Why are sparkling wines so special? Travel with me to the English countryside where I discovered there is never a bad time for bubbles.
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There’s Never a Bad Time for Bubbles
I adore sparkling wine and try to sample it wherever I visit. Whether it’s champagne from France’s Champagne region, a German sekt, a British or American sparkling wine, a French Cremant, a Spanish cava, or an Italian prosecco, I love bubbles. But I grew up like many of you probably did, thinking that bubbles were only for special occasions.
Just a note: Champagne is the term for the sparkling wine made in France’s Champagne region. It’s a protected term. A sparkling wine made in California is never a champagne. Even a sparkling wine made in other parts of France can’t be called champagne. Here is a link to a great sparkling wine guide I wrote to different kinds of sparkling wine and what makes sparkling wine so different.
Bubbles at The Vineyard at Stockcross
My idea that you could only drink bubbles on a special occasion changed one day more than 15 years ago. I was on a solo trip to England. After a few days in London, I made my way to the Berkshires, about an hour outside of the city, and stayed at the most amazing inn, The Vineyard at Stockcross.
This inn was originally a 19th-century hunting lodge. We’re talking about a British hunting lodge, not an American lodge for those who go hunting to rough it. This elegant country estate is just a few miles from Highclere Castle, which was made famous by Downton Abbey.
After arriving and promptly enjoying tea while the staff prepared my room, I relaxed, anticipating my evening dinner—a 14-course paired dinner. Yes, 14 courses of amazing food paired with exceptional wines. But it was what happened before dinner that impacted me.
I joined the hotel’s manager, a Frenchman who seamlessly blended the best of England and France, for an aperitif. He poured me a glass of Dom Perignon. For those unfamiliar with the history, Dom Perignon is an exceptional champagne dating back to the 17th century. Dom Pierre Pérignon, a Benedictine monk, set out to make the best wine in the world, and many people believe he went on to do just that and it continues to be the benchmark for amazing champagnes.
As I sat in this exquisite location, sipping on these beautiful fine bubbles, the manager—whose name I’ve long forgotten—told me he had words to live by for me. I leaned in, eager to hear the message he would offer that sounded like it could change my life. “Always remember, there is never a bad time for bubbles.”
As I laughed, contemplating his message, he explained that sparking wine pairs with almost anything or is delightful for simply sipping. That was a wonderful moment for me. I love bubbles. There is something almost magical about those little bubbles. And it makes me happy when I hear that pop of the cork and smell the lovely aroma of baking bread from the yeast.
Why I Love Sparkling Wine
I appreciate sparkling wines for so many reasons. The care and precision that go into making a sparkling wine are inspirational. There are a couple of ways of making sparkling wine—again, you can read this article for more details—but there are two methods: Methode Champenoise (the champagne method) and charmat or the Italian method.
In Methode Champenoise, a second fermentation occurs inside the bottle, and many of the champagne houses in France still turn the bottles by hand during this stage—multiple times a day over many months.
Wines made in the Charmat method complete the second fermentation in a stainless steel tank or oak barrel.
Types of Bubbles I Love
Over the past 15+ years, I’ve had sparkling wines paired with almost everything. I love bubbles with potato chips. They even serve potato chips during wine tastings at Veuve Clicquot in France. I love sparkling wine with a juicy ribeye steak. A favorite memory is a sparkling wine-paired dinner at Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas that blew me away.
I enjoy blanc de blanc sparkling wines made from all-white grapes, usually chardonnay. Even better, I adore blanc de noir, sparkling wines made from purple grapes, usually pinot noir. I’m a sucker for a good rosé sparkling wine. No, these are not sweet wines. They are usually dry and crisp, filled with the aromas of yeast and the flavors of the grapes.
You can get fun sparkling wines for as little as $20/bottle. A great option in that price range is Gruet, made in the method Champenoise style in New Mexico. I also like Chandon, the US-bottled sparkling wine created by the French Moet & Chandon champagne house. For more expensive sparkling wines, while I enjoy Taittinger and Veuve Clicquot, I often look for lesser-known options, such as Collet and Drappier, both from Champagne. A good Cremant from France is a nice mid-level sparkling wine, and I really enjoy Oregon sparkling wines, many made in the traditional method Champenoise from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes, the traditional grapes used in Champagne, France.
It’s Always a Good Time for Bubbles
I almost always keep a bottle of sparkling wine open in my refrigerator (you can keep it for 2 to 3 days with a good champagne stopper). And each evening, when I take that first sip, I close my eyes. For a moment, I’m back in the dining room in that English countryside manor, listening to the crackling fireplace and the tinkle of fine china and hearing the lilting French voice remind me there is never a bad time for bubbles.
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There is Never a Bad Time for Bubbles