Are You Sure You’re Drinking Champagne?

(TORONTO, ON) – Not trying to be snobbish, but I get a bit uncomfortable when people pop open a bottle a bubbly and call it Champagne. Call it what you wish, and if you enjoy it that is what counts. Not to burst your bubble, though, but Champagne must come from the Champagne region in France to be called Champagne.

The Champagne people religiously protect this designation, so I really must chuckle when Sunwing Vacations promises a Champagne Vacation, when the stuff being served onboard their flights is really tank produced plonk from Niagara.

Not to overwhelm you with technicalities, the Champagne Method requires several blends of white wine being mixed, then a dosage (sugar) is added to introduce a secondary fermentation in the bottle. It’s then sealed for a secondary fermentation which produces carbon dioxide and forces the yeast by-products to migrate to the neck of the bottle.

At a certain point, the muck, which has concentrated at the tip of the bottle is disgorged, and a dosage of sugar is again added. The bottle is then corked and ready for consumption.

A much cheaper version of this is to put wine into tanks and add carbon dioxide and seal the tank up so the secondary fermentation occurs in the tank, as opposed to within the bottle. This tank, or Charmant Method, is much cheaper than the traditional process.

It can produce very good wines such as Prosecco, but it is not Champagne. And those bubbles are usually larger than the tiny beads of bubbles you’ll get in a sparkling wine produced according to the Champaign Method, ie: the exact way that Champagne is produced.

Many wine producing countries offer a sparkling wine using the Champagne Method but, out of respect for the Champagne region, or due to treaty obligations, say their sparklers are, “Produced by the traditional method.”

In France, the Champagne Method is referred to as Crémant outside the Champagne region. It is produced at half the price of Champagne, but made exactly the same way. It would seem that the mere word Champagne justifies a high price, due to its reputation and successful marketing as a wine for that special occasion.

Champagne is known for its multitude of bubbles, but Crémant can rival that at 1/3 of the price. So, pay attention to releases of Crémant or to wines from other countries that are produced according to the traditional ways.

The Alsace region produces some dandy Crémants and well known ones are produced by Pierre Sparr.

The Pierre Sparr Brut Rosé could be easily mistaken for a Pinot Noir, if not for its bubbles. Full of red fruit such as raspberries, strawberries, and sweet red cherries. On the palate, raisin bread, cranberries, and strawberries with cherry pie .

Crisp and short finish, but lacking the complexity and charm of the nose that Champagne can offer.

The acidity of the wine is good for a pre-dinner palate cleanser, which is in the rule book of Champagne. For food, I would think roast ham with red pepper jelly or smoked salmon in a basil cream sauce laced with fresh basil.

While it lacks the sophisticated finish of a rosé Champagne, it’s a very good alternative.

(Pierre Sparr Brut Rosé, Crémant D’Alsace Appellation Crémant D’Alsace Contrôlée, Pierre Sparr, Blenheim, France, 750 mL, 12.5%, LCBO #39016, $18.95, Square Media Group Rating 88/100)

One does not encounter sparkling Rieslings very often, but we have one from Dr Loosen in Germany.

It is very pale gold in colour. Strange, but not unpleasant, aromas of pineapple, banana, slate, custard, and a big whiff of juicy peach. As this is made from German Riesling, it is slightly sweet, which is a deviation from almost all the sparkling wines in the market.

Light and fizzy on the palate initially, with those banana, peach, and pineapple aromas also coming through on the taste. Some solidity and more assertiveness on the back palate, creating a more serious presence than its initial lightness and fizziness.

Graham Beck BrutI think this would pair well with mild creamy cheese or even a Portuguese custard tart. Drink now or hold back a couple for that Thanksgiving turkey.

(Loosen Bros, Dr L Sparkling Riesling, Loosen Bros, Bernkastel/Mosel, 12.5%, $14.95, 750 mL, LCBO #296095, Square Media Group Rating 87/100)

Again we have a sparkling white that is made by the traditional method. It is from South Africa. Loads of tiny bubbles just like Champagne.

On the nose, you’ll pick up pear, apple sauce, biscuits, and a tad of honey. On the palate, a great acidity, hence a great palate cleanser, if you are planning a multicourse dinner.

Pear and apple predominate, but very subtlety. I wished it had more complexity on the palate, but it’s a decent bubbly. Think of it as a Trimpish. Flashy with lots of bubbles, but lacking in complexity on the palate.

This sparkler is a staple and there always seems to be great supplies available. I don’t want to get snarky, but go ahead and pretend this is Champagne.

In fact, as it is made the same way as Champagne, is it is Champagne. But since it is not from the Champagne region in France, you just can’t call it that; at least in public.

(Graham Beck Brut Pinot Noir-Chardonnay, W.O. Western Cape, Graham Beck Wines, Robertson, South Africa, 750 mL, 12.5%, $18.95, LCBO #593483, Square Media Group Rating 88/100)

Tasmania has a reputation for producing good sparklers. In this department, Jansz is a well known producer.

Their Premium Cuvée has an almost greenish gold colour. Loads of Don Ho tiny bubbles. Granny Smith apples, whole-wheat toast, kiwis, and honey on the nose.

On the palate, French toast, kiwi, and citrus notes.

Clean and crisp but, again, it lacks that complexity on the palate which Champagne offers. The improbable solution is to win the lottery.

(Jansz Tasmania Premium Cuvée, Jansz, Tasmania, Piper’s Brook, Tasmania, 12%, 750 ml, $26.95. LCBO #566828, Square Media Group Rating 88/100)

This is a good stab. All the wines we have tried at replicating Champagne, but they just can’t match the complexity and nuances of the real thing. However, economic realities being what they are, with the cheapest Champagne clocking in at $40, we all have to make sacrifices.

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)
Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."Email Robert Stephen
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