Now there is a matter of some confusion that requires a mini dissertation; the words “champagne” and “sparkling wine.” One must understand, dear reader, that all that sparkles is not Champagne. Just as all tissue is not Kleenex, all “champagne” is not Champagne. Some might think this a distinction without a difference, but legally, and perhaps morally, only sparkling wines from the Champagne region of France can be called Champagne.* But “champagne” has become a generic word in the popular mind like xerox or coke, or kleenex. One should properly call Spain’s sparklers “cava,” Austria and Germany’s “sekt,” Italy’s “spumante,” and France’s (outside Champagne) “cremant.” Of course, there is also the wildly popular Italian Prosecco, which is both a wine and a grape. The word has geographical significance (Champagne is a place, after all), “denoting a specific mélange of environmental factors (soil, climate-even its air smells different!) that makes the wine it yields unique. Champagne or other sparkling wines are a festive way to open holiday ceremonies. Spirits brighten, tongues loosen, stomachs start to growl. Champagne can be visually intoxicating…The bead rises in a swirling, swaying, sensually elegant ballet.” –importer Kermit Lynch, Inspiring Thirst

Dibon Cava Brut Reserve NV Cava – $11.99
Cava, Spanish sparkling wine, is one of the great wonders of the world. How can they offer a sparkling wine that is fermented in the bottle, like Champagne, for $12? Crafted from the traditional Penedes blend of Xarel-lo, Parellada and Macabeo, the Dibon cava has aromas of brioche and marzipan, with a palate full of baked apples and pears. It’s not just a solid bubbly from start to finish, it’s also an affordable modern miracle.

Chateau Gaillard, “Clemence Guery” Crémant de Loire Brut NV – $18.99, On Sale for $12.96
This wine of the week hits all the buttons for us: estate-grown and produced; biodynamic – one of the rare sparkling wines made this way (Raventos I Blanc, Rolet), bubbly (we love bubbles here), bang for the buck, and we love the importer/distributor (Roanoke Valley Wine Co). Cremant is sparkling wine made in the method of Champagne (Method Champenoise) but outside Champagne. We love this ones aromas of brioche and honey, with floral and citrus notes. All quite subtle though. Salut!

Gasparini, Prosecco Superiore Brut NV – $11.99
(100% Glera aka Prosecco; Veneto, Italy)
“Gentle Prosecco so suits the joyous nature of the hills of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene that it would seem to have flowed there forever.” So begins Burton Anderson’s description of Prosecco, Italy’s delightful sparkling wine. Prosecco is the grape. Valdobbiadene is the town in the Alpine foothills of northeastern Italy’s Veneto , which—together with its neighbor Conegliano—produces the finest Prosecco. Unlike the sweet Muscat-based Asti Spumante, Prosecco is dry, perhaps a bit off dry, and delicately subtle. Its graceful aromas include peach, honeysuckle, and fresh white flowers. Chin-Chin!

But, if you want Champagne…

Diligent, Champagne Brut NV – $36.99
(100% Pinot Noir; Champagne, France)
We’ve always loved Williams Corner’s base level Champagne. But this year’s blend is wonderful. Balanced, elegant and extremely pleasureable, it is a modern classic Champagne.

Voirin-Jumel, Champagne Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru NV – $44.99
(100% Chardonnay; Cramant, Champagne, France)
One of my favorite Champagnes. I think Blanc de Blancs Champagne is the best use for Chardonnay. Starting with Chardonnay grapes from the Cote des Blancs, Patrick Voiren and Valerie Jumel created a seamless palate of ripe orchard fruits enlivened with a light yeastiness and a slight minerality. Sheer bliss!

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