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What’s in the name Champagne, sweetie darling?

Nov 04, 2016

Fans of British sitcom, Absolutely Fabulous, are sure to have seen the feature film version which opened in September.

Stars Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders are the incorrigible pair of mature besties, Patsy and Eddie, who slug the Champagne Bollinger (what else, sweetie darling?) straight from the bottle as they misadventure their way from London to the south of France. The product placement in the movie is hard to beat and is certain to make any bubbly fan in the audience develop a fine thirst. Who, after all, doesn’t enjoy a glass of Champagne?

Truth be told, though, not all bubblies are Champagne. A bubbly or sparkling wine should only be called Champagne if it comes from the region of Champagne in France. In other words, all Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. Sparkling wine can be made in a number of ways, but fine fizz undergoes a second fermentation (this time of the wine and not the grape juice) in the same bottle that finds its way onto wine store shelves and into your home. When you ferment wine in a closed or sealed environment, the gas (which comes from the simple fermentation formula of: sugar + yeast = alcohol and CO2) returns into the wine, only to be released in the form of tiny bubbles after opening.

Our local equivalent of bottle-fermented sparkling wine is known as Méthode Cap Classique, a reference to this traditional or classic method emulating real Champagne, but made here in the Cape.

More importantly, how does the taste of sparkling wine differ from that of Champagne or MCC? Since Champagnes and most Méthode Cap Classiques are made from the traditional varieties of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay (and to a lesser degree Pinot Meunier), and have had contact with the yeast particles in the bottle (known as lees), the fruit aromas are subtle (think apple and citrus) and they will often have a toasty or biscuity aroma and flavour with possibly some nutty or honeyed notes. The bubble (or mousse) is fine, persistent and sharp.

Sparkling wines, on the other hand, which can be made from a host of white or red grape varieties, tend to have more obvious fruit and flower aromas (as we detect in still wines). Because these wines are aged in large tanks with less pressure (rather than a second fermentation in the bottle), sparkling wines have bubbles that are lighter, frothy and spritzy with less persistence.

So, if you’d prefer something fruity and even a little off-dry to sweet, then sparkling wine is your fizz and is widely available in supermarkets under the banner of some big brands. If you prefer your bubbles dry with crisp and refreshing acidity and subtlety, then go for a reputable MCC.

Safe bets are Krone, Graham Beck, Simonsig and Pongracz, but many smaller wine producers are turning out fabulous fizz - at slightly less competitive prices, but still way below the Champagne level. And with the festive season approaching, one must use the opportunity to splash out on the real thing. Moet, Veuve – so yesterday, you may ask? Well, what better tipple than Champagne Bollinger, sweetie darling? Wine columnist Ginette de Fleuriot is a Cape Wine Master. 

Last modified on Friday, 04 November 2016 12:32
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