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Sparkling Wines

Sparkling wines differ from still wines in their effervescence or presence of bubbles. These bubbles are caused by the escape of carbon dioxide gas from the liquid and come either as a by product of the natural fermentation of sugars in the juice after bottling or from the introduction during bottling of carbon dioxide gas much the same way as any carbonated soda.

While frequently called champagne regardless of origin, only sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region of France are real Champagne, while the others are Asti (from Italy), Sekt (from Germany), or sparkling wine (from California, Spain, or even other regions of France). While there may be nothing quite like real Champagne, excellent values and pleasurable drink come from many areas around the world.

Sparkling wines may range from sweet to off-dry to exceedingly crisp. There are two main varieties, the regular straw yellow color and pinkish rose.

In France, sparkling wines may be Demi-Sec (Dry), Sec (Extra Dry), and Brut. Dry often is not very much so, and the bulk of great Champagne is Brut. The regular white variety is made of a mixture of chardonnay, pinot meunier, and pinot noir grapes fermented without skins; when in contact with skins, the dark pinot noir, of great Burgundy fame, produces a rose. An extremely elegant version, called Blanc de Blanc, consists only of chardonnay grapes.

Most sparkling wine is non-vintage and remarkably consistent from one year to the next because it is a blend of many individual vintages and vineyards designed to achieve a certain style reflective of the producer. Non-vintage sparkling wines are marketed when they are ready to drink, and although there is some difference in opinion with Champagne due primarily to taste, they do not benefit from further aging. Vintage Champagne can benefit from some time in the bottle, and the greatest of them can age as remarkably, though at some cost to their sparkle, as any great still wine.

In general, non-vintage rose costs more than the regular non-vintage, vintage more than non-vintage, and special bottling vintage rose most of all. In the mid-price range, differences tend to depend more on the winemakerís style than quality. The cost of the step from non-vintage to vintage Champagne is enormous and not in any way proportional to the improved quality of the drink; it is not unusual to find non-vintage Champagne that is superior to vintage Champagne at

a quarter or a third of the price though the greatest wines tend to command the greatest sacrifice to own. Enjoyable sparkling wines may be purchased for $12 to $18, memorable Champagne beginning at $25, and extraordinary experiences at $125 and up.

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