Adding to sparkling wine’s sense of mystique can only but help increase sales and trade people up to better bottles, writes Ben Canaider
Champagne and sparkling wine is surrounded by more mystique than any other wine style. It’s the bubbles, of course; and the often high price; the sense of celebration, and the sense of seriousness’s abandonment. Out on your own establishment’s floor—where customers are unquestioningly enjoying your unique dining experience – adding to that sense of mystique can only but help increase sales and trade people up to better bottles.
And it is this time of year that is the best time to strike, as it were. Spring racing and the gathering speed of yet another fast approaching Christmas seem to activate dormant DNA in many customers. And that DNA seems to long for bubbles.
This is why it is not too much to suggest that a dedicated sparkling wine list might not be a bad idea to publish at this time, particularly given the following three observations about fizzy wine today.
- More and more grower or small house champagnes are now available in this country. The wines of the bigger luxury multinationals are no longer the only option for a cashed-up boulevardier. Brands such as Pol Roger and Bollinger will continue to own large market share—and there’s no questioning their quality – but newer names like Ayala ($58.05, www.finewinepartners.com.au), Ruinart ($69.87, Moet-Hennessy Australia www.almliquor.com.au), and Larmandier-Bernier ($56.86, www.bibendum.com.au) are all very high class. (Prices are LUC for NV wines.) More importantly, these are the champagnes clever wine types are drinking.
- Finer Australian sparkling wines have now truly found their feet. 2000 Radenti from Tasmania’s Freycinet is superb ($41.55, www.freycinetvineyard.com.au); Hanging Rock’s Macedon Brut Rose NV ($20, www.hangingrock.com.au) is a very smart, pinot-powered food wine; and Arras ($36.55, www.accolade-wines.com) perhaps lead the charge with regard to Australian fizz nipping Champagne’s characterful heels.
- Italian prosecco and Spanish cava are appealing to more and more customers on two basic levels: fresh, clean flavours, and affordable prices. Prosecco brands from the Veneto such as Bellussi (www.arquilla.com) and Carpene Malvolti (www.alepat.com.au) both land well under $20. Cava Segura Viudas Brut 2006 is another bargain ($14.62, firstname.lastname@example.org). Of course. Locally made prosecco is another option: try Dal Zotto Pucino Prosecco from the King Valley in Victoria. Clean, lean and pristine stuff ($14, www.dalzotto.com.au).
The other wonderful thing about sparkling wine is its compelling alchemy. Notes in your dedicated sparkling wine list along the following lines might be just enough to engage a few more customers for a little longer…
According to the latest champagne research—from the University of Reims, no less—it’s now official. There are 20 million bubbles in every bottle of champagne, liberating themselves from the wine at a rate of 400 bubbles per second. And each and every one of them affects the smell and taste of the wine. Hydrodynamics is what it is called: the way the bubbles of CO2 form and twist upwards in a vortex to the surface of the wine helps release the myriad components; the bubbles—or mousse—then exploding in your mouth also serve to stimulate saliva glands, making you feel hungry.
And, no, Dom Perignon did not invent any of this bubble magic. In 1668 he went to a Champagne abbey, basically as its accountant. One of his jobs was to get the blends of the base wines right. He did this well but he failed in his other endeavour: to stop the bubbles forming in the sealed bottles. The bottles were exploding in the following spring, as some of the wine underwent secondary fermentation in said bottle. Customers found exploding bottles less than ideal. But the English loved the sparkling wine that the secondary fermentation process developed. And it was actually an English doctor, Christopher Merret, who, in 1662, first recorded the process of adding extra wine and sugar to the base wines, putting the mixture into bottle, and then fermenting again to create the CO2 bubbles. English bottles didn’t explode, though, as English glass was formed in coal-burning furnaces. Via the coal iron got into the glass and thereby strengthened it.
And the champagne bottle needs to be strong. Those 20 million bubbles amount to four litres of CO2, creating an internal pressure of 6 bar, or about 90 psi. That’s three times the pressure of a car tyre. It’s also why the champagne cork needs a wire cage (or muselet, which Dom Perignon did invent). And it is another reason to do some more staff training. A champagne stopper—exiting the neck of the bottle at about 50kph—can take more than an overhead 12V light out.