a bit of bubbly
Toast-worthy: Get the best bubbly for your buck with these suggestions from Triosommelier Mark Sayre
There’s something special about a Champagne toast at New Year’s. Whether it’s with a a traditional Champagne, a Spanish Cava or an Italian Prosecco — or any other sparkling wine you fancy — that celebratory clink of golden bubbles is the ideal way to welcome a new year of endless possibilities.
This week I sat down with Mark Sayre of Trio restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel Austin. Sayre not only runs the wine and beverage program at Trio, he is also a Master Sommelier candidate through the Court of Master Sommeliers. (To put the weight of the Master’s level of sommelier in perspective, there are less than 100 Master Sommeliers in the country and only six of them in the entire state of Texas.) To say the least, Sayre is a wealth of knowledge for the average vinophile, but even better, his exceptionally warm and laid back demeanor makes him the perfect person to approach about wine — novice or enthusiast alike.
He’s got a soft spot for sparkling wine, particularly “grower-producer” selections (more on that later), and when I spoke to him as the restaurant was finalizing plans for a maximum-capacity New Year’s Eve dinner, he was full of fantastic sparkling wine suggestions both for the budget conscious and the splurge spenders.
But before we divulge his top picks, it’s probably best to give a quick run down on a few things you may not know about this provocative party in a bottle:
The Sparkling World - The origin of Champagne has a rather humble beginning in that it was essentially an accident. The Champagne region of France is known for its chalky, mineral-rich soil as well as its very cool wine-producing climate. For centuries wines were made in the fall and left to settled over the winter. In the seventeenth century, during a rather cold winter, the temperatures halted fermentation of the wine before all of the grape sugar had been turned to alcohol. In the spring, as things began to warm up, the fermentation began again and produced a natural effervescence. Though this natural sparkling wine wasn’t well received at the beginning, many years of tweaking and finessing the “secondary fermentation” process has since deemed Champagne and the region from which it is made some of the most elegant wines in the world.
And though the Champagne region of France is the only place in the world allowed to label their sparkling wines as Champagne, there are a hundreds of sparkling wine producers around the world. In Champagne, the bubbly beverage is primarily made from three main grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meuniere (a red blending grape that gives the wine an added complexity and structure). But across the world, a number of different grapes are used to make sparkling wine. Prosecco is made from Glera or white “Prosecco” grapes in Italy. Spanish Cava is made from a blend of Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel-lo from the Penedès region as well as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Subirat.
The Great Food Wine - In Sayre’s opinion, the most important thing about sparkling wine that people don’t often realize is that it’s a perfect pairing for food.
“People are usually enjoying Champagne for a toast or at a celebratory event, which is great, but the acidity and minerality in sparkling wine make it a perfect fit for food,” says Sayre. “It’s great for passed appetizers and canapes, and it’s classically paired with oysters, but I think Champagne is perfect for fried food. Something about the bubbles in the wine and light feathery batter of some fried foods make the two a perfect match. Personally, I think French fries and sparkling wine are magical. If you’ve never tried them together, you’re missing out.”
A Quality Craft - As previously mentioned the traditional Champagne method of making sparkling wine involves two stages of fermentation. Large production Champagne houses like Veuve Clicquot and Dom Perignon have mastered the art of producing Champagne in large quantities. But to provide the grapes for this type of production, these producers have to rely on leases and contracted grapes from hundreds of growers throughout their region.
Sayre likes to champion the “grower-producer” wines from houses that not only make their own wines, but grow the very grapes they use to make them.
“It’s the farm-to-table version of sparkling wine production,” says Sayre. “These are the people who have made a craft out of this very special type of wine. They’re growing their own grapes on their own land and they’re meticulously producing their wines from start to finish. What you get is a very special bottle of wine from people who take a lot of pride in what they’re making.”
You have a lot of options to choose from when selecting a bottle of sparkling wine. And while you can often count on the big names, Sayre’s challenge to wine consumers is to ask for a bottle or two from “grower-producers” and see if you don’t enjoy them just as much, if not even more so knowing the great dedication it took to make them.
Forget the Flute - The classic Champagne flute is an elegant piece of stemware. But in reality, it’s not exactly the best way to really experience the most flavor from sparkling wine. According to Sayre, letting the wine sit in a glass with a wider bowl allows more of the fruit and floral notes to come out. You don’t have to go out and buy anything special, a set of regular white wine glasses will do. Simply pour a few ounces, swirl and enjoy what the wine has to reveal.
The Ideal Ice - Many people will tell you that Champagne should be served ice cold. This is probably true if you’re consuming the cheaper varieties — you know, the kind that has your head spinning for much of the following day. Good sparkling wine shouldn’t be so cold that you can’t distinguish certain notes from the nose and the acidity on the palate. Sayre suggests serving sparkling wines at a temperature in the mid-40s. As you savor it, the flavors will continue to evolve.
Sayre’s Selections - If you’re stuck with the task of serving for your own New Year’s Soiree or you simply don’t want to join a party empty handed, Sayre has given a few suggestions of sure-to-please bottles of bubbles that can be found at many of Austin’s wine retailers. (Try Spec’s,Twin Liquors, Whole Foods Market and Austin Wine Merchant for these selections, or for ones very similar.)
Excellent and Economical - $20-$40
- Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley - ~ $20
- Taittinger Brut La Francaise - ~$35
Raising the Bar - $45-$60
- Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV - ~ $50
- Gimonnet Cuvee Gastronome NV - ~ $60
- Pierre Peters Cuvee Reserve Brut NV - ~ $60
- Gaston Chiquet Brut Tradition NV - ~ $50
- Henriot Blanc de Soverain NV- ~ $45 (Served by the glass at Trio)
Greeting the New Year with a Bang! - $150+
- Henriot Cuvee des Enchanteleurs - $120-$200
- Philopponnat Champagne Brut Clos Des Goisses - $150-$200
- Dom Perignon - As the Icon of all sparkling wine, you can’t go wrong with any bottle of Dom regardless of vintage or varietal. Just be ready to drop anywhere from $150-$300.
- Krug - As with Dom Perignon, the Krug name reigns supreme. You’re also looking at $150-$300 depending on vintage and varietal.