Italy Bubbles up

In this image taken on Monday, Oct. 15, 2018, wine grower Adelino Pizzobon spills a bottle of Prosecco during a wine tasting at the Case Paolin farm, in Volpago del Montello, Italy. Prosecco has become the best-selling sparkling wine in the world, and experts say it is eroding the more casual corner of champagne's market while aiming higher. Its production eclipsed champagne's five years ago and is now 75 percent higher at 544,000 bottles three-quarters of which for export. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Sparkling wine is so popular some version of it is made in almost every country that produces wine. Sadly, most of it is drunk only during holidays or special occasions. That certainly is understandable. Just as bubbles rise, sparkling wines seem by their very nature to elevate a wine and the wine- drinking experience.

My mission here is to convince you to drink them throughout the year. And what better time than summer? They are best chilled; are versatile with food; available as red, white or pink; and sport palate-cleansing bubbles. (Note: Wines in this column are nonvintage unless otherwise identified.)

While most everyone knows Champagne, there are good sparklers elsewhere in France. Labeled Crémant, these also are made using the “Champaign Method” or “Traditional Method” (meaning a second fermentation in the bottle creates the bubbles) and are affordable alternatives.

Alsace is better known for riesling and Gewurztraminer, but Crémant d’Alsace is mostly produced from classic Champagne varieties. The 100 percent pinot noir Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé ($23) offers crisp berry fruit with finesse and a creamy palate. I also enjoyed a Crémant de Loire in my tasting. The Gratien & Meyer Brut Rosé ($18) combines pinot noir and chardonnay with Loire grapes cabernet franc and chenin blanc to intense, deep fruited effect.

In northeastern Italy near Venice, prosecco has vaulted in popularity in recent years. Prosecco is made from the native glera grape using the Charmat Method (bubbles are produced by inducing second fermentation in pressurized stainless steel tanks). This results in fresh, fruity, delicate wine with lower alcohol than most bubbly. Two well-known brands did well in my tasting: the lively, delicate Mionetto Prestige Brut ($14) and the elegant, brisk Pasqua Romeo & Juliet Brut ($16).

Cava from Spain enjoys the distinction of having some of the world’s largest producers of Champagne Method wines. Made with the indigenous grapes macabeo, xarel-lo and parellada, this includes Freixenet’s delicate, fresh Cordon Negro Brut ($15) and berried, slightly sweet Brut Rosé ($15), and Codorníu’s refreshing Clasico Brut ($11). For extra complexity, the Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad ($30) delivers full, elegant character.

California also makes many truly fine sparkling wines. Gloria Ferrer, whose Blanc de Noirs ($22) offers vibrant fruit cola with a creamy palate, comes from the Ferrer family, owner of Spain’s Freixenet. Roederer Estate, whose Brut Anderson Valley ($24) is consistently excellent, was founded by the Champagne Louis Roederer family. From a promising newcomer, I enjoyed the brisk, dry 2018 Sosie Bare Necessity Rosé ($30).

After all this, though, Champagne still is the world’s most prestigious sparkling wine. Typically blends of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier, the best Champagnes expertly balance richness and delicacy.

A nonvintage brut like the Alfred Gratien Classic Brut ($50) represents the signature style of a Champagne house. Using wood barrels throughout the entire vinification process gives it a rich texture, with crisp, apple and citrus. A good nonvintage rosé like the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé ($90) also is special. This one offers crisp red fruits and fresh bread with a rich, slightly spicy palate. Finally, Vintage Champagne is the most special. The 2008 Laurent-Perrier Brut Millésimé ($80) is luxurious with enticing ripe fruit and toasty, creamy notes that drink firmly yet elegantly.

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