Champagne: It's not just for toasting on New Year's Eve


Severn Goodwin and Debbie Seheher are apt to open a bottle of Champagne on any of the 364 days leading up to New Year's Eve. The Housatonic, Mass., couple consider themselves connoisseurs of the French bubbly, often viewed as the quintessential sparkling wine, which they believe should be enjoyed from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31.

"It's an all-year-round beverage — it's wine with effervescence," Goodwin said.

Seheher's keys to a good Champagne?

"The amount of yeast, bread flavor to it — the bubbles play into it too," she said.

Seheher and Goodwin spoke in between sips at a recent Champagne tasting held at Spirited in Lenox, Mass., where owner Jim Nejaime, along with proprietors of wine shops throughout the Berkshires and Southern Vermont, have been busy moving cases of Champagne and other sparkling wines — a symbol of New Year's Eve parties.

Nejaime encourages his patrons to enjoy the celebratory beverage long before the clock strikes midnight to ring in 2016.

"Enjoy it as a welcoming drink early in the evening," he said. "It's a shame to wait on Champagne until midnight."

Nejaime also finds he often asks customers if they want true Champagne or a sparkling wine from another region of the world.

"About half my clients know Champagne, others will have puzzled looks on their faces," he said.

True Champagne hails from the Champagne region of France, where producers adhere to the Methode Traditionelle used for centuries in making the carbonated drink. The California wineries, who claim they make a Champagne, can't, because the process of producing the bubbly is unique to the Champagne region, according to Monika Williard of M.S. Walker Wholesaler, wine and spirits distributor in Norwood, Mass.

Champagne is also the reason France is the benchmark of sparkling wines, according to Marty Ramsburg, co-owner of Windham Wines in Brattleboro, Vt.

"Whoever enters the game looks to France and the creme de la creme is Champagne," she said.

According to several websites, most countries legally won't allow bottles to be labelled as Champagne, unless they are the real thing.

Williard explained the primary grapes used in the production of Champagne are black Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, but also white Chardonnay. Champagne demands secondary fermentation of the wine in the bottle to create carbonation and specific vineyard practices, as well as use the grapes grown in the Champagne region.

For those who find Champagne too rich for their wallets, there are plenty of other sparkling wines from around the region, country and world gaining in popularity — especially those that come close to Champagne.

"Spain has a great price point, very affordable," said Rebecca Salvatore of Lenox. "Cava (produced in Catalonia) is made in the traditional champagne method."

Salvatore is the Berkshire-area wine marketer for Horizon Beverage in Norton, Mass, who has helped Vins et Viandes (French for wines and meats) in North Adams build up its sparkling wine offerings. V & V president and manager Lou Matney has found sparkling wines from Italy, as well as Spain, are becoming more popular.

"I had a tasting for Prosecco Ciela (Italy) and sold seven cases in a week," he said.

V & V also features a locally produced sparkling wine from the Furnace Brook Winery in Richmond, Mass., and a non-alcoholic one.

The latest trend is grower Champagnes, produced and marketed directly by the vineyards. Unlike a large Champagne house that use grapes cultivated from up to 80 different vineyards, grower Champagnes are very provincial.

"All the grapes are from a pin-prick area, with flavors that vary from year to year," Ramsburg said.

She added, that lack of consistency can make grower Champagnes a tough sell to some sparkling wine drinkers.


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