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The millennium was celebrated, by champagne manufacturers trying to off-load expensive sparkling wines. The promotion was successful, albeit a year too early but what marketers failed to realize is that if people celebrated, even erroneously, the millennium 1999 turning into 2000, the following New Year’s Eve could only precipitate a regular champagne demand! They were hoping to two huge year-end rushes!

Now there is a huge inventory that must be sold. Piper Heidsieck came up with an idea selling quarter bottles in fours to a package. They recommend the 6 oz bottles to be consumed by means of a straw! Imagine enjoying sparkling wine with a straw!

The sales seem to be encouraging but well below expectations, particularly when Moet et Chandon started marketing a similar product called POP. Both have been popular with the fashion industry – no-spilling (a flute-shaped, fragile glass filled with wine and younger people enjoy a sip while gyrating to deafening music in smoke-filled halls).

Wine drinkers on the other hand want to smell the wine, examine the size and frequency of bubbles and enjoy the hues of colour! Needless to say, the POP fizzled.

But that should not mean that sparkling wine in general and Champagne in particular have fallen off the popularity charts with the consuming public. On the contrary, many sparkling wines made successful appearances on our shores and should be explored. Summers are always good for experimenting and sparkling wines present an excellent opportunity!

Ever since the first champagne marketers set off around the world in the late 1700’s, their sampling coffers were bulging with bottles of this wondrous bubbly wine. They promoted Champagne as a celebration wine. They followed Napoleon’s armies in the early 1800’s and sold champagne to celebrate their success, also to the vanquished in need of solace. They have never discriminated!

During the American Civil War in the 1860’s, Krug, a reputable champagne producer, tried to boost sales with a special label depicting the head of George Washington and the American bald eagle.

In 1903, George Kessler, Moet et Chandon’s US representative was able to persuade German Kaiser’s yacht launch organizers to use a bottle of White Star Extra dry champagne by Moet et Chandon instead of a bottle of German sekt, as the King wanted. When the Kaiser sued, the publicity proved to be invaluable. As an astute marketer he also sent a train car load of Moet et Chandon to the survivors of the San Francisco earth quake. To this day Moet et Chandon’s White Star Dry Champagne enjoys considerable popularity with the American public, as does Mumm’s Cordon Rouge and Cordon Vert simply because both names are short enough for consumers to remember and pronounce.

Now many other excellent sparkling wines have started to compete successfully with champagnes.

Australians introduced a sparkling fruity and slightly sweet Shiraz, at a low cost. North Americans consume millions of bottles every year.

Sparkling rose wines have been around for centuries and enjoyed.

In France Groslot, Cot and Cabernet Franc are employed to produce sparkling rose wines, but in Champagne winemakers use Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Both are finer in texture and more acid rendering wines more lively.

When it comes to sparkling white wines, the competition becomes very serious.

Germans have their sekt, the Italian their spumante and prosecco, the Spaniards their CAVA, Australians fine blends, Americans a number of fine sparkling wines and Canadians proudly market a few methode-champenoise sparkling wines.

There are several techniques to put the bubbles into the wine; they are (from the most elaborate to least)

Methode champenoise a.k.a classic: the second fermentation occurs in the bottle producing a fine mousse (foam).

Charmat method a.k.a Cuve close: the second fermentation occurs in a huge glass lined tank and the wine is bottled under carbon dioxide pressure.

Carbonation: A still wine is impregnated with carbon dioxide and kept in the tank for at least three months.

Simple carbonation: A still wine is impregnated and bottled under pressure immediately.

You can literally look at a glass of sparkling wine and determine the method of production – when the bubbles are tiny and the millions, the technique of production was champagne, the bigger and fewer the bubbles, the less is the quality.

Of course you must use an appropriate tulip shaped sparkling wine glass to enjoy the bubbles as they are intended to.

Australian sparkling Chardonnays represent very good value and as do German Rieslings.
Ontario’s Hillebrand, Colio and Chateau des Charms produce fine methode champenoise sparkling wines,

But the most unique Ontario sparkling wines is sparkling icewine first produced by Magnotta, the fourth largest winery in the country. To this day only two wineries in Canada produce sparkling icewine- Magnotta and Inniskillin.

When it comes to sweet sparkling wines Italian manufacturers wine. There are many, and they market fragrant, fruity sweet wines like Asti Spumante with a distinct Muscat aroma. But one must not forget Prosecco a dry light mono-varietal Italian sparkling wine from Veneto.

When Ontario strawberries are in season get the freshest and sweetest to make a strawberry bowl:

• One bottle of Riesling
• 2 tbsp granulated sugar
• 1 pint of strawberries, washed, hulled, halved or quartered
• one bottle of sekt
• one ounce of Grand Marnier or Cointreau or Triple Sec

In a large glass bowl dissolve the sugar in Riesling.  Add strawberries and Grand Marnier. Cover. Refrigerate for 3 – 4 hours. Just before service pour sparkling wine and serve.

Strawberries can be substituted with blueberries, raspberries or pineapple chunks.

You will be amazed how quickly this bowl will disappear and how refreshing it is.

In the 1850’s only the British had developed a taste for dry champagnes and many manufacturers used to add sugar dissolved in brandy to their wines. The amount of sugar depended on the market. The Imperial Russian court liked sweet Champagne, and L. Roederer was favoured by Tsar Alexander II, who used to send his sommelier to L Roederer every year to select the best for the Tsar. To appropriately impress the Tsar Roederer bottled his best in a crystal bottle. It became the standard Champagne of the Russian aristocracy up to 1917.

Even today the Cuvee de Prestige Roederer Crtystal is favoured by champagne cognoscenti and expensive, exclusive, and frivolous night clubs frequented by well-heeled and deep-pocketed clients Roederer Crystal ( a half and half blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay ) is one of the best known brands along with Dom perignon, Dom Ruinart, Salon de Mesnil and Krug Reserve Privee all of which market their prestige products only in vintage years.

In Champagne vintage is declared only in good years. Otherwise champagne is blended.

Here are some fine champagnes and sparkling wines

Roederer Crystal
Dom Perignon
Krug Cuvee Prive
Asti Spumante, Martini e Rossi
Cabernet Franc Sparkling Icewine ( Magnotta stores only )
Banrock Station Sparkling Chardonnay
Charles de Fere Brut Rose
Frexenet Cordon Negro
Henkell Trocken 

Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu

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