OBSESSED with Champagne? I plead guilty. But you must understand, your Honor, it’s not just Champagne. I’m obsessed with almost all sparkling wines.
Yes, I know, that’s a big obsession. Sparkling wines are everywhere this time of the year, and they come from all over the wine-producing world, too. Just about every historic wine region has its own version.
But no country is so closely identified with sparkling wine as France is. Clearly, that’s because of the huge, foaming presence of Champagne at so many of life’s important events. The tradition of making fine sparkling wines goes beyond Champagne, however, reaching to all corners of the country and taking many different, sometimes surprising forms.
You want a delicate, slightly sweet, pinkish bubbly that can be absolutely delicious before or after a meal? Bugey Cerdon from eastern France is the one for you. Or a fragile, lightly sparkling white wine that is the ultimate in freshness? Maybe something perlant — just a whisper of bubbles — from Gaillac in the southwest. These are, perhaps, obscure examples, but many regions of France make more-conventional sparklers that resemble Champagne only in the sense that they can play similar roles.
Like Champagne, these sparklers are wonderfully versatile with food, yet may be delicious on their own. They are usually forcefully bubbly in the manner of Champagne, and therefore can gush forth on ceremonial and celebratory occasions. But in their aromas and flavors they are most definitely not Champagne. Instead, they offer distinctive personalities and characters.
Curious about the non-Champagne side of French sparkling wine, and true to its seasonal obligation, the wine panel recently tasted 20 bottles of Gallic bubbly. For the tasting Florence Fabricant and I were joined by Pascaline Lepeltier, wine director of Rouge Tomate restaurant in Midtown, and Victoria Levin, general manager of the Tangled Vine, a wine bar on the Upper West Side.