Nosh Box: It's Sparkler Time Again


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In times past, bubbly alcoholic beverages were limited primarily to sparkling wines. But today, selections have expanded.

Tristan Ferne

November officially marks the advent of our major U.S. holidays. Stock up now for Thanksgiving, along with December’s feasts and celebrations, followed by New Year’s, because as time progresses, supplies go nowhere but down.

In times past, bubbly alcoholic beverages were limited primarily to sparkling wines. But today, selections have expanded.

 

New Kid on the Block

If the name White Claw doesn’t ring a bell, you’re not part of latest bubbly trend—and maybe showing your age. The most popular hard seltzer, this sparkling beverage is a Gen-X favorite. Bay Area sales are up nearly 800% compared to a year ago. The drink trend of 2019, other brands in this cadre include Truly, Crook and Marker, Corona Refresca, as well as Bon, and Viv. Because of current successes, more are on the way, as major brewers and distillers climb on the fizz-wagon.

Although immensely popular, hard seltzers are dissed by some in the alcoholic beverage establishment as being weak, flavorless, or tasting like carbonated cocktail mixers.

So what exactly are hard seltzers? Starting with the first name, hard is accurate because these drinks contain alcohol, ranging from 5%–14% ABV, alcohol by volume. Most are at the low end of that scale, around 5%.

The second name, seltzer, is not only misleading, but also inaccurate. Instead of being a seltzer, or carbonated water, these drinks are actually malt beverages, like Mickey Big Mouth. The exception is Ficks, which ferments fruit for its hard seltzers.

For the others, fermenting malted grains produces their alcohol content that is then sweetened, flavored, and carbonated. But despite the misnomer, they are extremely popular. EATER perhaps best sums up why, “Hovering around 5 percent ABV and minimal in carbs and calories, White Claw and other spiked seltzers have positioned themselves as a healthy alternative….” So here’s to copping a healthy, low-cal buzz.

 

Hard Ciders, aka Sparkling Ciders

Apples—and occasionally pears—are needed to make cider. Some hard ciders may be dry-hopped like beers. And some look like, taste like, and may be substituted for sparkling wine as a beverage—as well as for white wines for drinking and cooking. The “Fruit Cider” category permits inclusion of other fruits or juices, but only in tandem with apples. And fermented pears yield a variety called “Perry.”

Fermentation again forms the lynchpin. The U.S. Association of Cider Makers declares that without fermentation, it’s apple juice, not cider. But despite an impressive name, this trade-association’s watchdog has no teeth. So the leading carbonated apple-juice producer stocks supermarket shelves with bottles labeled “Sparkling Cider.” Time for ghosting this bubbly mislabeler!

Looking for a cider to enjoy at home? Try anything from Gowan’s Estate Grown Heirloom Ciders at www.gowansheirloomcider.com.

 

Traditional Sparkling Wines

Here’s a categorical review from a past edition.

Champagne: France’s namesake sparkling wine is the standard of comparison for all others. The name is as fervently protected, just like Coca-Cola or Xerox in America. Their recent name change for the fermentation method from Methode Champenoise to Traditional Method demonstrates this protectionism.

Spumante: is the most popular sparkling Italian prosecco, or white wine. A slightly less sparkling version, frizzante, made from red grapes, and served young is called lambrusco.

Cava: From the Spanish word for cave, where the wines were first produced, sparkling cava is produced in Catalonia province. No blending is allowed. And sweetness levels range from brut nature, through dulce, the sweetest. Categorically, cava may be the best value among imported sparklers.

Sekt: Deutschland ranks 10th among global wine producers, including Sekt, the German term for sparking wines.

 

Select Favorites:

• The 2019 year’s penny-pincher award belongs to Stella Rosa Moscato Rosè at your local Costco warehouses, wearing a $8.99 price tag, along with item number 582185.
• Or say, “Viva le France,” with a tricoloré classic nudging the penny-pincher for value: Calvet Brut Blanc 2016, Crémant de Brodeaux, 70% Sémillion, 30% Cabernet Franc, from one of France’s oldest wine brands, for under $17 at multiple local outlets.

 

Sage Advice

Just because sparkling wines appear at special occasions, don’t save that bottle for your youngest grandchild’s wedding. Sparklers are ready to drink when you bring them home. Please do so. Don’t chance damage by storing them improperly—or for too long.

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