Ever since the royals in 18th Century France adopted it as their drink of choice, Champagne has been the wine of celebration, marking the joyful promises of weddings, ship christenings, and the New Year. Unfortunately, the best known brands of sparkling wine are too expensive for most of us to purchase except on very special occasions. 40% of sparkling wine sales happen during the end-of-the-year holidays. That is a shame because a good sparkler can be as satisfying and versatile as still wine. It is only price that stands in the way of sparkling wine being an occasional everyday wine.
In recent years, sparkling wine from other parts of the world have stepped in to fill the void at the lower end of the market. Spanish Cava, Italian Prosecco, and German Sekt are reasonable alternatives but they usually lack the quality of genuine Champagne. The best sparkling wine houses in California have traditionally kept their prices high, competing with the French for the high end celebration market, feeding the conventional wisdom that sparkling wine under $40 dollars is not worth drinking.
But California producers are beginning to take a different approach. Two of the largest sparkling wine producers in California, Domaine Chandon and Mumm’s are offering a less expensive line of wines in an attempt to capture the attention of younger people who lack the income to drop $50 for a casual dinner. This Prestige Brut is Mumm’s entry in the millennial sweepstakes.
As you might expect of a wine intended for a younger American audience, this wine has a hint of sweetness on the palate. Neither bone dry nor unpleasantly sweet, Mumm’s has not sold their soul on this—it is dry enough to satisfy most Champagne lovers with only 1.08% residual sugar. Abundant aromas of fresh pear and lemon give this wine a fruity aspect, with subtle yoghurt notes emerging with time. With plenty of exuberant bubbles, the texture is lively and supple with some creaminess giving way to a crisp finish. The best sparkling wines bring to mind bread right from the oven. There is little of that yeasty quality in this wine, but that is not unusual at this price. It is an authentic if not exceptional sparkling wine experience and a terrific bargain.
I paired it with some very spicy Moorish-influenced pork kebabs. The combination was outstanding. The versatility of sparkling wine as a food partner needs more attention than it is typically given.
If sparkling wine is to escape the “celebration ghetto” its reputation must shift from the that of the luxurious party girl we procure when good cheer is to be manufactured to something more serious and down to earth. There is indeed irony in the fact that sparkling wine too often ends up in a celebration of false hopes. As Saint Vincent croons: “I thought I learned my lesson but I secretly expected a choir at the shore and confetti through falling air…I make a living telling people what they want to hear, and boy I tell ya, it’s going to be a Champagne Year”.
The next time you get your brood on, try Champagne to match your mood. After all, those exploding bubbles are a metaphor for the lifespan of our best-laid plans.
Price: $18 (ave.)