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What I Didn't Know About Champagne: Yes, You Read That Correctly

Today I called Leanne and said, I need to talk. We discussed pandemic drain, mom exhaustion, spousal responsibility, but mostly a lot of freaking sadness over the state of the world. That night my husband and I were doing our favorite date night activity, virtual wine tasting. I said to Leanne, I am worried virtual wine tasting has turned into Netflix Marvel shows. Eventually they get boring around episode 10 but they keep going till episode 13. They lose their luster. But maybe I am wrong. As long as we’re learning something together we maybe it will still be fun.

We hastily signed up for the champagne tasting last week, only to discover it’s actually “the Hollywood stunt double of Champagne.” I was pissed. Surely, the rubber had hit the road. And then I was wrong. I’ll say it for you again. I was wrong! We had three excellent sparkling wines, well two excellent and one really really good wines from California, Italy and Tasmania.

So let’s talk about what I didn’t know. Starting with Napa Mumm is not the standard in “American Champagne.” I spoke about Napa Mumm in my post about what to drink on New Years Eve. It’s made by the same Champagne house that makes Grand Mumm. We of course went in skeptical but we decided to give the benefit of the doubt. Mark Oldman, wine enthusiast and author, was one of those hosts as well as’s Gwendolyn Osborn. As always you can purchase these wines $30 off with my link.

Mark immediately starts off by saying he recently had bought the book Wine and the White House: A History. He immediately explains that Richard Nixon bought 13 cases of Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc in 1972, the most that had ever been sold at the time. They were ordered by the state department and the winery had no idea what was happening. They were ultimately used during a negotiation with China. What an incredible history. Since Nixon, Schramsberg has been served in the White House by many presidents. The White House is serving American Sparkling Wine, perhaps I should stop turning my nose so far up at it.

Schramsberg has been owned by the same family since the 1970s, although it goes back as far as the 1860s. Hugh Davies is now president and the son of the 1970s purchasers. Rather than staying in Napa and doing things as they have always been done he studied abroad including a stint at Moet, learning the ways of the French to incorporate into the styles of wine that Scramsberg makes. They have a proper underground cellar of 3 kilometers, that was largely dug by shovel and human labor, with rows upon rows of fermenting sparkling wine and going through the full riddling process.

When we finally taste this wine we are blown away. I mean out of our seats. It was fantastic. The nose is full of citrus but the flavor tropical with pineapple notes and a hint of crisp apple. The bubbles rose in perfect form like any fabulous true Champagne. This wine was made with 100% Chardonnay grapes and I can see why this is served at formal dinners, because it paired well with everything. Add to cart, at around $40 a bottle.

Next in line of things we didn’t know is that prosecco isn’t the only type of sparkling wine made in Italy. We were the most skeptical about this wine and their winery building looked like a Ferrari car dealership (it is a coincidence that the winery’s name is Ferrari). We tasted the Brut. This wine was also 100% Chardonnay made in what the Italians referred to in the classico style, which is patterned after the french, although they appreciate innovation and don’t shy away from trying new things.

This wine has had a bit of a celebrity moment as well, as it was served at the Golden Globes in 2019. It smelled of citrus, honey and apples and that tart apple flavor came through in the taste. This wine was quite dry, and it was not Pat’s favorite but I simply adored it. Add to cart at $24 a bottle!

Hold onto your hats, the next wine was from Tasmania. You read that right. The vineyard is Jasz and it was established in 1986 as a joint venture with a French house. They plant their grapes around the coast with strong winds associated with their latitude on the globe. They blend grapes from regions that are cool and humid and those that are cool and dry. There is a lot of mineral in the soil in Tasmania. This sparkling wine was a Premium Rose with 72% Pinot Noir and 28% Chardonnay.

If you follow my wine posts you know that I love roses made the French way and turn my nose up at American roses which are flat out illegal in France. A proper rose is a mix of grapes and the color comes from the darker grape skin as opposed to what American’s do which is mix a red wine with a white wine. This wine uniquely stood out as we felt it strongly paired well with creamy brie and a dark rose truffle. That said, we did not add this one to our cart, $29 a bottle, as it simply didn’t ring either of our bells as strongly. It was so fun to taste but it didn’t make the cut.

We were able to submit questions in advance and were delighted our question was answered. How long can these “champagnes'' be aged? Each winemaker had a different answer. Hugh Davies of Schramburg explained that unlike most true Champagne, they put out multiple vintages, however like the french they are released when they believe they are best served. He did believe that their sparkling wines could be aged between 5-20 years. That time frame will age the wine to a certain point that reveals new flavors and aromas.

Matteo Lunelli, owner of Ferrari, did not feel his sparkling wine should be aged as long. He felt that 10 years was the really the most you should give this wine before it loses its luster and should be enjoyed before that happens. Jennifer Dole, the winemaker, at Jasz, put it simply. Drink it, when I say it’s ready to drink. It’s a philosophy most of the french have and an idea that I like, trusting the expert.

For Galentine's Day, I hosted a virtual wine tasting for my lady friends. It was fun but needed some tweaking. I am excited to be hosting another for a MOPs group in a week and hopefully soon you’ll be able to read about how you can conduct your own tasting with wines you can find in your local store or how to put on a virtual event. As I said with Leanne, it feels good to learn things in this pandemic, to grow. Also to drink.

I was also right about our date night. As long as Pat and I learn something this continues to be an activity we enjoy. I am looking forward to honing these skills to try on our own. We’ve been heading to Iron Bridge, a local restaurant with a large wine selection to try our hands at it without any guidance. We have our mini wine tasting journal at hand and Google, of course. But I think we’re ready to walk into a store, grab two bottles, use Wine Folly, and my favorite wine tasting journal and set up our own without Gwyndolyn to guide us. The Pandemic has presented us all with the need to get creative, but we don’t have to reinvent the wheel we simply need to tweek it.

My beautiful chartreuse boards are this round one and this rectangle one. We used these champagne glasses.

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