Mailbag Monday: Prosecco vs Champagne?

BW BubblesHi Alleigh—
Can you tell me where is prosecco made and how it differs from Champagne?

Hi…
As you clearly already know, while Champagne and Prosecco are both sparkling wines, that is where most of their similarities end.  They are made in different areas of Europe, using different grapes, and through different methods of fermentation.

Countries
Prosecco is made in the Veneto and Friuli–Venezia Giulia regions of Italy.  Champagne is made in the Champagne region of France.

Grapes
Prosecco is made from the Glera grape, which is an Italian white grape. Most Champagne, on the other hand, is blend of Chardonnay (a white grape), Pinot Noir (a red grape), and Pinot Meunier (a red grape) grapes, although there are a few other grapes varieties–like Petit Meslier, Arbanne, and Pinot Blanc–that are occasionally part of the blend.  The blends are usually 1/3 Chardonnay and 2/3 Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier.  Champagne that isn’t a blend is either 100% Chardonnay grapes and called Blanc de Blancs or 100% Pinot Noir grapes and called Blanc de Noirs.

Bubbly closeup Happy New YearMethods of Fermentation
Both Prosecco and Champagne go through a secondary fermentation process, however, the methods that are used are different.

The Charmat process is used in making Prosecco.  This means that after the wine goes through its primary fermentation, it is transferred to stainless steel tanks and covered with a porcelain enamel so that it can undergo a secondary fermentation.  It is during the secondary fermentation process that the bubbles form.  After the secondary fermentation process takes place, the sparkling wine is bottled under pressure to keep the bubbles in tact.  Wine that has undergone a full secondary fermentation before being bottled is considered full sparkling and is referred to as “spumante.”  Wine that has undergone a partial secondary fermentation is lightly sparkling and is referred to as “fizzante.”

Champagne, on the other hand, is made using Méthode Champenoise.  This means that after the primary fermentation, the wine is put in bottles, along with a mixture of sugar and yeast, and then capped.  The mixture starts the secondary fermentation, which takes place in the bottle itself.  Again, it’s during this secondary fermentation that the bubbles form.  This secondary fermentation and aging process takes place for minimum of 1 1/2 years before the wine undergoes riddling or remuage.  Riddling is an 8-10 week process of giving the bottle a slight shake and turn every two days until the bottle is straight down and the dead yeast (known as the lees) are settled in the neck.  Many Champagne houses still do manual riddling, although there is a machine called a gyropalette that can be used instead.  Once the riddling is complete, the lees are removed from the bottle using a process called disgorging, and then the liquid level is topped off with liqueur d’expedition (a mixture of the base wine, sugar, and a preservative) in a practice known as dosage, before a cork is inserted into the bottle and the wire cage is placed on top of the cork to secure it in place.


Ultimately, the different regions, grapes, and fermentation methods create very different tasting sparkling wines.  Using the steel tanks for secondary fermentation gives the Prosecco lighter, fruitier characteristics, while aging the Champagne in the bottle over less creates more subtle, biscuity characteristics.  That said, they both can be delicious, so don’t let the differences keep you from enjoying them both!

Happy New Year Toast

Question of the Day: Are you a sparkling wine drinker?  Do you prefer have a favorite type (Cava, Champagne, Prosecco, etc.)?

Thanks for emailing!  Cheers–
Alleigh

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Mailbag Monday: $40 White Wine Suggestions?

Hi Alleigh—
Do you have recommendations for white wine in the $40 range?

Hi—
And thanks for asking!  As I look back through my blog posts, there is definitely a lack of reviews for whites in the price range.  I think that’s because, honestly, there are fabulous white wine in the $30 range, and if I’m going to go up another $10, I rather spend that extra money on a red wine where the higher price is more likely to make a difference.

That said, let’s talk whites in the $30-$40 range.  You didn’t mention what type of white you were looking for or what food you were pairing it with, and those questions can definitely make a difference.  Therefore, here are a couple of all-around options that are both easy to drink and fairly food-friendly.

If you’re looking for a Chardonnay, you can’t go wrong with Cakebread Cellars.  Their Chardonnay is aged in French oak and has malolactic fermentation, so there is some butteriness and a slightly heavier mouth feel, but the wine isn’t the “oak monster” that you find in some California Chardonnays.  My experiences with Cakebread Chardonnay is that it’s reliably good, always a crowd-pleaser, and often a name that people recognize and gravitate towards.  The Cakebread Chardonnay will probably cost somewhere between $35-$42.

On the Sauvignon Blanc front, the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand is a good choice.  It’s one of the more expensive New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, but it also has more complexity than most of the others.  It’s a light, crisp wine with the green pepper notes that you would expect from a New Zealand SB, but it also has some lime zest and peach characteristics.  The Cloudy Bay will likely cost somewhere between $28-$32.

If you’re willing to buy a wine that isn’t Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, I would recommend going with the Laurenz V Charming, which is a Gruner Veltliner from Austria.  The wine has beautiful fruit characteristics, is very food friendly, with a nice amount of acid, which keeps it very fresh tasting and makes it very easy to drink.  It also offers something a little different, with a nice combination of fruit and spice charactieristics.  The website describes the wines as “the floral perfume of a German Riesling, the refreshing zip of a Loire Sauvignon Blanc, and the lusciousness of a Northern Italian Pinot Grigio,” and I think that’s the perfect description.  This Gruner should cost between $28-$34.

So, I know these whites don’t quite go into the $40+ price range, but I think that you’ll be very happy with them.

Question of the Day: Do you have a favorite special occasion white wine or a white in the $40+ range that you buy for the occasional splurge?

Cheers–
Alleigh

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Mailbag Monday: My “Go-To” Red and White Wine?

2011 Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling

2011 Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling

Hi Alleigh—
I’m sure you drink a lot of different wines, but do you have one white or one red wine in the house for when you don’t want to try something new?

Hi—
I don’t really keep a “house” because Hubby and I live in a small space, which means I have very little room to store extra wine.  I prefer to keep some of the slightly expensive wines that aren’t necessarily my house wines, but tend to be favorites (like Storybook Mountain or the Michel-Schlumberger wines).  That said, I do have a couple of “go-to” wines, though, for when I’m throwing a party that isn’t wine focused, but where there will be a decent amount of wine consumed.

Gnarly Head Pinot Grigio

Gnarly Head Pinot Grigio

When it comes to the whites, I will usually buy the Chateau Ste. Michelle Rielsing or the Gnarly Head Pinot Grigio.  Neither is sweet, yet both are refreshing and very drinkable, and the added benefit of the Chateau Ste. Michelle wines it that they are all sustainably grown.  I haven’t reviewed either one recently, which I should probably do because they are both solid wines that are affordable and dependable.  Plus, they’re always huge crowd pleasers!  It’s usually a toss-up as to which one I run out of first, but they are always the first two wines to go.

2009 Kunde Family Estate Red Dirt Red

2009 Kunde Family Estate Red Dirt Red

On the red wine side, I’ve started relying on Kunde Family wines.  Sadly, my favorite of their wines, the Red Dirt Red, is only available through the wine, so I need to plan ahead and order online if I want to serve that at a party.  However, their Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zinfandel are all delicious, affordable, and easy to find (at least in the DC Metro Area), so I know that I can always grab one when I want it.  Plus, Kunde Family Estate also uses sustainable winegrowing practices.

I know this didn’t quite answer your question, but hopefully it gives a little insight into some of my personal wine choices.

Question of the Day: Do you have a “house wine” in your wine rack?

Cheers–
Alleigh

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Kunde Family Estate cork

Mailbag Monday: Online Wine Courses?

Hi Alleigh,
I’ve been looking to get some advice on investing in a more formal wine education, and recently came across your blog. I love how easy it is to sort your posts – makes a great resource!

I’m an almost 27-year old Air Force wife and my husband and I have talked about investing in a wine education for me for some time now, but we haven’t been sure where to begin. I discovered my love of wine while living in New York City in my early 20’s. During the four years I lived there, I went to periodic tastings and frequently sought out restaurants with notable wine lists. Now that I’m no longer in the city, it’s much more difficult to continue growing my self-taught wine knowledge, and to find new wines that stand out. I’m thinking that a formal program could help fuel my wine curiosity wherever I happen to be, and might also be useful down the road.

We currently live in Pensacola, FL and will be moving every few years. Do you know if it’s possible to pursue a wine education with online courses? Are there any programs you know of that would be a good fit for someone in my situation?

Any other advice you have would be much appreciated!

Thanks!

Hi…and thanks for the compliment!  I’m glad that you’ve found A Glass After Work helpful!

Your question about online wine courses is a very good one.  Admittedly, I don’t have any personal experience with online wine classes, but I can share a little of what I have heard from others.

To start with, the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), which is based in London, does offer online courses directly.  I took the WSET Level 2 and Level 3 courses in person at the Washington Wine Academy in DC.  About half the people in my Level 2 class were wine enthusiasts looking to get a better understanding of wine, while the other half were professionals working in the wine industry.  I entered the class with no real wine knowledge except for knowing that I liked drinking it.  While I was taking my WSET Level 3, my instructor was actually in the process of doing his WSET Diploma online.  There were no WSET Diploma courses being offered in the area at the time, so this was essentially the only option for him.  Everything he said about it sounded like it worked out very well, and he passed earned his Diploma soon after we finished the course, so he was clearly successful.  Additionally, this past January, Hubby and I spent a week at Ti Kaye in St. Lucia, and, of course, I became friendly with Cleus, the Sommelier at the resort (they have an underground wine cellar with one of the largest wine collections in the Caribbean and were in the process of applying for Wine Spectator designation while we were there). At the time, Cleus had just passed his WSET Level 3, and he took the online course through WSET to prepare.  In fact, he’d also taken the WSET Level 2 online course, and he felt that the distance learning worked so well that he would begin the WSET Diploma Online sometime within the next year.

The only problem with going directly through WSET is that you have to go to London to sit for the certification exam.  There are places in the U.S. that offer WSET courses online, like the Napa Valley Wine Academy, the Vermont Wine School, or the Atlanta Wine School.  Unfortunately, though, they still require that you sit for the exam in person.

Since it doesn’t sound like you’re looking for courses to help with a career change, but rather are furthering your personal interest in wine, it may be worth seeing if one of the U.S. wine schools offering the WSET Level 2 online will let you take the course without taking the exam (unless, of course, you’re willing to make the trip to the take the exam).  I loved my WSET, and I think it would have been very valuable even without the exam as it really helped me understand wine, how to taste it, what I liked, and why I liked it.

Outside of the WSET courses, I’ve often looked at the Wine Spectator online courses, but I haven’t taken one.  The materials look like they are very detailed, even down to how to go into the wine store and buy the wines necessary to do the tasting portion of the course.  Obviously, as is the case with any online course, you’ll only get out of it as much as you put into it, but it’s at least worth looking into, particularly since you don’t have to travel anywhere for the final exam.

Unfortunately, as it doesn’t look like there are too many options on LocalWineEvents.com for Pensacola, those are the only two options that I really know of.  That isn’t to say there aren’t others out there, but online wine education is still fairly limited.

I hope this was at least a little helpful.  Good luck!

Question of the Day: Have you taken or do you have any recommendations for an online wine class?  I’d love to hear your feedback and experiences!

Cheers–
Alleigh

Do you have a question?  Don’t be shy!
Send me an email, leave your question as a blog comment,
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Mailbag Monday: Identifying A Dry Rosé?

Hi Alleigh:Glass of Rose in the sunroomI was wondering how to tell if a rosé is going to be sweet or dry.  Do you just have to ask?  I mean, I know if it’s White Zin, but if it’s something French, what do I look for?

Your timing for this question is perfect!  After almost a year hiatus, Wine Blogging Wednesday (WBW) is returning, and the theme for WBW #80 is Dry Rosé.  This means that on Wednesday, August 14th, wine bloggers from all over the world will share details on this versatile type of wine, and I’m sure there will be numerous blog posts about wines you’ll want to find.

In the meantime, while there isn’t one easy answer to your question, there are a couple of key things to look for when buying “pink” wine that will hopefully help you avoid (or pick out) something sweet.

To start with, while it sounds like you already know this, the type of grape the wine is made with can be very helpful in determining if the wine is dry or sweet. If it’s White Zinfandel, White Merlot, Pink Moscato, it is going to be a sweet wine.

Another clue that the wine will be sweet is if it says “blush” somewhere on the label. This designation is almost exclusively used by non-European wine producers, which is probably another indicator in itself for how sweet the wine will be.

When it comes to French Rosé, it’s dry by definition.  If for some reason, it is a sweet French Rosé, there will likely be some indication on the bottle.  If you’re looking at French wines, it’s helpful to remember that the southern France area of Provence is the largest wine region in the world to specialize in dry rosé, and they’re often delicious, affordable wines.  Tavel, Gigondas, and Vacqueyras (which are all in the Rhone Valley) and Anjou (which is in the Loire Valley) are also well-known for Rosé, but the wines from these regions tend to be a little more expensive.

Spain is another country worth looking at when it comes to quality, inexpensive Rosé.  It’s a little harder to find non-sparkling, Spanish Rosé (or Rosado) in the U.S., but when you do, they tend to be made from the Grenache grape, have more intense flavors than the French Rosé, and are also usually dry.

One last thought, since you’re looking for dry Rosé, my favorites are oddly enough both from California—the Michel-Schlumberger ‘Le Flirt’ and the Storybook Mountain Vineyards Zin Gris, which I will review on August 14th for #WBW80).

While this doesn’t give you a foolproof way to determine whether a Rosé is dry or sweet, hopefully it gives you some useful tools to at least help make an decision.

Question of the Day: Do you tend to prefer sweet or dry Rosé?

Cheers–
Alleigh

Do you have a question?  Don’t be shy!
Send me an email, leave your question as a blog comment,
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