Add some sparkle: how to suggest and sell Champagne and sparkling wine.
The good news is that there is a whole world of other stylish sparklers produced elsewhere, in many cases by less time-consuming methods. In fact, you'll find the same diversity in this category as exists among wines without effervescence.
The first point to understand is that quality and character in any sparkler reflect both the underlying grapes and how the wine is made. So a pinot noir or muscat-based bubbly will have shared taste similarities to still wines made from these varieties. There are many sub-categories and sparkling wine alternatives, but here we'll focus on the more popular sparklers.
The two main alternative ways to introduce carbon dioxide (CO2) are fermenting in the bottle (as with Champagne), which imparts a bread dough-like yeastiness, or fermenting in a tank, which enhances fresh, fruity grape flavors. One isn't necessarily better, but each suits a different mood.
Of the "traditional method" sparklers that are fermented in the bottle, Champagne, which must be from the Champagne region, generally has a minerally, chalky dryness and a lingering delicate aftertaste. Cava, from Spain, is made with all white grapes and is less tart than Champagne and less yeasty. Cremant is from France--generally either Burgundy, Alsace or the Loire--and it very understated and elegant, like Champagne, but without the length and complexity. California or other "New World" sparkling wines are designated as "fermented in this bottle" and are usually a bit more fruit-forward and stronger in flavor than Champagne.
The most popular tank-fermented bubblies today are from Northern Italy. Prosecco is available in a dry or slightly sweet style, crisply apple-like and refreshing. Moscato is sweet and florally scented, more moderate in alcohol and carbonation, with delicate peach and melon-like fruit flavors.
If you're serving one or more sparklers by the glass, you need the right equipment to keep the wines in pristine condition. Stock enough pressurized stoppers for the bottles and use them right after pouring a glass. If you do this and then immediately refrigerate, the wine should remain in fine condition, with all its frothy CO2 intact, for at least two to three days.
Remember that few people think of ordering sparklers without a recommendation, so connect with the guest, pick up cues and make the suggestion at the first sign of celebration.
For example, "You two look like you're celebrating tonight; can I interest you in a glass, or half bottle, of the Cremant de Bourgogne? It's a bone-dry French sparkling wine, beautifully balanced in the Champagne style, and it's delicious with a platter of freshly shucked oysters."
Make sure you compare and contrast the main differences between the sparklers: "If you're interested in some bubbly tonight, we have a fresh, fruity Prosecco that is very light and just off dry, or an amazing Champagne that's been aged on the yeast for three years, lots of finesse and elegance, and bone dry. If you're interested in some oysters or a shrimp cocktail to start, the Champagne would be ideal."
Another direction is to suggest a Champagne cocktail. These classic concoctions are generally a combination of a dry, tart-flavored sparkler, a sweet ingredient and some bitters for balance. Serving one of these has the same impact as a glass of the sparkling wine itself: it attracts attention and puts everyone nearby in a celebratory mood.
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Few guests will order a glass of the bubbly without a suggestion. Here are a few tips for selling sparkling wine.
1. Keep alert for any signs of celebration among guests.
2. Know the different types of sparkling wine that you serve and the main differences among them.
3. Use bottle stoppers to keep the sparkling wine in great condition.
4. Compare and contrast the different sparklers and make recommendations with dishes on your menu.
By Sandy Block MW
Sandy Block is a Master of Wine of the vice president of beverage at the Boston-based Legal Sea Foods.