Flying Corks and Shattered Glass

- Sabreing wine at North of 9. July 10th 2011.  

Last year at this time we spent the afternoon sabreing Champagne on the patio at Bistro Seven Seven in Alliston.  This month, we return to explore the vast range of sparkling wines available outside of the coveted French AOC.  Like the previous year, with sword in hand, we planned to sabre a few of the corks off the bottles… I’ll get to that in a moment. 

It is nearly impossible to discuss, let along taste the vast array of sparkling wines available in wine shops today.  In fact, the topic makes the isolated subject of Champagne seem rather basic by comparison. 

A common misconception is that sparkling wine is inferior to Champagne.  By Champagne, I am referring to bubbly from the French region of the same name.  Indeed, Champagne is steeped in tradition and history but many famous Champagne houses have now firmly established themselves as leaders in the new world by creating sparkling wine of equal quality while selling their product for a fraction of the price.  Today we explore Italy's Prosecco, Cava from Spain, sparkling rosé from California, and an example from our own backyard here on the Niagara peninsula.

Many sparkling wines are made using the Method Traditional or Method Classique, the very same winemaking technique used in Champagne.  Often these wines are a near flawless reproduction of that style, but regulations in other regions also allow contrasting methods and techniques which can cater to a significant difference. Is it inferior to the ’real thing’? Perhaps, but it may also be a question of personal taste: Good Champagne is rich in body and flavour; the use of oak while balanced is normally quite obvious and the bubbles should be always small and plentiful.  In the north of Italy, by regulation, Prosecco is often the product of the Charmat method which employs large vats for the secondary fermentation rather than individual bottles.  In contrast, this creates a crisper body and more fruit driven taste, but just as importantly, that is exactly what it's supposed to taste like.

Cava, on the other hand emulates the method classique and the Spanish do this rather well. Once called Spanish Champagne, the French authorities have banned the use of the term Champagne outside of their own region and as of 1970 the official term for these amazing Spanish wines is Cava.  Of note, Spanish sparkling wine not produced by the traditional method cannot be called Cava; these wine are referred to as vinos espumosos.

The list of high quality sparkling wine regions goes on, and with a little background knowledge, you can sample great bubbly from HungarySouth Africa, and Australia, to name just a few.

The wines sampled today were:

Santa Margherita, Valdobbiadene Prosecco – Italy
The Charmat method makes this light, crisp, and fairly acidic; seemingly more fizz than bubbles; the label says Brut but it’s too sweet for the style; a very commercial example.

2007 Sadeve, Dama De Naveran Cava - Spain
A vintage cava with aromas of tea biscut and grapefruit; initially smooth to taste followed quickly by a celebration of bubbles on the palate and a lovely dry finish.

2006 Jackson Triggs, Entourage – NiagaraCanada
Good, I thought, though the majority of the group disagreed. A vintage dated sparkler showing toasted notes on the nose and a mix of citrus, stoney minerals plus a hint of spice on the palate. 

Mumm, Napa Rosé - California
A great effervescence of fine bubbles bursting in the glass to release toasted aromas and hints of cranberry and strawberry. Nicely balanced on the palate with just the slightest sweetness and a lovely lingering dry finish.

·    The favourite of the day was by far the Mumm Napa Rosé followed by the ’07 Sedeve Cava.  Both wines are fine examples of the style and available for a very reasonable price.

Now, about the sabreing... today I was witness to something I have never seen before in all my time studying this subject.  I’m not sure whether it was the incredibly high level of humidity in the air or the rapidly changing atmospheric pressure due to the imminent rain in the forecast that caused all the commotion, but corks were flying through the air as though we had stepped back in time to when cellar workers under the direction of Dom Perignon called the exploding bottles in his cellar the 'Devil's Wine'.  Last year at the same event, our group sabred 14 bottles with not a hiccup.  I should pause to explain that sabreing Champagne and sparkling wine is both highly unpredictable and slightly dangerous in the wrong hands; you must exercise caution when attempting this at home.  I estimate that I have sabred close to 100 bottles in total without incident. Today though the story was quite different:  

To sabre Champagne or sparkling wine, you must loosen the cage to expose the lip of the bottle (for a clean strike).  Normally when unfastening the muselet (cage), one must maintain downward pressure on the stopper to prevent a ‘premature pop’.  When sabreing this is not possible for obvious reasons making the exercise a touch risky on the best of days.  As we loosened the cages on the bottles today, amazingly the corks ejected on their own, catching everyone off guard; one bottle even exploded in my hand as I touch it with the sabre.  At the end of the day, only one attempt at saberage was successful, and that was the Mumm Rosé; the bottle of French descent.   

In all, an very exciting day spent tasting fantastic wines paired with delicious appetizers.  To watch Tyler demonstrate how to sabre a bottle of bubbly Click here ~> Sabre Demo