Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sparkling Wines

With champagne production stretched to the limits, many other countries and areas in France are cashing in on producing quality sparkling wine. The UK and Germany are leading the way in the upturn in consumption – the former drank around 63 million bottles in 2001.

By 2005 the figure had reached 90 million, set to rise by another 7.9% by 2011. All production methods, except perhaps carbonic maceration (the infamous méthode pompe bicyclette), are showing good returns. Due to automation and modern production techniques, prices remain reasonable – a far cry from the labour-intensive processes of 40 years ago.

In those days the second fermentation took place in a bottle sealed with a cork and a spring metal clip – agrafe. The stacking of wines in the cellars was done by hand. The remueur – who riddled the bottles to shake down the sediment – was the most expensive blue-collar worker in the wine trade. A lot of disgorging of the sediment was still done manually without going through the brine ice-bath, meaning additional care when disgorging. Demonstrating what could go wrong in the process was the star event for many a trade trip. You were told that once the agrafe and cork were removed the bottle was ‘live’. Giving the bottle a firm tap with the disgorging key, the demonstrator would prove his point.

So what better to drink this Easter, a time for celebration, than sparkling wine? Nowadays the choice is vast – for style, colour, sweetness, method of production, country of origin and, of course, price. Between the Northern and Southern parts of the Rhône Valley region, in the département of the Drôme, the small town of Die gives its name to a variation of the traditional method – the Méthode Dioise (or sometimes Méthode ancienne or ancestrale). For the alcohol conscious, it is an ideal wine, having only between 7.5 and 8% alcohol. The area also produces traditional method wines from 100% Clairette with the AC of Crémant de Die (until 1999 Clairette de Die).

Yet another of the excellent independent vignerons, Bérard et Maubouché at Saillans have 30ha of vines in the Drôme Valley growing grapes for producing both these styles of wines. The Domaine les Trois Becs has a fine reputation for quality. The cellars are on the main D93 from Valence to Die itself, with adequate parking, so it is an ideal stopping off point to sample and buy these wines and regional produce.

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