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by Jerry D. Mead

    It's hard to believe, but there are folks who actually think the bubbles in champagne and sparkling wines get there the same way they get in a bottle of club soda, by pumping in CO2 gas. It simply isn't so.

Sparkling wines all get their effervescence via the same process of secondary fermentation, the only difference is the size of the container in which it takes place.

The best stuff from Champagne, California and the rest of the world, see the process take place in the very bottle from which you drink it.

The $4 special at your local supermarket underwent the same process, but in a giant sealed tank.

All wine is a result of fermentation, you see, and one of the byproducts of fermentation is carbon dioxide gas. When still (uncarbonated) wines are made, that gas is allowed to escape into the air.

To make wine sparkle, one takes already fermented wine, places it in a closed container (individual bottle or tank), adds a bit of sugar and a little more yeast (the fuel for fermentation) and during the resulting secondary fermentation the carbon dioxide gas has nowhere to go. The end result is the gas marries to the liquid in the form of those tiny little bubbles that come up your nose.

There is more to the process, like removing the dead yeast cells and adjusting the sweetness level, but you've got the basics.

The process was discovered by accident, but it's unclear just where or when. The most popular story has it being discovered by the blind monk Dom Perignon, but the Brits, the Italians and the Spaniards all have historical arguments claiming to be first. Whatever. Whichever. The French definitely had the better p.r. in this case.


It's beginning to look like one of my predictions was wrong. I had said a year ago that while there would be no shortage of wines containing bubbles that the most expensive prestige cuvees like Dom Perignon would be tightly allocated and inflated in price.

While it might be so for some brands, there sure doesn't seem to be a shortage of DP. We're seeing it featured in newspaper ads only days before the millennium at prices ranging from its list of about $150 down to about $120.

By the way, if you want to impress someone by buying the famous DP, fine. But there are dozens of sparklers at half the price or less that will be equally pleasing to most.


According to California Wine Winners 2000, the annual book that is a compilation of results from the nation's top wine competitions, the single winningest sparkling wine of the year sells for $6...and this is not the first year it has been number one.

Ballatore Spumante, while not a traditional champagne taste, is one delicious, relatively sweet, super-fruited sparkling wine. It's very much in the style of Asti Spumantes from Italy. The Muscat grape is its secret to all those melon, apricot and peach flavors. An especially good choice for folks who profess not to like champagne.

The producer that has to be considered the medal-winningest has to be Gloria Ferrer, which placed four separate wines in the top ten sparklings, and highest rated is the least expensive, non-vintage Brut ($17). The vintage Brut was next ($30) followed closely by non-vintage Blanc de Noirs ($17) and "Royal Cuvee 1991 Vintage Reserve" ($20). In other words, if the label says Gloria Ferrer, it's a winner.

Windsor Vineyards, the direct mail specialist, placed two wines in the top ten, 1996 Brut ($20) and 1996 Blanc De Noirs ($22).

Also checking in with two entries in the top ten was personal favorite, S. Anderson for 1994 Brut ($26) and 1994 Blanc de Noirs ($25). The Brut scored highest, but I personally prefer the richness of the Blanc De Noir.

Only one of the big name California brands with big production cracked the top ten, and that was Domaine Chandon for nv Blanc de Noirs ($15).

It should be noted that some of California's very best champagne producers don't enter competitions, which would account for their absence.

Should you have trouble finding any of the wines mentioned above, or the book California Wine Winners 2000 ($8.95), call my office at (800) 845-9463 and someone will help you track them down through winery, importer or local retailer.


Korbel nv Chardonnay Champagne (about $13) Arguably Korbel's best sparkler, widely available in virtually every state and "Best Buy" priced. More yeasty-toasty complexity than you might expect with lots of green apple-citrus aromas and flavors. Sweetness level at the high end of Brut, which is basically a dry perception for most folks without being austere or tart. Rating: 88/94


According to a story in The Cincinnati Enquirer, a Boone County, Kentucky, woman is taking on the state's biggest political forces and the wholesale liquor monopoly which helped push through a 1996 law making it felony to ship or receive a single bottle of wine via interstate shipment from another state.

Lauren Abel is in the public relations business, so she knows a thing or three about running a public awareness campaign and that's just what she's doing.

Abel is circulating a petition that will urge the legislature, convening in January, to repeal the law she finds so offensive. Abel also told this reporter that she is considering becoming a plaintiff in a lawsuit similar to the one that succeeded in throwing out an almost identical law in Indiana on Constitutional grounds.

Abel and her husband are avid wine collectors and buy everything that's available in the local market, but are angered that there is no legal way to acquire limited production and rare wines from other states.

Abel will e-mail a copy of her petition to any who ask at:

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