Let’s pop the cork and celebrate!
“Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.” Mark Twain
As midnight approaches on New Year’s Eve, more than one of us will be holding up a drink and toasting in the new year. (That is if you are awake!) And the number one type of glass that will be raised on that night are champagne flutes. We aren’t even going to pretend that there is any other serious competition in the drink division for toasting out the old year and celebrating.
Celebrating with champagne is an old tradition that dates back to the early 1700s. It is an example of a well thought out and executed marketing plan by those industrious French winemakers. By world war II, champagne had become such a part of world celebrations that Winston Churchill was quoted railing the troops with “”Remember, gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne!”
Champagne, which is a sparkling wine, comes from the Champagne region of France in the Northeastern area. They have so effectively cornered the market on sparkling wines that everyone refers to any sparkling wine as Champagne. The French have maintained their legal rights to call their wines Champagne for over a century. Now even though champagne is a very respectable bubbly there are many other worthy sparkling wines that should not be overlooked!
Prosecco is a lovely sparkling wine grown in Italy in the Vento region, near Venice. It has quite a cult following! The Italians make it from the prosecco grape, which is not used in Champagne wines. The resulting sparkler is drier and a less sweet than the traditional Champagne most people are used to. Now, it is important to note here that cheap Champagne is the stuff headaches are made of but a fine sparkling wine is a completely different experience. The prosecco devotees can get a very nice bottle for around $12. (Fat chance getting a good bottle of Champagne for that.)
Another contender in the sparkling wine world is the west coast of the good old US of A. California has some fantastic vintners that produce some very nice wines. Then there is Oregon and Washington, (surprise!) which have the cooler temperatures like the Champagne region, making this the perfect place to produce some wonderful bubbly. A wonderful local sparkling wine to try is Argyle Brut.
Now picking the right sparkling wine for your personal taste needs a little deciphering. There are 6 different “flavors” of sparkling wines depending on the dry to sweet ratio. A bit of sugar known as “dosage” is added to the bottle right before it’s corked. These following terms describe how much sugar is present in the wine; the driest bubbly is the “extra brut” which has less than .6% of sugar per liter. “Brut” has less than 1.5 %, “extra dry” less than 2%, “sec” less than 3.5 %, “demi sec” less than 5% and the sweetest “doux” which has greater than 5%.
Adding more sugar to the wine can help hide imperfections so consequently some of the sweeter bubblies are the cheaper ones, aka a headache in a bottle. (Not to say that there are not fine bubblies that are sweet, just a generalization) “Brut” is a good wine to select if you like them dry and “sec” if you like them sweet. Great Northern Garlic Company on Hwy 101 has many lovely sparklers that they can help you choose for the occasion. Make sure and chill your bubbly in the fridge for at least 3 hours before serving to bring out the flavor.
Sparkling wine has been taken on a new twist with the latest trend; sparkling cocktails. These little bubbly concoctions can be gentle, like the classic mimosa which is 50% orange juice and 50% bubbly. Or wicked like the French 75, which is a powerful brew with cognac and sparkling wine. Sparkling cocktails are a lovely addition to any celebratory party. This sparkler cocktail I share with you was inspired by Erich Miller. (Thank you Erich!) Happy New Year’s everyone! Hope your year is filled with comfort and joy.
Oregon Douglas Fir Sparkler
2-3 teaspoons of Douglas fir syrup
1 tablespoon of vodka
Brut sparkling wine
1 small sprig of Douglas fir (optional)
1 cube of crystalized ginger
Chill the vodka and the doug fir syrup in the fridge the night before. Add the first ingredients to the champagne flute then top off with sparkling wine. Drop a piece of crystalized ginger in the glass then serve with a tiny sprig of fir. (Looks pretty but can be kinda pokey when you drink it.)
Doug fir syrup.
Use needles that have been stripped from a fresh, washed bough. (Make sure and use needles that are harvested from a tree that hasn’t been sprayed or near a busy street.) Wash the bough and let dry completely before making the syrup. If you really want to get fancy poke a couple of clean fir springs in the vodka a week or more ahead of time. Spruce or rosemary are good in this recipe too.
1 cup of doug fir needles
2 cups of water
1 cup of sugar
Add water and sugar to a saucepan and bring to a boil while stirring over med-high heat. When all the sugar has dissolved add the fir needles and simmer, stirring often for 10 minutes or so. Remove it from the heat and let it cool. Strain out the needles with a sieve and use in anything you want. Try it on ice cream. This is very good is gin drinks as well. Store it in the fridge for up to two weeks. Makes about 2 cups.