Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

by Aaron Winsor

Hello Prince Albert!

The word Champagne is synonymous with luxury, fine taste and high living and there is nothing quite like a great bottle of bubbly to commemorate a special occasion or to celebrate success.

This fantastic wine does come at a price however and one quick comparison between the cost of authentic Champagne and regular sparkling wine will make your head spin as the price difference is often at least $40 to $50! How can we live the high life with prices like these?

My simple solution is to look elsewhere for quality sparkling wines that still retain that Champagne style without the price tag.
Keep in mind that this search is a lifelong pursuit as nothing tastes exactly like Champagne but a few get quite close and there are several key indicators to watch out for when looking for quality.

The first indicator to look for is the words “Traditional Method” which indicate that the wine has undergone a secondary fermentation inside the bottle. Just like in Champagne, this second fermentation creates complex flavors in the wine and the process is not only time consuming but also highly technical.

This method weeds the cheaper producers/products out and raises the quality immediately.

The second indicator to watch out for is the producer of the wine. For example, I tasted wines from two famous French producers who have set up winemaking companies in California; Chandon (aka Moet et Chandon) and Mumm Napa (aka GH Mumm). Since these two producers have made top-tier quality champagne for a long time it’s a safe bet that they know what they are doing and for that reason, I don’t mind spending a bit more money since I’m confident that they will make a great product.

Another sign of quality from wines produced in the Traditional Method is the aging requirements.

A great example of this is Cava from Spain. Cava must be aged at least 6 months on yeast (lees aging) meaning it will be more luxurious and complex than wines that have not received yeast aging.

Try Villa Conchi Brut Seleccion ($24) for a delicious Cava. Champagne in comparison receives at least one year of yeast age and vintage Champagne receives a minimum of two years aging as well as re-blending from the highest quality reserve wines.

Time for the verdict! My favorite this week and the wine which came closest to the taste of Champagne was the Chandon. It was smooth, slightly buttery and the bubbles were fine and delicate. Compare this to the Mumm which was intense just like the Chandon but much sharper and lacking the more complex flavors of biscuit and toast. Both are delicious wines but the Chandon brings me closest to the taste of Chamapagne. Here are my wine picks of the week!

Chandon Traditional Method Brut: (California, USA). Off-dry sparkling white, medium lemon color with small delicate bubbles in long strands. The nose is Champagne-like featuring ripe golden apples, pears, fresh grapes, brioche, soft cheese, apricots and flinty citrus. On to the palate with medium-plus acidity and high-intensity flavors of apple fruit, toast, lemon/lime peel, lively pear, ginger, grape/apple skins and a long finish of steely metallic mineral with a touch of toast and buttery mushroom.

There is lot of zip and zing on the mid-palate which brings a rush of flavor and makes this ideal for pairing with appetizers. Very good! $40, 12% ABV

Mumm Napa Traditional Method Brut: (California, USA). Dry sparkling wine, pale lemon color with medium-sized, quickly ascending bubbles. The nose of this American sparkler starts off with chalky mineral, grapes, lemon/lime peel, stone fruits (pear and peach) and small hints of rustic cheese (aged cheddar or parmesan). High intensity to the taste with a sharp, crisp flavor and texture.

The bubbles are highly active and the wine is quite frothy in the mouth. While this wine is more sharp/tart than the Chandon, it is still extremely refreshing with powerful stone fruit flavors of green pear and apple and a quick finish of chalky limestone mineral. This wine loses points due to the lack of complexity and the quick finish but I still rate it as good! $32, 13% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Aaron Winsor is a Prince Albert resident who currently holds a WSET Level 3 certification in wine and will never turn down a good cigar or whisky. Check out his Instagram and Facebook page under Aaron The Wine Guy for wine, whisky and cigar reviews.