Why Hello There my faithful Catastronauts, WELCOME back to Kitchen Catastrophe Quick Tips, and man, ain’t Christmas week a kick in the head?
Thanks, Dean Martin, the most American-named Italian man in history!
(Hey, real quick: this is Editor Jon. If you just wanna read about today’s topic, which is sparkling wine, just skip this section, and go to the next heading. Author Jon, uh…look, he’s kinda frazzled at the moment: he’s frustrated, in pain, and, well, cramped. Let him blow off some steam here at the start, and move on.)
Maybe you all have calmer Christmases than I, I don’t know, but trust me when I say that the week before Christmas is a cake-walk compared to what happens AFTER in my house. Due to frailties on both sides, my grandparents don’t travel very far. Even before time worked his ravaging touch, I can’t recall a single instance of them being in the same building at the same time. Maybe it’ll happen if/when myself or my brothers get married, but it’s hard to say. Anyway, the reason I mentioned my feeble forebears at all is that it’s a crucial component of my family’s schedule for the season: both families want to spend time with their children and grand-children, and my parent’s work shuts down for the week of Christmas. So every year, we have two Christmases. Which is great when you’re a child, as it means more toys, more rich foods, and more attention. When you’re an adult, responsible for packing your own clothes, prepping that food, and organizing trips, it becomes much less enjoyable.
And this year is particularly tricky: Friday, I come back from Leavenworth. Saturday and Sunday are spent prepping food for Christmas Day, because my grandmother’s stroke has left her less able in her, well, holiday abilities, and my grandfather hadn’t so much as written a check to cover his household costs until last June, so trust me when I say no one was trusting his trussing technique. I try to fix up a fun video for you guys on Christmas Day, but on my last day in Leavenworth, my headphones popped a earphone, so I can’t record audio as well, and I can’t stop MOVING long enough to find some duct tape to slap on them. I try to post an apology thing, but my phone can’t access the site without wi-fi, which my grandparents definitely don’t have.
Their tech-level kind of caps out at "domesticated animals."
That day, my hometown crew reaches out about doing board games on Wednesday. I’m all for it, but the room we’d use is full of gifts for the Oregon branch of the family, which my brother and I are hauling down on Thursday, so we can pick up our cousins who flew in from Texas, so we can cook the Christmas food for Saturday, because none of the families down in Oregon have the week off, so if we want enough Christmas food, someone’s gotta cook it, and this year, Nate and I pulled short straw.
So Tuesday is spent prepping food for Oregon, and the room for games today, I try to take my brother to see Last Jedi, but it sells out, then Jumanji sells out, so we end up watching Coco. (Which, by the way, is a beautiful and very enjoyable film, even if I cried twice in the last 20 minutes.) So we sat down, played some games, had some fun, and bit our friends a fond farewell, when I realized, eight o’clock on Wednesday: FUCK, I haven’t written ANYTHING for Thursday’s post! That’s…not good. But I got an idea, and I said “it’s cool, we’ve got 4-5 hours to write it up and work it out” and that’s when the headache kicked in. So fuck sickness, fuck packing, and fuck scheduling snafus, I’m gonna hammer this shit out, and we’re all going to HAVE A GOOD TIME.
Pop Pop Fizz Fizz, Oh What A Relief Booze Is
So, since Christmas has come and gone, Boxing Day is back in the box, and honestly, who really cares how long it is till Epiphany, we’re going to set some shit straight about the next holiday landing flat on your plate, New Year’s!
Yes, New Year’s Eve, a day for not letting old acquaintance be forgot, and hoping for a brighter, better tomorrow. And also, according to a statistic I’m just making up right fucking now, the number one day for consumption of Sparkling Wine in America! Oh look, 5 seconds on Google tells me I’m fucking right. Did I mention I was mid head-ache while writing this? I should probably take something for that.
How about a nap, you nocturnal son of a bitch?
Anyway, you maybe noted I didn’t say “Champagne” when talking about New Year’s. And that was intentional. There are MANY varieties of sparkling wine, besides the spritzy stand-by of Champagne. AND THAT’S WHAT WE’RE DISCUSSING TODAY: the various sparkling wines on the celebratory scene, where they come from, where they go, and where the fuck is Cotton-Eyed Joe? I’m gonna go pop some Excedrin, as my profanity is becoming distractingly blunt.
OMG, it’s the ODB, up in the DOP
Alright, let’s talk about the Eurocentric Elephant in the room: DOP Laws. Or AOC laws. Or, really AOP laws. What the hell are any of those? They’re Appellation of Origin laws, which are laws that protect the use of names on various culinary items, in order to maintain quality control, and market value. That sounded really fucking dry, so let me break it down better: You ever buy that Kraft Grated Parmesan in a tube in the grocery store? If you went to a Safeway in France, you could not find that shit. Why? Because “Parmesan” is a translation of “Parmagiano”, referencing the cheese now known as “Parmigiano-Reggiano”. And Italy made an international law saying “you can’t just make a shitty grated cheese and call it Parmesan to make me look bad, tu stronzo.” Well, technically the law had a lot more superfluous ‘a’ sounds on the ends of words, and more hand movements were made on the floor of the UN, but you grasp the gist of it.
But, that’s the crux of the issue in calling a drink “Champagne”: Champagne is protected by AOC laws. The letter breakdowns, by the way: “AOP” Is the Swiss term, and therefore the UN term. It’s for “Appellation d'Origine Protégée” or “Protected Appellation of Origin”. Italy uses “DOP”, because they say “Denominazione” instead of Appellation, and France made their system, the AOC, using their word contrôlée, which…means the same thing, but they wrote it down first, and it’s now the international standard for Wines, while AOP applies to non-wine foods. Fun Fact: the AOP laws have existed since 80 years before the discovery of the New World. In 1411, use of the word Roquefort for regionally produced bleu cheeses became regulated by French Law.
In fourteen hundred, ninety two
Columbus knew what to call his bleu.
This is why, when you read certain products, they can seem a little…fishy. Italy has laws about what you can call Balsamic Vinegar, and they WILL fight you about it. France has been defending the legal names of its Bleu Cheese since before tomatoes were fucking discovered, you can be damn sure they’re going to raise a fuss if you start stealing their names. Hence you get products that say they're "in the style of" or "using the methods of".
But enough of pale imitators! Let’s talk about the Titans of the Sparkling Wine business, the Colossi of High-Society Sloshing: Champagne, Cava, and Prosecco.
A bit of Bubbly Basics
All three are AOP products: Champagne HAS to come from the Champagne region of France, Cava has to be Spanish, and Prosecco has to be Italian. You can sometimes get away with calling something a “Cava-style” or so forth, but wineries doing that can be walking on thin ice.
And if that ice is IN your wine, oh God help you...
They’re all sparkling wines, meaning that, for one reason or another, they contain a larger than usual amount of carbon dioxide (that vagueness is intentional. Champagne alone has 3 separate methods for creating the level of carbonation, each with a different, legally enforced word attached.)
Sparkling Wine in general is seen as celebratory: sparkling wine takes longer to make than normal wine, and before commercial carbonation, was seen as a rare experience. Interestingly, originally, the bubbles of sparkling wines were seen as a PROBLEM: weaker glass in the bottles lead to wines that sparkled unexpectedly exploding, sometimes causing chain reactions, destroying entire cellars’ worth of wine in wave of fizz and broken glass. Dom Perignon? The monk we named like, the classiest Champagne after? Was trying to STOP bubbles from happening, and make the non-sparkling version of the wine taste better. It was later French royalty who tried to make the bubbly version classy, and even then, it was seen as kind of a stupid thing rich assholes did until the mid-18th-century, when England made stronger glass so the bottles stopped exploding, and started importing Champagne, saying “hey, this bubble thing is kind of cool, now that it doesn’t ruin 80% of a wine cellar in an hour.”
It’s all just a Cham-Pagne
Champagne is the big name in sparkling wine. It has the market-share status of being a status symbol. It is tightly regulated, from what types of grapes can be used, where they’re from, the method used to create the carbonation, and how much sugar is in the final product ALL being tracked, many of them leading to specific names. “Brut” Champagne, for instance, is simply the designation for “Dry”. Well, TECHNICALLY, it’s the designation for “containing little sugar.” I say that because DRY is actually a higher-tier designation. “Dry” Champagne can have more than double the sugar of “Brut”.
"You Brut, you Brut, you vicious Brut!"
alternate caption: "You ARE the Brut Squad!"
In general, Champagne is the least sweet of the three. It’s likely to be more expensive, since it has the name recognition, and it’s a perfectly fine drink. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ragging on Champagne: if you want to stick to what people know, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m just here to explain the options.
Why Don’t you just Cava-In Already?
Cava is a Catalan sparkling wine, and therefore legally a Spanish one. Though maybe don’t say that shit too loud on the streets of Barcelona right now, okay? That’s a very touchy subject being worked out over there. I’m just using the term for convenience, not political messages. I just noted I had called it Spanish several times, and wanted to note that, should Catalan actually secede, that statement would no longer be true.
I'm sure it's a nice place. Personally, the only thing I know about Catalan is that this is apparently a picture of part of it, and one time, I had to learn a song written in its language for a play.
Which pissed me off, because the play was set in Italy, so why was I singing a language based in SPAIN?
Anyway, Cava, which comes from the Catalan for “Cave”, duh, has long been a celebratory wine in the region, being considered traditional for…basically any kind of formal event where drinking wouldn’t be frowned on: weddings, baptisms, big family dinners, etc. As you might guess, the wine was originally aged in caves. What you might not guess is how recently it started up: cava first started being produced sometime around 1860. Right around the time the Civil War was kicking off in America, Spain was getting on board the bubbly boat that France had already started milking. In fact, for decades they just called their wine “Spanish Champagne”, until France got pissy about it after World War 2, and forced them to change it in the 1970’s.
Cava tastes more like, well, fruit. Champagne is often noted for “biscuit” or “nutty” notes, while Cava tends to be described as “lemony”, “floral”, and “melon-y”. It’s a matter of how the grapes handle their yeasts: Champagne is pretty yeasty, while Cava is more fruity. It’s the second driest, in general, and normally quite acidic.
The Prosecco-Cution Rests
The sparkling wines of the town of Prosecco, near Venice, have been of noted quality since 1754. Heck, the wine was noted as one of the best in Italy as far back as 1593. But I prefer the 1754 reference because A: it actually uses the modern spelling of Prosecco, and B: it actually notes what Prosecco tastes like.
Prosecco has been something of the sleeper hit and black horse contender of the sparkling wine world: as noted, it’s been around almost as long as modern Champagne. It’s actually outsold Champagne a few times in history, and had tremendous growth over the years. If you invested in Prosecco in 1998, you’d have been pretty rich by 2008.
Prosecco has something of a rap as the “simple” sparkler: it doesn’t take as well to aging as the others, with some vintages needing to be consumed within 3 years. It has powerful primary aromas, meaning that, well, it tastes like what it tastes like. And what it tastes like are green apples, pears, and young peaches. I said before that Cava is pretty fruity, but Prosecco is the “Serve with a scoop of ice cream” type of fruity sweetness. Prosecco is a great drink for, well, drinking: while it lacks some of the alcohol of champagne, it’s not something you need to ponder or ruminate on, it’s just something you drink and enjoy. It’s light, fun, and perky. It’s a great sub for Champagne in something like Mimosas.
All that Sparkles is Cold
Of course, this is only a first step kind of primer to the world of sparkling wines. All sorts of varieties aren’t really touched on here, from Azerbaijani, to Greek, to Chilean and American. But, I figured that you’re not likely to go digging around your local wineseller’s for his German Sekt supply in the last few days before New Year’s. Hell, I spent a minute glancing over my local Fred Meyer’s sparkling wine rack and couldn’t find Cava! But there are options, and as the New Year approaches, I wanted to leave you all with one last little run-down from 2017.
How little did we cover here? You've only learned ONE word on this label!
I mean, you should be able to guess what basically everything but "spumante" means, but still, I only EXPLAINED Brut.
("Spumante" means "foaming", and refers to the highest class of carbonation. This says "A very dry, very bubbly wine, made in the classic style." )
Next time we talk, it’ll be 2018! And we’re starting it off with one heck of a catastrophic Cook-up: Jamaican Beef Patties. As ever, consider supporting us on Patreon, so I can afford to replace my now tragically battered headphones, share our page on Facebook, and help us spread! Things are going to get weirder, wilder, and hopefully I’ll only occasionally need medication to push through them! Let’s kick it OFF!