Not all bottles of bubbly are created equal. While many of us may think we're sipping Champagne, the only true Champagne comes out of a region of the same name in France. "They handpick the best grapes that they can grow," says Joe Minotti, owner of Minotti's Wine and Liquor, which has five locations throughout Northeast Ohio. "They're top-notch without blemishes, whereas other 'champagnes' will use secondary grapes." Prosecco and cava, while tasty, don't have bubbles that are quite as fine as Champagne because they're often made in large tanks, like other sparkling wines.
Champagne can be used for more than just toasting. It can amp up your next meal (if there's any left from last night's festivities). Try this easy fondue recipe from Table 45's executive chef Donna Chriszt.
"Fondue is old school, but it's easy to cook and you can utilize it in many different ways with pierogies, chicken or pork," Chriszt says. Start by reducing 1 quart of heavy cream with 1 cup of flat, white sparkling wine over the stove until it thickens. Then add 1 cup of ground Parmesan, 1 cup of grated Beemster cheese and 1 cup of grated Swiss cheese until they melt together. Follow with 1 cup of Brie. When it's melted, remove the rind and add 1/4 cup of chopped rosemary leaves and season with salt and pepper. "The Champagne just adds a whole new layer of flavor," she says. "The acidity offsets the saltiness of the cheese that you're using."
We know good bubbly is hard to come by so we asked Yolanda Albergottie, a wine educator from Chuck's Fine Wines in Chagrin Falls, for recommendations at different price points.
Bottle on a Budget: Graham Beck Brut Rose Non Vintage, $18.99
Made with South African chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, this sparkling wine tries to be a serious bubbly but at an affordable price. "This has a beautiful yeasty, doughy nose, and it has nice cherry and berry notes to it," Albergottie says.
Sparkling Special: Schramsberg The Blanc de Noirs, 2010, $37.99
This sparkling white wine made from red pinot noir grapes grown in Napa takes the cake. "Schramsberg was the very first producer of sparkling wine in America," says Albergottie. "It tends to be a little bit more fruit and berry, and it has a lot more peach, apricot, mango and tropical fruit notes to it."
Top Shelf: Dom Ruinart, The Blanc de Blancs, 2004, $175.99
Crafted by the first established Champagne house in history, this chardonnay-centric Champagne is made from grapes grown in a stony soil, giving it a lot of minerality. "The flavors are more biscuity, more floral and almost nutty," she says.
Champagne should always be served chilled — but not cold. "If it's too cold, you don't get the true, natural flavors of the lemon or the citrus or whatever the Champagne house is trying to drive in that Champagne," says Gary Rossen, president of Rozi's Wine House in Lakewood. Set Champagne in the fridge for two to three hours, but if you find yourself with unexpected guests, 20-25 minutes in an ice bath should do the trick.