Stock Photo
BUBBLY: Champagne is the finest sparkling wine in the world and is associated with celebrating happy occasions.
Stock Photo BUBBLY: Champagne is the finest sparkling wine in the world and is associated with celebrating happy occasions.

The New Year is fast approaching and it’s time to savour the past, present and future.

So what better way to ring the New Year in than with champagne?

Champagne is the finest sparkling wine in the world and has been associated with celebration since Marie Antoinette deemed it to be the wine of coronation.

Produced solely from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France, only bottles produced here can be truly deemed champagne.

Each bottle is also produced individually — from the grapes of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier — and will contain millions of fine, tiny bubbles. Hence the popular term, bubbly.

History

But champagne also comes with a price tag.

Associated with luxury, power and mobility, it is considered the ‘elite’ among wines and in Bermuda, one bottle will set you back about $50.

But on New Year’s Eve, many see this festive bubbly as the only way to ring in the New Year.

Michael Robinson, director of wine at Burrows Lightbourn, said starting the New Year with a glass of the finest sparkling wine money can buy is associated with optimism and celebration.

“This is our busiest time of the year for selling champagne,” he said.

“We probably sell at least a third of all our champagne in the month of December, and this is mainly due to New Year.

“If you’re going to be looking forward to a new year, why not do this with something which has hundreds of years of history behind it?

“And it is regarded as the finest sparkling wine in the world,” he added.

However, if you are hosting a party or get-together, the number one factor in what you serve will probably be your budget.

When choosing your midnight tipple, consider how many guests you have and whether they are wine connoisseurs, or whether they would be just as happy with a cheaper sparkling wine.

There are lots of options for those on a budget to still celebrate New Year with a decent bottle of sparkling wine.

It may not have the word ‘champagne’ on the label but many wines are made in a similar style, with similar results on the palate.

Mr Robinson said: “When people are having a party, the main thing to decide is, ‘Do we want champagne?’.

“It is the best sparkling wine in the world but it is expensive. Countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China, their desire for champagne is growing in leaps and bounds, but champagne is only made in a small, limited area in France, so that puts a lot of pressure on price.

“There’s a lot of good sparkling wines out there which are made the same way,” said Mr Robinson.

“They are not as good but can come close. So consider, do you really want champagne or do you just want a festive bubbly, a bottle of sparkling wine.

“If you want the very best, you will have to be prepared to pay $50 or more for a bottle of champagne.

“But if you and your friends are not true connoisseurs of champagne, then buy a good bottle of Spanish sparkling wine for $15 a bottle.”

Mr Robinson recommends Freixenet cava, which he says is “made the same way” but in Spain, from the grapes of macabeo, parellada and xarel-lo.

A bottle of cava will cost you from $15-22, but Freixenet is made in the ‘methode champenoise’, with each wine left to ferment naturally in individual bottles.

Mr Robinson also recommends Californian sparkling wines such as Schramsberg.

Schramsberg is also produced in the ‘methode champenoise’, and uses the same types of grapes as champagne, such as pinot noir and chardonnay. It costs from $25-30 a bottle.

“You can buy sparkling wines from the $12 mark, up to $100, but French champagne is considered the benchmark,” said Mr Robinson.

He said most sparkling wines are produced by the ‘Charmat (bulk) method’, by which the wine is fermented in large tanks.

“That’s the way most inexpensive sparkling wines are made, whereas real (French) champagne is individually made in each bottle.

“That is a lot more labour intensive. For example, getting the dead yeast cells out of the bottles.

“The difference is, is that champagne has much finer, tiny bubbles. They are delicate and persistent, whereas with the ‘bulk method’ the bubbles are larger, not as delicate, and don’t last as long.

“Champagne also uses higher quality grapes and is a more expensive process.”

Its finesse also makes champagne an excellent choice of wine for Christmas Day dinner, said Mr Robinson.

“Champagne or a good sparkling wine goes well with any type of food,” he said.

“You can start with it, with the soup, and still be drinking it when it’s time for dessert. Its acidity and fine, tiny little bubbles cleanse the palate.”

Rose champagne is currently in vogue, added Mr Robinson.

“Rose is very popular now. It’s a phenomenon that has really taken place in the past five years.

“Laurent-Perrier is the most popular rose champagne in the world, but it’s $95.25 a bottle.”

A bottle of champagne at Burrows Lightbourn will cost from $45-100 but a bottle of rose champagne will cost $60-100.

“Rose is more difficult to make, to get the colour and the flavour just right,” said Mr Robinson.

“All grapes have a clear juice, hence white wine. But for a rose or a red wine, you have to let the grapes sit in their skins and tannins.

“The colour comes from the skin of the grape, which ‘tans’ the juice and makes it a darker wine.

“If you take away the skins straight away you will get a clear, white wine.

“So to get a rose you have to leave the juice in the darker grape skins for a few hours, to extract the colour.”

In rose champagne’s case, this would be the pinot noir grapes.

But whether you opt for rose champagne, champagne, Spanish cava, Italian prosecco or another sparkling wine, this comes down to your budget, the number of guests and taste.

“Do you and your friends appreciate a good champagne or would you prefer something which just goes ‘pop’ and is festive?,” said Mr Robinson.

“It comes down to budget at the end of the day.”

He also recommends  sipping champagne from a regular white wine glass rather than the traditional tall, thin flutes.

“The wine tastes better and smells better,” said Mr Robinson.

“You can appreciate the flavours and aromas more in a regular wine glass rather than in a flute.

“This is what science reports are stating, and I feel that drinking champagne may soon be done in regular wine glasses within a few years’ time.”

Whatever your tastes, the staff of Burrows Lightbourn are happy to assist you in your holiday wine selection.

Burrows Lightbourn, 2 Addendum Lane, Pitts Bay Road, Pembroke. Call 295-0176. Retail outlets: 127 Front Street, Hamilton; Harbour Road, Paget; and Water Street, St George’s.