If your bubbles are not made in the Champagne region of France, you cannot call them Champagne. It’s a regulatory distinction, not a difference in grapes or the method used to produce the wine.
The method used in Champagne is called Methode Champenoise or Méthode Traditionnelle. We use the same method at Amista and that’s what makes sparkling wines extra special! Still wines go through fermentation only once and are then aged in tanks or barrels. Sparkling wines go through an extra fermentation - producing the delicate bubbles - and are aged in their own bottle.
Although we use the traditional method for crafting our Amista sparkling wines, winemaker Ashley Herzberg and I love to use non-traditional grapes. The classic grapes used in Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Since we specialize in red Rhône varieties, we make Rhône sparkling wines. Each one has turned out to be a pleasant and delicious surprise.
Note: Today is International Champagne Day so let’s raise a glass to friendship. You can read more about "The Difference Between Champagne and Sparkling Wines" in Food and Wine.
Since we first started visiting wine country, I have always loved harvest time. There’s a palpable energy in the air with tractors rolling down the roads pulling containers of grapes, empty harvest bins rumbling like thunder across the valley and the aromas of fermenting grapes wafting on the breeze. Add warm, sunny days with bright blue skies and crisp nights with a sky full of stars - what’s not to love?
We don’t like to talk about it because wine people are an optimistic bunch, but the last few years have been challenging in Sonoma wine country. In 2017 we had the Tubbs fire that destroyed hundreds of homes, filled the skies with smoke, and shut us down with power outages and evacuations. Over the next two years we had more fires and evacuations. In 2020 we had the dual impacts of COVID and wildfires in the hills just west of us that brought days of shutdowns, smoke, and evacuations.
This year we have been nervous, knowing we are still in a heavy drought with the danger of more wildfires. The silver lining – which we always seek – is that the challenges have made us more nimble, more creative, and more grateful. We take a deep breath each time we harvest the next block and put it safely to bed in barrel. And we give thanks.
One thing that endures is the excitement we feel with every harvest. There’s something deeply gratifying about partnering with, and sometimes overcoming, Mother Nature to bring in another crop. And we’re always doing something new that is invigorating. This year we foot treaded the grapes that go into our Sparkling Tres, a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. We also foot treaded Grenache for our Rosé of Grenache - in the vineyard! Everyone pitched in - our winemaker, Ashley Herzberg and her kids, our team and our club members! And most exciting of all, we are fermenting some of our estate Chardonnay in a brand-new concrete egg – an Oeuf de Beaune – to create a different style Chardonnay. We tasted a sample today and we can’t wait to release this wine! I will always love harvest.
I love the sound of a cork being popped. It's joyous! Champagne experts advise that the cork should sound like a sigh when it's removed properly. I say "no way". I like to hear the pop.
I love to see it being poured into a glass as the tiny bubbles bring the wine to life. I tilt the glass slightly to preserve the bubbles rather than have them dissipate into foam.
I love to see the bubbles rising from the bottom of a champagne flute. It's trendy these days to drink sparkling wine from a wider glass. I know it enhances the aromas, but it kills the bubbles and the flute just feels more elegant.
I love the sensation of the bubbles tickling my tongue like little stars exploding on the tastebuds. All the more reason to preserve those bubbles!
I love that sparkling wines go with such a wide array of foods. We often have a bottle of sparkling with dinner, especially with spicy foods that are hard to pair with other wines.
I already have my next five reasons. What are yours?
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