Someone's got to be on the lookout for effervescence
These sparkling wines were tasted during the search for the season’s best bubbly. The winner: Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut.

In preparation for the holiday season, a group of my friends got together to do some serious research. Our mission: Discover this season's most delightful effervescent wine. OK, I admit it wasn't a very grueling task, but we were serious about finding sparkling wines with more than just lots of tiny bubbles as their most unique quality.

We know sparkling wines by many names, including of course the classic champagne. Spain gives us cava; Italy lends its asti, spumante and prosecco; cap classique comes from South Africa. In the United States we produce sparkling wines called brut and cuvee.

Anything labeled champagne must be produced in the Champagne region of France. Champagnes are made of three grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. The pinot grapes are black grapes and chardonnay grapes are white. Sparkling wines made in other regions of France are called crémant.

Sparkling wines have varying degrees of effervescence, depending on the level of carbon dioxide created during fermentation.

They will also vary in sweetness, or the quality that is referred to as 'dryness.' Brut is very dry wine; extra dry is slightly more sweet (less dry) than brut. Sec is medium-dry, and is often served at parties or with brunch. Demi is semi-sweet; doux is sweet and usually served with dessert.

It is fascinating to consider all the factors that influence how a glass of wine will taste. Fascinating and mind boggling and far too involved for this short space - let's skip to the bottom line and learn what we tasted and what we liked!

Our top choice was Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut from California. It had a Wine Spectator rating of 90. The tasting notes boasted, '… One finds lively citrus, toast and apple flavors overlaid with persistent effervescence, a creamy mid-palate and toasty finish.' We loved the persistent effervescence. The wine was purchased for $18 on sale.

We also sampled our local Argyle Brut 2002, which also had a Wine Spectator rating of 90. As expected, this was delightful and notably different than the Gloria Ferrer. At the same price, $20, we preferred the California wine.

We sipped a Toffoli Vincenzo prosecco ($16), noted for its full grape cluster processing and small and numerous bubbles. We also sampled a Mumm Napa Blanc de Noirs (about $18) and a Prosecco Brut Zonin (about $15). The final sparkling wine sampled was a sleeper recommended by Wine About It in West Linn: Segura Vindas Brut Reserva Cava. At $7.99 a bottle, we determined this would be the sparkling wine one could serve with pride and still keep to a budget.

All the wines were good and easy to find locally.

Fun and festive, sparkling wines should be enjoyed more often than just during the holidays. Try to visit with your local wine merchant, and get his or her recommendations.

You can cook with sparkling wines with delightful results. Neither recipe calls for much sparkling wine, so you will some left to sip. Try them for quick and festive dinners this holiday season.

Bon Appetit and Happy Holidays!

Three Cheese Fondue with Champagne

Serves 2 to 4

4 teaspoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 ¼ cups dry brut Champagne or other sparkling wine

1 large shallot, chopped

2 cups coarsely grated Gruyere cheese (about 7 ounces)

1 1/3 cups coarsely grated Emmenthal cheese (about 5 ounces)

½ cup diced Brie or Camembert cheese (about 3 ounces), rind removed

Generous pinch of nutmeg

Pinch of ground white pepper

1 French baguette, cut into 1-inch cubes

Stir cornstarch and lemon juice in small bowl until cornstarch dissolves; set aside. Combine Champagne and shallot in fondue pot or heavy medium saucepan; simmer over medium heat for two minutes. Remove pot from heat. Add all cheeses and stir to combine. Stir in cornstarch mixture. Return fondue pot to medium heat and stir until cheeses are melted and smooth and fondue thickens and boils, about 12 minutes. Season fondue with nutmeg and white pepper then place over candle or canned heat (Sterno) burner to keep warm. Serve with bread cubes.

Bon Appetit, Feb. 2001

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 ext. 101 or by e-mail at [email protected] .


A five-ingredient entrée ready in 30 minutes or less! (Butter, oil, salt, pepper and water don't count!)

Champagne Risotto

Serves two, easily doubled - or quadrupled!

2 tablespoons butter

¼ cup chopped green onions

2/3-cup Arborio rice or medium grain white rice

1 cup dry Champagne or other sparkling wine

1 14 ounce can low salt chicken broth, or more as needed

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Melt butter in a heavy medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Add onions; sauté one minute. Add rice and sauté two minutes. Add Champagne; simmer until almost all liquid evaporates, stirring often, about two minutes. Add the chicken broth and simmer until rice is still firm to the bite and mixture is creamy. Keep stirring and add more broth if mixture is too thick. Stir in Parmesan and season with salt and pepper.

Cook's note: For a variation, add ½ pound bay scallops to risotto after the rice has cooked for about 15 minutes. Simmer until scallops are cooked through, adding more broth if mixture is too thick. Proceed with recipe as outlined above.


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