought, there’s one more challenge ahead: the act opening the bottle itself. If this sounds stressful, no worries — Bell has some suggestions.

    First, she notes that practice makes perfect: “The more you do it, the easier it will get.”

    In addition, she said that the proper technique is to turn the bottle, not the cork. That provides much better leverage.

    Bell said that despite movie scenes and holiday images that show a cascade of champagne, the goal is a slight hiss instead of an explosive sound. She said that as the cork starts coming out of the bottle, that the person opening it should actually push in back in slightly to control the force of the gas. Making sure that the bottle is well-chilled will also help.

    “They just spent all this time and energy to get the bubbles into the bottle,” she said. “You don’t want to let it all go in the first minute!”

Episode Credits

  • Judith Siers-Poisson Host
  • Judith Siers-Poisson Producer
  • Jessica Bell Guest

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