Mid-17th century, Champagne, France: The growing seasons are painfully short and the winters are cold and far too long. Winemakers struggle to get their thin, tart Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to ferment fully following harvest, but the bitterly cold temperatures slow the yeasts’ work down to a crawl. Eventually the yeast is forced into dormancy and the wine slips into a halfhearted finish. The wine is never great, but can pass for acceptable bistro fare, or plonk for the lower classes.
The wine is put into corked bottles or sealed up into wooden casks to be shipped to Paris and London the following year. Spring temperatures rise, the yeast wakes up and the fermentation process spontaneously starts again… and suddenly, bottles explode and bungs of casks shoot off dangerously without notice. What is now the most important production step for sparkling wines, first started off as a serious danger in the cellar.
At this point in history, having any amount of carbonation in wine was a major flaw—and not at all in vogue. But Champagne hadn’t yet reached its full potential. Too little was known about the role of yeast in winemaking, and technology wasn’t quite up to speed to handle purposely carbonated wines. But by the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Champagne was about to show the world—and all of history—its true glory.
Who knows how fashions change? Who decides what’s “in” and what’s “out”? All it took for fizzy wine from Champagne to come into the limelight was to have a group of English courtesans fall in love with it. This frothy, lively drink was something new: they’d never tasted anything like it before. And being from a non-winemaking country, they probably didn’t know the difference between a “faulty” wine and a sound one—they just knew what they liked to drink! Once they tasted this curious but sensational libation, they were hooked.
As the 18th century progressed, it became clear that there was no stopping this bubbly runaway train. The Bourgeoisie in Paris, Versailles, London, and eventually the newly founded United States demanded absurd amounts of Champagne, and therefore cemented the region’s “sparkling revolution” firmly in the history books.
Today, we have a plethora of different methods to put bubbles into wine—some are cheap and mechanized, some require tedious manual labor and are accordingly expensive. But however it’s made, it signifies joy, celebration, and vitality—because really, how can you be sad when you’re drinking bubbles?
While we drink sparkling wine all year round, it’s obviously more prevalent during the holiday season. Whether it’s for pairing with appetizers, mixing in a punch, making a toast, or for thoughtful, contemplative sipping, bubbles are a staple for every holiday gathering—large or small, casual or glamorous. What follows is a small collection of our all-time favorites, chosen for their versatility, value, uniqueness, or exquisitely high quality.
The Perfect Foundation: Fleuraison Blanc de Blancs
This cheery yellow label is what we’ve all been searching for when it comes to a delicious, straightforward base for making bubbly cocktails and punches. It’s a collaboration of sorts between Spain and France—90% of it is Airen, the most planted grape in Spain. The base wine is shipped across the border to the Languedoc, where they add a splash of Chardonnay and put it through secondary fermentation to give it that lovely spritz.
The Appetizers’ Friend: Francois Montand Blanc de Blancs
The term blanc de blancs literally means “white of whites”—just like the Fleuraison, all white grapes are used in this sparkler from the Jura region, situated east of Burgundy. In this case, the grapes Ugni blanc, Colombard, and our trusty Chardonnay provide a fresh-fruited, slightly nutty wine with a beautiful wisp of creaminess on the finish. With sufficient weight and a broad palate, the Montand will highlight any starter course, from savory to sweet.
The Belle of the Ball: Graham Beck Brut
Goeie dag from South Africa! Made using Methode Cap Classique (or, methode traditionelle in Champagne), this stunning sparkler gets its creamy custard and nougat notes from the Chardonnay. Pinot noir, fermented separately, is added to give fresh peach and pear notes and a gorgeously soft, barely-there pink hue. Perfect for toasting or alongside any dish, this pretty lady needs a place on your table. Gesondheid!
That Cheeky English Chap: Hush Heath Balfour 1503
These are historic times to be a bubbly lover—we’re proud to carry one of the first English sparkling wines available in Minnesota! Not until recently has England’s climate become temperate enough to accommodate high quality grapevines. Hush Heath is located in Kent, and although the estate has been around since 1503 (hence the name), it was only in the early 2000s that the estate started experimenting with producing sparkling wines. This time Pinot Noir plays the star, with Chardonnay in a supporting role. Lemony-crisp acidity followed by crunchy apple notes makes this a unique, deliciously fresh bubbly to sip while prepping for the holiday feast, or between rounds of opening presents.
The Reason for Greatness: Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs
This is Chardonnay in all her glory. If you happened to join in on Deconstructing Chardonnay not long ago, you’ll remember how regal, luxurious and decadent this versatile grape can be. Billecart-Salmon, one of the oldest family-owned estates in Champagne, does Chardonnay full justice in their Blanc de Blancs. This, friends, is the reason Champagne is held in such high esteem worldwide, and why great Champagne is so fervently sought after. Truly worth every penny, this bottle will make any bubbly lover sigh with pleasure. Get one for that special someone on your list, but make sure you get one for yourself, too.
Madame Bollinger once said, “I only drink Champagne when I’m happy, and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty.” May you find your bubbly for each occasion, each emotion, and each stage of life. Cheers, and Happy Holidays!