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Wine Wednesdays With William: Adding A Little ‘Sparkle’ To Your Holiday Wine Purchases

'saratoga living' wine expert William Roach on what makes the best (and most affordable) sparkling wines.

Sparkling Wines
(L.C. Nøttaasen/Flickr)

So it’s getting close to Christmas dinner, and you’re asking about sparking wines, are you? Well, I’m glad you asked. Sparkling wines are made everywhere but not always in the same way. Most inexpensive bottles are filled with wine that has been made in very large vats and fed into the bottle under pressure. Typically, these will cost less than $20, and Prosecco is by far the most popular wine of this type.

Like most sparkling wines, Prosecco is sweeter than its nonsparkling counterparts. Traditionally, it’s made Extra Dry, which is actually quite sweet, with 12–20 grams per liter (g/l) of residual sugar. If it’s labeled “Dry,” then the wine will be sweeter still, with 20-35 g/l residual sugar. And even those bottles labeled “Brut” will have up to 15 g/l residual sugar. But here’s the thing: Mixed with orange juice, no one will notice or care about the difference; mimosas are mimosas are mimosas. And they make perfect sense for holiday brunch.

Pay more than $20 for a sparkling wine, and it’s likely that the wine was made sparkling in the bottle you are holding. All Champagne is made this way, and most ambitious sparkling wine from elsewhere is also made sparkling in the bottle from which the wine will be served. The process is more difficult to accomplish for winemakers, and produces a wine with more complex flavors, and smaller and more persistent bubbles. The extent to which that’s true is a function of how long the winemaker leaves the yeast in the bottle. One reason Dom Perignon is so good and expensive is that the current release is the 2009 vintage: You are paying, in part, for the cost of Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessey (LVMH) holding nine years’ worth of inventory.

Speaking of which, LVMH is the world’s largest producer of luxury fashion goods and dominates the world of Champagne, where they own Moët et Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Mercier, Ruinart and Krug. Unless the recipient is a wine geek, these, and other well-known Champagne brands, are the ones to give as gifts; the “thank you” will be heartfelt. But if you’re giving Champagne to a curious and interested wine lover, you should look for the letters “RM” at the beginning of the serial number, identifying the producer, which appears in small print somewhere on the label. This indicates an artisanal producer that does everything itself, from growing the grapes to making the wine.

Oh, and just as a friendly FYI, it’s “Mo-ette” and “Perrier Jou-ette”.

Happy Holidays.

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William Roach

William was born in London, England, where he wrote and produced TV programs. He's married to Catharine Hamilton who, with her sister, owns Putnam Market on Broadway. William runs The Wine Room at Putnam Market where he teaches wine classes for The Wine & Spirits Education Trust.

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