They blanket the earth with colors that change with the seasons. The lush, rich vines extend in perfect rows across the valleys and up the hillsides of California’s Central Valley.
From springtime’s first green buds to the verdant foliage of summer and the rich colors of autumn, the vineyards present an ever changing feast for the eyes and a sensual delight for the wine lover’s palate. This is wine country and the home of California champagne.
Yes, the Central and Napa Valleys are the home of California Champagne. Before the vineyard purists shout blasphemy because the California versions cannot be called champagne, you should understand that California wineries have been bottling sparkling wine under the name Champagne for over a century.
The purists’ primary argument is that only sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne Province of France may be called champagne. There are a few other requirements, including the use of only seven specific grape varieties and certain fermentation techniques.
Let’s put the controversy to rest. California champagne is produced from the same seven grapes, primarily Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Because grapes grown in California soil are naturally sweeter and have a smoother taste, many California champagnes do not follow the French technique of adding bacteria to the wine to take away its acidity.
Most importantly, the United States signed a Wine Trade Agreement with the European Union in 2005. Under this agreement, wineries that had been producing sparkling wine under the name Champagne are allowed to call it that. There you go. Controversy ended.
Variety and Versatility
Of course, despite the agreement, many still claim that California champagnes are not the same as those from France. They are correct.
The New York Times points out that California champagnes are improving, meaning they are mirroring the originals from France. But champagnes and sparkling wines from California are uniquely American, offering a wide variety of tastes. From fruity to dry and tart, many feel they expand the potential of champagne and sparkling wine as a beverage to compliment food with broad and tasty possibilities.
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Not bound by the traditions of the highly specialized, and highly priced, wine-producing culture of the old world, California champagnes are versatile and affordable. Many lend themselves to uses and food pairings that might never be considered by traditionalists.
Use Your Imagination
Many still have not broken away from the tradition of reserving champagne as a drink to toast special occasions. Epicurious Magazine points out that champagne is the perfect wine for everyday food and drink pairings, with a remarkable ability to blend with and enhance the taste of meats, vegetables and fruits.
Take a dry California champagne like André Brut, mix with equal parts orange juice, or to taste, and you have the classic Mimosa, the perfect brunch cocktail. Make it a little dryer, less orange juice, and its sparkling lightness highlights breakfast dishes, including popular meats like bacon.
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Throw some berries in it and you have a light and fruity afternoon cooler. Pair champagne with seafood or meats and see how it brings out the full flavor and richness of the dish. Add your favorite liqueur and it becomes the perfect desert drink.
Use your imagination. You may be surprised at how well it compliments your favorite foods.
A Special Touch
Once you open yourself to the possibilities, reserving champagne only for those special moments in life may seem like a waste of a very good thing. Next time, reach for the bubbly. Light and refreshing, versatile and tasty, champagne can bring a special touch to any meal.