A Little Sparkle For A Tough Year
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2009 has certainly been a memorable year of highs and lows:  From the inauguration of our first African-American president to a deepening recession that led to the highest level of unemployment in a generation; from the Yankees’ World Series win to the Madoff scandal losses. At the end of such a tumultuous year, I for one, plan to sit back and relax with a nice glass of wine. And times such as these, ideally, call for Champagne.

In both good times and bad, Champagne has an almost magical ability to perk up the senses, and enliven the spirit. Indeed, Napoleon Bonaparte, the twice Emperor of France, and someone who knew a lot about living in both good and bad times, once wrote that “I drink Champagne when I win, to celebrate ... and I drink Champagne when I lose, to console myself.” 

Unfortunately, with the weak dollar, and increasing production costs, kosher Champagne is more expensive than ever, with retail prices ranging between $60 and $125 per bottle. In today’s economic environment, kosher Champagne is a luxury that many consumers simply cannot afford.

So for this month’s Fruit of the Vine, I decided to try to find some good, affordable, kosher Champagne alternatives. I ended up tasting seven dry, sparkling white wines from Italy, France, Spain and Argentina, all of which retail for less than $20. The results of this tasting were somewhat mixed. While almost all of the wines were tasty and fun to drink, none of them even approached the richness and complexity of good Champagne.

Perhaps the best wine in the tasting was Bellenda’s Extra Dry Prosecco. Made of Prosecco grapes grown in the Veneto region of Northeastern Italy, this dark straw colored wine has a medium body and an abundance of tiny little bubbles. Look for flavors and aromas of heather, honeysuckle and honeydew melon. With just a hint of sweetness, this well-balanced wine may lack complexity, but is nevertheless delightful.

The other standout in the tasting was Herzog Selection’s French Blanc dc Blancs. This brut dry, light-to-medium-bodied, bright straw-colored wine has a nice mouth feel, and an impressive mousse of large, vigorous bubbles. With a bouquet of straw, heather and apples, with a whiff of yeast and flavors of heather and apples and a hint of toasted white bread, this well-balanced wine would be a good choice for any festive gathering.

Whether planning to spend $10 or $100 on a bottle of sparkling wine, there are a few points that one should keep in mind. First, most non-vintage sparkling wines have a shelf life of about three to five years. So when buying a non-vintage wine, avoid selecting bottles that look like they have been sitting on the shelf of the wine shop for years.

Also, if you ever open a bottle of sparkling wine that is not quite to your liking, consider using that bottle to make a Champagne Cocktail. Put a sugar cube and a few dashes of Angostura Aromatic Bitters (available at any supermarket) in the bottom of a Champagne flute, let the glass sit for a few minutes, and then fill with the wine. The sugar and bitters add delightful flavors and can mask many flaws that may be found in sparkling wines.

Fruit of the Vine appears monthly.

Last Update:

02/03/2010 - 16:40

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