What’s common between Indian cricket team lifting the World Cup, Obama winning the presidential elections, midnight of the New Year’s Eve, and your wedding banquet? The celebrations, that are quite ceremonially, marked with breaking open and showering the fizz from those big fat bottles of bubbly. There’s something mesmerising in uncorking these bottles and releasing the bubbles. They demand, and duly deserve, bringing out your fanciest crystals you very meticulously wrapped and stored at the back of your shelves. Admiring the slow-rising tiny bubbles emerging magically from the base of the bowl, lazily reaching the top and dissipating, seeming to celebrate their redemption, are somewhat spell-bounding. They stay till you let them, but better ones land on your palate soon, creating a somewhat electrifying sensation and a refreshing yummy mouthful. Their biting crispness and delicate flavours makes you return to your glass and draw another sip, almost effortlessly. And soon before you know, you’re in your happy place: not blitzed yet, but pleasantly buzzed, and feel bubbly.
There’s not much one can think of that can top a warm welcome with a chilled aperitif of Sparkling wine, especially in summers. Much like our Saturday shenanigans spilling over our Sunday brunches, Indian summers spill over on to the festival season that follows. Beating the summer heat, and complimenting the revelries of these festivities, is best satisfied with pours of almost-freezing bubblies. This is the most-suited season to pop-open those’ve been sleeping in your cellars waiting for an apt occasion. But what can be a better occasion in itself than opening and sharing one without a reason?
So, what are sparkling wines? In a geek-speak, these are regular still wines to which fizz is added through various processes, producing from something as serious and royale as Champagne to something resembling your club sodas. Most commonly, fizz is incorporated to these still wines by introducing additional mix of sugar and yeast and incorporating another level of fermentation, but this time capturing the fix and letting it dissolve in the liquid. While for some wines, this process, quite exhaustingly, transpires in sturdy glass bottles, like for Champagnes and Cavas, some prefer to keep it simple by letting it occur in large steel tanks, like Prosecco and most New World sparkling. End result is these fancy bubbles that can put a cheery smile on any dull face.
During the First World War, Sir Winston Churchill addressed the British Royal Army, saying, “Remember gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne!”. Almost synonyms to sparkling wines for any novice vino, Champagne is not only wine, they are a phenomenon and an ambassador of good times. Sitting with a magnificent grandeur at the pinnacle of the sparkling wine pyramid is this French royalty. Produced not far from Paris, they are one of the most protected terms, not only in the wine world but otherwise too. They hail only from these steep, white-earthed hills of Champagne, and are produced exclusively using three grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Vintage Champagnes are produce of a single year and are more sort-after and expensive than their counterpart Non-Vintage Champagnes. However, there’s a league of Champagnes that demand the highest cheques, called Prestige Cuvee. These are the best crafted, and the most prestigious blend of the house produced only in the best years and are generally available in only a limited supply, making it even more desired. One of my all time favourite Champagne house, Pol Roger, have their Prestige Cuvee named after Sir Winston Churchill, while Moet & Chandon have dedicated theirs to the man titled the father of sparkling wines, Dom Perignon. However, these wines are best reserved for finest palates and men with the deepest pockets. Champagnes like Laurent Perrier, Gonet, Billecart Salmon, and Krug, can make your evening worth a memory.
The Spaniards did battle with the French in the Early 1700 to retain their political supremacy over Europe, but finally did come together to form and ally against the British army. Soon, following the French, the Spaniard also created their royal bubbly, interestingly called Champagne! However, protecting their most prestigious wine’s repute, the French summoned the Spaniards to alter the name, finally calling it Cava. They’re namesake of Champagnes, produced with local varietals – Parellada, Macabeo, and Xarel-lo, with almost similar outcome. Cavas, having similar standing as Champagne, are generally amicable to approach. Great with seafood, light dishes, and tapas, after all it’s Spanish! Frexinet, and Jose Raventos are two Cavas worth trying and are not too heavy on your pockets too.
For something simpler and approachable, turn towards Italy and their two light-hearted sparklings – Asti and Prosecco. Asti are sweet semi-sparkling wines, locally called frizzante, made fromMoscato grape and can be addictively delectable. They can be off-dry and fruity, or can be sweet and aromatic with a dollop of natural sugar left unfermented. They can make a nice fizzy dessert wine and pair well with caramel and dairy-based dishes. Proseccos are a little more serious and are usually dry yet playful. Deciphering them is not a task, making them easily-approachable, and highly demanded. They’re outright simple and have easily-identifiable fruit-flavours. They make a good all-meal-long wines for those who enjoy sitting their food and wines together without over-thinking about their relation. San Simone, Carpene-Malvolti, Zardetto, and Bottega Gold Proseccos rate highly on my list.
And finally, the most-affordable tier of bubblies that allow scope for experimenting without burning a hole in your pockets. New World countries have been following the lead of Champagnes, Cavas, Proseccos, and traditional sparkling wines, for long and have finally arrived with an array of sparklings of their own. They are not only discerning on the palate, but are quite a keeper. In India, Australians lead this category, but soon catching up is the South African’s. They are no-nonsense, non-frilly, straight-forward, fruit-lead wines with a personal touch of their own local twist. Lindeman’s and Jacobs Creek sparkling wines are an easy-spot in most wine stores and are definite must-haves. India isn’t falling behind no more. Zampa’s Soiree and Sula’s Sparklings are an easy first step for most vinos entering the sparkling wine connoisseurship. They are good value-for-money picks. This year, more well-reputed Indian houses will be joining the sparkling winemakers’ club, and we’re anxiously waiting for their release.
With the fizz and the pressure-packed within, sparkling wines are a good proposition for cellaring. They have the ability to live for a decade, especially Champagnes and Cavas, but other sparkling wines are best bought and consumed young. Don’t forget to serve them chilled, and remember to hold the cork tightly, those notorious ones can bombard and hurt, seriously. We believe the best way to open a bottle of bubbly is by ‘Sabring’, with a sword or a heavy knife, just like the kings and royal men did in the courts and battle grounds upon victory. Look up for a video online and you’ll easily be hooked to trying it out yourself.