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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkEntertainment | Restaurants & Dining | November 2009 

Become A Champagne Connoisseur
email this pageprint this pageemail usGregory Cartier -
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November 27, 2009

From bachelor parties to new year's eve blowouts, many of you distinguished lads must overcome a major challenge and choose the right bubbly to bring to the party. And if you were thinking of showing up with beer, think again; special occasions call for bubbly, and that's the end of the discussion.

To add to this painful decision factor, deciphering the words on the bottles' labels is a daunting task in itself. With this thought in mind, AM offers you a quick guide to champagne. Bottoms up.

Before you pop open the bottle, remember that if you plan to show off, make sure the bubbly is actually from the Champagne region of France, otherwise, it's actually "sparkling wine." Funny, considering that the country sparked a revolution in the 18th century to put an end to a segmented society, the French sure are divisive these days with their "you call that champagne?" rhetoric. But when everything is said and done, they are correct.

Champagnes and sparkling wines

To set the record straight, the Italians call their versions of champagne spumante or prosecco, while Spaniards refer to the heavenly syrup as cava (which, as you can infer means "cellar" in the northwest Catalan region, where the bulk of it is produced).

Understanding the label

The labels on bottles of bubbly explain the following attributes of whatever's inside:

the sweetness of the wine
the age of the wine
the grapes used to make the wine

As with anything else, the lingo really counts here. So here are some buzzwords that you should be on top of. Let's start with the words that describe the sweetness of the champagne.


In this context, "brut" is not what your lovely woman calls you after you fail to clean up after your friends on New Year's Day. The more "brut" a wine, the drier it is. If you are asking yourself how much of a brut you are, think of what kind of white wine you prefer: crisp and dry to go with fish, or a fruity and sweet one to have as a predrink or along with dessert. If you care to try a good example of brut champagne, get your hands on a Medot Champagne Brut from France.


Demi-sec does not mean "half-dry" as the name implies. Rather it means that the wine is actually sweet. Logical, no? So if someone asks you to bring something to drink along with dessert, bring a demi-sec. Try a Laurent Perrier Demi-Sec.


Trivia for the insane: sparkling wine grapes are harvested at lower sugar levels than their still wine counterparts. Following the first fermentation round, the grapes are converted into wine. In turn, a combination of wine, yeast and sugar (hence the term "dosage") is added to provoke a secondary fermentation. It is this second coming that leads to the bubbles forming in the wine.


Doux means soft. So if demi-sec means sweet, you can imagine that doux refers to "slap you across the face and melt your heart" sweet molasses, containing more than 5% sugar.

Extra dry

OK, this part's confusing. Why? Because "extra dry" bubbly is actually sweeter than brut. Go figure.

Know your champagne grapes


Consider the cuve the base of still wine that serves as the foundation of a bubbly.

Blanc de Blancs

Translated literally, this means "white of whites." Figuratively, it means white wine from white grapes. Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine refers to wine made from Chardonnay grapes. A fine example of this is A.R. Lenoble Blanc de Blancs from Grand Cru, Champagne.

Blanc de Noirs

Translated literally, this means "white of blacks." Translated figuratively, this is white wine from red grapes.Yes, it's possible. Just don't ask us how.

Non-vintage and vintage

Bubbly, especially from the Champagne region, does not carry a "vintage" sign on the label, hence the label "non-vintage." A good example of a non-vintage is Michel Dervin Champagne Brut. The reason is that the cuve, or base, is an amalgamation of different vintages. On the vintage front, many consider the Dom Perignon from 1998 to be a classic year.


When a winemaker leaves the skins of the grapes to make brief contact with the newly pressed juice during the first fermentation, you get ros. (For you trivia buffs and connoisseurs alike, it is important to note that what gives red wine its color is not the actual grape, but rather its contact with the red skin of the grape.) A favorite ros of ours is Champagne Brugnon's Brut Rose.

Become a connoisseur

The first set of words are important because serving a dry bubbly with dessert may make it lose its appeal. Nonetheless, no one expects anyone to remember any of this once the bubbly is flowing and the party is in full swing. The only thing that you will be penalized for is if you hop behind a steering wheel when the festivities are over and done with.

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