Monday, January 10, 2022

Dan Berger: It's Champagne Season

It's Champagne season -- a line you might think indicates that this article is being published two weeks too late.

And sure, sparkling wines usually are reserved for toasting at Christmas and New Year's. And once those holidays have passed, most people believe the season for them is over. For me, it's just beginning, and it lasts all year.

And there's a method to my madness -- though I consider it not madness but sanity. That's because far too many domestic wines don't have enough acidity for me and the foods I eat. 

And at the heart of wine-and-food pairings is that the wine must have sufficient acid to work with food. But far too many chardonnays are soft; too many cabernets lack the structure. Sugar has become commonplace in sauvignon blanc. 

Americans have a sweet tooth and U.S. wineries, notably on the West Coast, make sure many wines are sweet or ultra-soft. Sometimes it's simply low acid. Other times, the wine has such high alcohol that it acts as a sweetening agent. Sometimes it's actual sugar -- including in some of the most popular red wines!

So, you may ask, what does this have to do with Champagne? Or fine quality sparkling wine?

Quality bubbly cannot be made if the grapes are harvested too late, which compromises the critical element of acidity that is required to make it taste good. French Champagne, with the capital C to indicate that comes from that district, usually has sufficient acid to work with almost all forms of food.

So do top-rate domestic bubblies. I refer to wines called brut, a term that denotes a dry wine. They have sufficient acid to work with a wide variety of foods. The acidity can be counted on to help food taste better.

There are about four dozen top-flight sparkling wine producers in the United States who make exceptional sparklers. Most are slightly sweet to balance high acidity, and it's that attractive balance that gives them such versatility.  

One result is that I tend to drink a lot more sparkling wine with my meals than any other single wine with the possible exception of riesling (a passion of mine!). After I am done evaluating 30 or 40 wines in a day, my go-to beverage is a beer or sparkling wine, and I have plenty to choose from!

It has recently been widely reported that the Champagne district in France has been hit with some pretty terrible weather, the results of which are extremely small harvests and some not-very-interesting flavors. This has reduced the size of the crop and has had the effect of driving prices even higher than they had been, and Champagne is always a prestigious product, so it commands a high price.

I tasted a good example of a fine quality Champagne the other day and even though it was discounted, it still cost just over $40 per bottle!

California and other domestic sparkling wines can be really fascinating, especially because the fruit is more evident, and the wines tend to be a little bit more vibrant. And, of course, priced a lot more reasonably.

It is extremely difficult to list my favorite domestic bubblies because so many are exceptional. For everyday drinking, many discount stores carry exceptional sparkling wines for $20 to $30 per bottle, which is reasonable when you compare that to the average cost of a high-quality chardonnay.

The other nice thing about sparkling wine is that you really don't need to worry about vintages. Most non-vintage bruts are made to be drinkable as soon as they hit the retail shelf.

I keep several bottles of sparkling wine from my favorite California houses on hand year-round. And if a friend happens to show up unexpectedly, and I pull one out, I occasionally hear, "What's the occasion?"

My reply is usually a variation on a theme: "It's Tuesday."

Wine of the Week: NV Brut, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County ($22) -- A classic California aroma of citrus, fresh pear and trace hints of brioche grace the first sniff, and the taster is dry and yet not at all austere. The tiny bubbles are pinpoint, and the aftertaste is perfectly suited to be paired with various kinds of foods. Widely available, it is as good a bottle of sparkling wine as it is produced anywhere in the world.

To find out more about Dan Berger and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at



Anonymous said...

A glass or two of good champagne is such a treat.

Anonymous said...

I’ll never forget my first sip of a 1970s Piper-Heidsieck. It was beautiful. Enjoy these wine columns. And the RSJ column. Thank you.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS