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Sparkling Wine Demystified by Hank Zona

Understanding what you're drinking to toast the New Year.

Champagne has the taste of an apple peeled with a steel knife. ~ Aldous Huxley

A sparkling wine or champagne provides the crispness and effervescence that can cut through complex flavors and scrub the palate — or at least that's Hank Zona's interpretation of Huxley's beautiful analogy.

Zona, who runs Swirl Wine Events, wants to school you on champagnes and sparking wines — his favorite wines, he says — in time for you to make an educated decision for bringing in the New Year with the perfect bubbly. To that end, Zona recently devoted an entire episode of his show The Grapes Unwrapped to sparkling wines. The Grapes Unwrapped is broadcast on and is available anytime on YouTube — but, in this instance, is also attached here on Patch.

We recommend you watch the episode, enjoying Zona's insightful commentary and incredible knowledge all delivered in the beautiful space at in Maplewood.

But if you don't have time to watch in full, here's our recap:

56% of Americans say they don't know what constitutes a good champagne or sparkling wine.

First, they need to understand sparkling wine vis-a-vis champagne: While all champagne is sparkling wine, not all sparkling wine is champagne.

Champagne represents only about 10% of sparkling wine production. Only sparkling wines grown in the Champagne region of France — and utilizing the methode champenoise — can call be called champagne by law.

Prosecco — and Italian sparkling wine made under a less labor-intensive method — is actually the fastest growing segment of the sparkling wine market, and it presents a good value, says Zona.

Zona also likes cavas — Spanish sparkling wines. They use the same method as champagne, but, since labor is cheaper in Spain and the cost of producing sparkling wine is cheaper, they also present a great value.

Some American-made sparkling wines such as Schramsberg or Gruet are also very satisfying and affordable. Gruet, in fact, is made in New Mexico by a champagne-producing family that wanted to replicate the taste on American soil.

While you're out shopping for a champagne, here's some terminology to help you out: Brut, demi sec and doux refer to the sweetness of the sparkling wine with brut being the driest and doux the sweetest.

Also, while most sparkling wines are white or rosé, there are some satifisfying reds, like the sparking Shiraz of Australia of the Italian Lambrusco. Zona says these are great for drinking with sturdier, heartier meals, but he sees the reds as more of a wine pairing than a sparkling wine pairing.

Zona says he drinks champagne or sparkling wine (whites and rosés) with anything that you would normally drink beer with — pizza, burgers, Asian food — since the effervescence has a clean, refreshing effect.

If you're having birthday cake, cookies or sweets, Zona recommends the Gruet demi sec. With pancakes (for New Year's Day, of course!), Zona says try a sparkling rosé from Austria called Durnberg.

While there is much more information in the episode, we know you need to get shopping, so here are Zona's picks for sparkling wine:

Values:

Domestic:

Some Favorites (who's treating?):

We'll end with another quote cited by Zona in the episode:

I drink champagne when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty. ~ Madame Lilly Bollinger

Where to shop?

Local purveyors include the , , and in Maplewood; and in Millburn; the on Millburn Avenue in Springfield; and , and in South Orange. , , and in Montclair.

Hank Zona December 30, 2011 at 01:31 PM
Thanks again Mary and Patch! Since the show debuted earlier this month, a few things happened...Food and Wine magazine picked Casteller cavas as the best sparkling wine to serve for a larger group party; the NY Times tasting panel picked the Billecart-Salmon blanc de blancs as one of the tops; Wine Spectator picked the Gruet blanc de noirs for their Top 100 -- not bad for a wine under $15. The list of recommended sparklers that Mary culled from the show are all some of my favorites but its hardly a complete list of what's good..so dont worry if your choice isnt on the list...enjoy what you share with family and friends ...Cheers and Happy New Year!
Kate Farrell December 29, 2012 at 03:24 AM
Dry rose bruts are nice. You can get a couple of nice choices for 10$ and under at Total Wine and More in West Orange.

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