Toasting the New Year traditionally begins with sparkling wine; universally referred to as champagne.
“Everyone calls it champagne but out of respect to the French, we don’t call our sparkling wine champagne,” said Chuck Dressel, owner and president of Mount Pleasant Wineries in Augusta. He noted that those cellars that use the term American champagne do so only because they fall under a grandfather clause; having done so for decades.
Mount Pleasant has a rich tradition of wine making dates to 1859 and has been a leader in Missouri wine production since its reopening after it closed as a result of prohibition in 1967. Sparkling wines have since been listed among the winery’s award-winning inventory, which boasts several different varieties of bubbly including its Brut Imperial that was used in the locker room to celebrate the Cardinals World Series victory.
“Brut Imperial is a fruit forward, drier style of sparkling wine that pairs well with smoked fish, berries and some Asian cuisines,” said Dressel, who unlike some sparkling wine producers, chooses not to use the méthode champenoise in making Mount Pleasant’s Brut Imperial. “Méthode champenoise produces a yeasty or what some call a toasty flavor.”
For those who like a sweeter taste in sparkling wines, consider a spumanté style. Dressel recommended his Ten Bucks, a easliy spotted label that features 10 dancing deer. “It’s a fun, sparkling wine with a sweet taste, and it's one of the first American wines that featured an animal on its label,” Dressel said. “Try it with fruit and cheeses.”
The first thing Dressel tells anyone wanting to serve any kind of sparkling wine is to make sure it is cold. So now's the time to use that wine bucket. Just fill it with crushed ice and center your sparkling wine in it.
“Sparkling wine is not a sipping wine. It’s carbonated. It’s made to be gulped by the mouthful,” said Dressel, expressing there’s a difference between a gulp and chugging. “That's what makes it perfect for toasting," he said. "When you toast with sparking wine, make it short. You don’t want it to go warm or get flat.”
When serving a sparkling wine or champange, plan on about six servings per regular 750 ml bottle, or 1/3 of a bottle per person for an evening or event. If you plan to take advantage of New Year wine sales, store sparkling wine on its side. This will keep the cork moist. Just remember that most sparkling wines should be opened and enjoyed within three years.
When serving, remove the foil and wire cage that surrounds the cork. Do not use a corkscrew. Then, tilt the bottle away from yourself at a 45-degree angle, holding the top of the cork and ease the cork out by twisting the bottle gently until the cork is released.
Finally, if you plan to mix a sparkling wine into a punch or a mixer, such as orange juice or liqueurs, select a nice champagne, not an exquisite one. According to Dressel when selecting any sparkling wine, domestic or international, it’s probably worth spending a few extra bucks per bottle.
“Find a brand you like,” Dressel said. “Life is too short to drink less than average wine.”