The Life of Wine

 |  November 29, 2010

I only drink champagne when I’m happy, and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.”
– Madame Lily Bollinger

Welcome to the fizzy end of the year. Travelling, partying or seeing the last few days out at work before the long deserved break you will no doubt be confronted by some genus of sparkling wine or, if you are lucky, Champagne. We like to affectionately call it ‘bubbly’ or ‘fizz’.

Just about every grape growing region in the world makes some kind of fizz but despite a devastating nematode plague called phylloxera in the late nineteenth century, two World Wars, intense competition and a long lasting global recession, Champagne remains the undisputed Queen of sparkling wine. The Champenoise believe it is this chalk layer and climatic extremities that make the vines struggle for every breath of development ultimately leading to intensity of flavour, and that indispensible elegance in the bottle. The French call such influences ‘terroir’. The Italians call it ‘terra’. Although the word translates to ‘from the earth’ it is really a way of saying ‘it just is…’

The region is one of the most stringently controlled wine regions of France. From finite growing area to the amount of juice a producer is permitted to squeeze per grape tonnage, Champagnes desire to maintain its extraordinarily high quality standards is unwavering and the amount of money invested in research and development in the area is astounding. Most of the hand applied production techniques have been replaced by fully automated methods essential for consistent, high scale manufacture. Romance has been sacrificed for consumer thirst. About 400 million bottles of Champagne could be sold in 2010.

How does sparkling wine differ from Champagne? Aside from the strict quality controls separating Champagne from its fizzy rivals, there is a certain elegance or finesse in the taste and texture of Champagne. Australia, New Zealand, USA, Spain, Italy and other regions of France all make admirable sparkling wines, some of which don’t burn a hole in the pocket but they all appear to have a degree of “greenness” to them. Champagne possesses a creamy quality not generally found in other sparkling wines. This creamy mouth-feel called the “mousse”, partly achieved by the secondary fermen- tation inside the bottle is one of the much coveted quality outcomes of all Champagne Houses. The complicated way in which the elegance, finesse and moussing is achieved we shall leave for another day. Until then we can say ‘it just is…’

The Italians perhaps produce the most versatile range of sparkling wines most of which are grown in the northern regions. Franciacorta (fran-chee-a-cor-ta) sparkling wine from Lombardy is made in the ‘Champagne’ style and is considered to be the star of Italian sparkling wine. Prosecco from the region of Veneto is made traditionally to be off-dry but these days we are seeing more dry versions of this frivolous fizz. Prosecco is probably the most consumed Italian sparkling partly thanks to the famous Bellini cocktail with white peach juice invented at Harry’s Bar, Venice. Moscato D’Asti is another light, refreshing drink from Piedmont. It’s alcohol content sits at around 5% and the sugar/acid balance makes it ideal with fresh fruit and pastries on a Sunday morning.

“In victory, you deserve Champagne, in defeat, you need it.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte

December Best Buys
Champagne & sparkling

• Delamotte Brut NV, Champagne

Biscuity, bready and reasonably weighty. Lovely balance and elegant acidity. Can handle robust dishes.
1690 baht Italasia 086 431 7297

• Mont Clair Sparkling Brut, South Africa

Quite a well made fizz for the price. Elegant sherbet and green apple flavours keep you coming back for more.
365 baht Horeca Supply 081 472 6773

• Prosecco Cascine, Italy

Medium dry, light with typical green fruit characters. Great with olives, ciabata and dip.
850 baht Italasia 086 431 7297

• Moscato D’Asti, Batasiolo

No problems finishing a bottle here with just 5% alcohol. Semi dry and fragrant pear and almond. Breakfast fruits or brunch.
850 baht Italasia 086 431 7297

Note: All prices are correct at the time of publication. Citylife is not responsible for any price variations set by wine industry promotional activity.
January issue: CityWine – the new wine initiative.