Issue #40, July 2022
A little over a year ago, we were joined in the cellar by an expert of all that is wine, my friend, Marcel Bregstein. This knowledgeable fellow is a sommelier and the Assistant General Manager at one of Toronto’s most beautiful places; The Toronto Hunt Club, perched on the bluffs overlooking our magnificent Lake Ontario.
Well, I’ve invited him back to the cellar. This time to talk with us about his favourite type of wine; the sparkling kind.
As I hinted last time, this is a very special month indeed. My daughter is getting married in just a few days! So, what better reason to pop some corks and get to know more about bubbles with the help of our special guest.
Welcome back to the cellar.
Marcel earned his sommelier certification in 2003. To his great credit, he is one of just five Canadians to be inducted into the L’Ordre De Coteaux de Champagne, a Champagne fraternity that began in 1650. He was given the title of, Chevalier.
We couldn’t have a better guide to help us sip our way through the effervescent world of wine.
Jim: It’s great to see you, Marcel. Welcome back! I’m thrilled you’re able to join us again for our 40th issue of Jim’s Affordable Cellar.
Marcel: Thank you so much. It’s an honour to do this.
Jim: I would love for you to tell us about some of the differences between Champagne, Prosecco and Cava.
Marcel: Well, the differences come from the grapes, the processes, the colour and the taste. Champagne is produced using the traditional method called Champenoise, as is Cava. The makers of Prosecco use the Charmat method (after Eugène Charmat) which calls for fermenting their wine in a large steel tank instead of the second fermentation in the bottle, used in the Champenoise method.
Jim: If I placed a glass of each in front of you, how would you identify which is the Champagne, which is the Cava and which is the Prosecco?
Marcel: The first thing I would look at would be the colour of the three wines. Because the Champenoise method would produce a darker juice than the Charmat method. The Prosecco would be a little more green than the darker, yellow colour in the Champagne or Cava.
Then the bubbles. Definitely, the Champagne and Cava will have smaller bubbles and they will rise more rapidly than the bigger bubbles and slower speed you see in Prosecco.
In terms of comparing Cava to Champagne, I will find that Champagne is more sophisticated, better balanced and has no disrespect to Cava winemakers, but there is more elegance, more finesse and a really complex taste, certainly in a high-level Champagne but even an entry-level Champagne will have some of those components.
Jim: What about the variety of grapes used?
Marcel: Champagne uses one white (Chardonnay) and two red varietals (Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir). Cava is technically made with white varietals. Prosecco is made primarily with a different grape entirely; Glera.
Jim: If Champagne uses red grapes, why doesn’t it take on a red colour?
Marcel: Because there is no maceration, in other words, no contact with the skins. Unless it’s a rosé Champagne, then there will be contact with the skins.
Jim: Does sparkling wine taste better in a flute?
Marcel: Yes it does. As a matter of fact, most wine will taste better in a flute. The fact is, the opening at the mouth of the glass is small, and we are able to smell more of the juice. And 80 percent of the taste, is smell. So, when we’re putting that small opening up to our noses, we’re really getting to enjoy the nose of the wine more than in a glass that is more open. That is why using a flute is best.
The other factor is that you want to keep the bubbles alive as long as you can and the shape of the flute allows them to do so.
Jim: Has anyone ever tried to count the number of bubbles in a bottle of Champagne?
Marcel: Yes! And I actually knew the number. Let me think about this……It was 49 million bubbles in a bottle of Champagne. And in a glass, 400 bubbles are released per second.
Jim: On a dollar-per-bubble basis, Champagne is pretty inexpensive then. Joking aside, what would your ultimate food pairing be with Champagne?
Marcel: Okay, to be really honest I think Champagne is probably the best pairing for food overall. The reason is because of the acidity; the freshness and the bubbles also activate your palette.
I always tell people if you don’t have Champagne, at least drink soda water before you eat so it activates your palette.
Quick story. When I was doing my international sommelier certification, when we had to pair wine with food in that section of the exam, I could have said Champagne, Champagne, Champagne with every one of the dishes and I wouldn’t have been wrong.
But of course, people would always look to Champagne to go with appetizers, for lighter style cuisine and especially with seafood.
Jim: What is the rarest Champagne you’ve ever had?
Marcel: I had the opportunity to taste a 30-year-old vintage Charles de Cazanove Champagne, which was terrific. I’ve tasted a Dom Perignon from ’66. I had the honour to sabre a very special bottle for Mr. Taittinger. So, I’ve been really lucky.
Jim: Speaking of sabrage, how many bottles have you sabred in a minute?
Marcel: For the benefit of the Michael Garron Hospital, I challenged the sabrage record of 47. I was sponsored for $1,000 a bottle and I did 55 in a minute. An American from New York broke the record after and set the new record of 66 in a minute. If everything goes well, this fall I’ll be doing a benefit for all the frontline workers at Sunnybrook Hospital and hopefully I’ll do 68 in one minute.
While he was sharpening his sabre I asked Marcel to give some thought to a recommendation for an affordable, good-quality Champagne, Cava and Prosecco.
Here are his picks.
That bottle is a tad over our ‘affordable’ threshold, so Marcel offered this thought.
Marcel: It is also important to mention that “Crémant” is really good value. It is made in other regions in France using the same Champenoise method used in Champagne.
Crémant de Bourgogne is made with two of the varietals in Champagne “Pinot Noir and Chardonnay” So it’s as close as it can get to “Champagne” for less than half of the price.
Veuve Ambal Cremant De Bourgogne Grande Cuvee Brut
LCBO# 429688, 750 ml bottle
This seems like a must-try to me. Moving to Spain, here’s Marcel’s Cava reco.
Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava
LCBO# 216960, 750 ml bottle
And finally, here is Marcel’s Prosecco pic. By the way, I have a bottle on the go in the fridge at the moment. It’s soft yellowy green in the flute. Crisp, light and delicious tastes of green apple with hints of lemon zest.
Villa Sandi Prosecco Il Fresco, DOC Treviso
There we go. Four bottles to become more familiar with. Clearly, we have our tasting work cut out for us.
Release the Bubbles!
Sadly, I should let Marcel get back to treating the members at The Hunt Club to his deep wine experience and his ‘sparkling’ personality.
Speaking of entertaining, next month he’s shooting a pilot for a series about wine. I have a feeling there’s a bottle of Champagne in his future.
Jim: Thank you once again Marcel for joining us here in The Cellar.
Marcel: Absolutely. Call me any time James. I’m happy to chat.
That’s it for this month. What a pleasure it was to learn about Champagne, Cava and Prosecco with the great help of Marcel.
I’d like to keep this get together going, but I’m a little pre-occupied with something else; becoming a father of the bride. How exciting.
See you in August.
Until then, keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer.
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