Nothing epitomizes the celebratory nature of sparkling wine better than the World Series victors showering each other with bubbly. Personally, I'd rather drink champagne than watch grown men spray each other with it.


 

 


Nothing epitomizes the celebratory nature of sparkling wine better than the World Series victors showering each other with bubbly.


Personally, I'd rather drink champagne than watch grown men spray each other with it. My girlfriend adores champagne and doesn't believe in waiting for special occasions to drink it. She introduced me to its wonders several years ago.


Undoubtedly, champagne's most avid fan was Madame Lilly Bollinger, who reportedly said, "I drink it 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 I drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it, unless I'm thirsty." I completely understand and share her enthusiasm.


Upon drinking an occasional sparkling wine before dinner, I discovered that it makes a great aperitif. Its refreshing crispness (dare I say "acidity") makes it an ideal cocktail beverage and prepares the palate for dinner. Perfect for warm summer weather; serve chilled, but not too cold.


One favorite is Mont Marcal Brut Reserva cava ($12). Cava, from Spain, is less acidic and smoother than champagne. While lacking champagne's reputation and elan, cava offers consumers one of the best values in sparkling wine and seldom disappoints. Mont Marcal has a fragrance of pear and apple, and subtle pear and almond tastes.


Another I like is Pol Roger Vintage Brut champagne ($39). Also a favorite of Prince William and the late Winston Churchill, it's medium dry and tastes floral, creamy and smooth.


Like most Americans, I never considered sparkling wine with dinner until we tried it. A perfect match for many foods, it pairs well with fish, seafood, vegetables (nothing works better with mushrooms), pasta and risotto, white meats, spicy Asian cuisine and egg dishes. Egg dishes are a challenging match for any wine, and sparkling wine works superbly. A Westport Rivers Westport Brut 2002 ($17) perfectly complemented a recent Sunday brunch featuring mushroom quiche. I was pleasantly surprised by its rich, creamy taste and thought this Massachusetts-produced sparkler tasted like a far more expensive one.


Due to its celebratory association, I've experienced how popping open a bottle of any sparkling wine transforms any event into a special occasion. It creates a festive mood, and nothing sets the atmosphere for romance like sparkling wine.


Sparkling wine is unique, beginning with how it's made. An initial fermentation creates still wines, which are blended to maintain the producer's house style, and followed by a secondary fermentation in bottle that creates bubbles. The words "Methode Champenoise," "Traditional Method," "Classic Method" or "Champagne Method" on labels designate sparklers fermented in the bottle, the preferred way. In contrast, most very inexpensive sparklers are fermented in tanks, not in the bottle. With a few exceptions Italy's Prosecco most noteworthy avoid those.


France's Champagne region remains the apogee of sparkling wine. By international trade agreement, only wines made there may be labeled as "Champagne." Delightful sparkling wines are also made elsewhere in France, California, Australia and Italy.


Most sparklers are non-vintage; no year is identified on the bottle. Each is based upon a house style, consistent from year to year. Vintage wines, ideal for special occasions, are made only in the best years, tend to be expensive, and are well worth the money.


There's a myth that champagne can't be aged. Not only do the best defy this, even non-vintage sparklers benefit from two to three years of aging. I recently uncorked a Veuve Clicquot purchased in 2006. Two more years made it smoother, creamier and absolutely heavenly. If only we all aged like champagne.


Despite the temptation to drink it sooner, age all champagne 18 to 24 months if you can. You don't need a wine cellar or special wine cooler. A cool dark place in the basement or in a closet will work fine. Never store any wines longer than a week or so in the refrigerator due to the ill effects of vibration and the lack of humidity over time.


Don't wait for a special occasion. Pop open a bottle of bubbly today. Celebrate life and do it often. You'll live longer and better.


Try these on for size


Here's a list of other sparkling wines I recommend:


Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve/Champagne/$49 375 ml (half bottle)


Domaine Chandon California Brut Classic/California (Napa)/$12 375 ml (half bottle)


Il Prosecco (Mionetto)/Italy (Veneto)/$8 375 ml (half bottle)


Moet & Chandon White Star NV/Champagne/$16 375 ml (half bottle)


Contact Mark P. Vincent at mpvincent@comcast.net.