Grape sense: Enjoy bubbles all year

By Howard W. Hewitt

The sale of sparkling wines and champagne has been booming.

French Champagne, Italian Prosecco and Spanish Cava have become year-round refreshing treats. And after years of predictions it could become a big player, England’s sparkling wines are finally turning up on shelves of U.S. wine stores.

Grape Sense has urged year-round enjoyment of bubbles, but everyone at least thinks of champagne around the new year.

Let’s do a quick review of what’s available, something we haven’t done in a few years.

Italian Prosecco is one of the biggest booming wines in the world. The bubbles are lighter, and the wines are a little sweeter. Most prosecco is made with Glera, native to northern Italy, but up to nine other grapes can be blended to make up to 15 percent of any prosecco.

Here is an easy tip to make sure you’re buying quality Italian bubbles. Look for the region Valdobbiadene on the bottle. You don’t have to pronounce it, just remember it. Valdobbiadene is the premier region for the Glera grape. You can find great prosecco at most wine shops ranging from $15 to $35. Rebuli and Bisol are good producers.

Spanish Cava is even more affordable. There are good bottles as low as $8 to $10. Spain is the second-largest producer of sparkling wine, second only to Champagne. Much of the cava is made from chardonnay and pinot noir, though local grapes like parellada get involved, as well. Look for an easy-to-find bottling like Poema or Segura Viudas is an even better producer.

U.S. producers in California have been around a long time. A personal and affordable favorite is Sonoma County’s Gloria Ferrer. Several different bottlings are available, but the entry-level Sonoma Brut is a great wine for $20.

If you want something special, try the Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blanc for just a few dollars more. A bit of education, a blanc de blanc is made of 100 percent Chardonnay, while a Blanc de Noir would be pinot noir bubbles.

Other top California bubble makers include Korbel, Gruet, Roederer, Schramsberg and Mumm.

Of course, no discussion of bubbles can exclude champagne. French bubbles remain the benchmark all sparkling wine producers seek to reproduce. The classic chardonnay and pinot noir bubble blends set the world standard. Many producers near Reims, France, about 80 miles north of Paris, have been making champagne for hundreds of years.

Like many things French, champagne doesn’t come cheap. There are good bottles around $40 to $60, but most people are more familiar with names like Dom Perignon, Bollinger, Krug, Moet & Chandon and many others. Visit a wine shop and you’ll learn the names you know also make less-expensive bottles.

A somewhat newer trend in champagne is the emergence, at least from a marketing perspective, of grower wines. These are usually small production houses really focused on growing their grapes and making wine with a focus on terroir. In Indiana, look for a producer like Marc Hebrart. The Hebrart Brut sells for around $35, and the Rosé bubbles about $60.

May you enjoy good health and success in 2018.

Howard Hewitt of Indianapolis writes about wine every other week for more than 20 midwestern newspapers and websites. Reach Howard at: hewitthoward@gmail.com