The Wine Whisperer: By Lorn Razzano

I received quite a response to last week's article on sparkling wine. Tis the season for sparklers, so I thought it might be just the ticket to end the year with one more article with a few new highlights to share on bubbly wine. Okay, here we go.

What makes a good sparkling wine? This question tends to set a few people on end because the truth of the matter is: Sparkling wine comes in all flavors and colors, as well as from many different growing areas around the globe.

Very few sparkling wines "taste" the same so the idea of "good" versus "bad" is a little hazy. I think the best way to describe sparkling wine is in the different levels of refinement in the glass that we taste. Refinement is the key to sparkling wine regardless of the level of cost per bottle spent. Ultimately, the refinement, elegance, polish and class we end up with in the glass tells the story of the quality of any sparkling wine. I have tasted $15 bottles of sparkling wine that have trounced (in competition) sparkling wines selling for three times as much money.

Let us look at what we should expect from a very refines sparkling wine.

Silk: In all of the great Champagnes, the taste sensation that makes the wine judges giddy is called "silk." (In order for a sparkling wine to be called Champagne, the wine must come from this highly desirable area of northern France.)

Silkiness is a combination of a creamy backbone, freshness and palate density. Not unlike fine white wines, great Champagne must have a weight or density on the palate and, to my understanding, Champagnes pretty much corner the market in silk.

This palate weight is the grip that makes the long and elegant aftertastes of really refined Champagnes stand out in the world of sparkling wine. There is really nothing to compare with this feeling on the palate, which is why Champagne is what it is: expensive and highly sought after. Really well made Champagnes, such as Dom Perignon, La Grande Dame or Cristal, have layers of this silky weight and command the prices for this elegance.

Glasses: Never put any sparkling wine in an open-ended glass. The best glass to use is a flute or chimney glass. These glasses are cylindrical in shape with a small opening in the top for the bubbles to come up into the nose.

The sparkles carry with it the bouquet of the sparkling wine, which is why sparking wines should never be swirled under the nose! Swirling a glass of Champagne takes away the carbonation and does absolutely nothing to enhance the bouquet of the wine. I have seen commercial wine judges admonished for doing just this. After three or so minutes, the swirl will render the sparkling wine flat. Nothing is worse than drinking flat sparkling wine and, of course, the wine cannot be judged properly in this instance.

The more constricted the glass, the more intense the enhancement of the nose of the wine. All of us have seen the flat bowl, old-time sparkling wine glasses. Toss 'em out. All these glasses can do is ruin a good glass of sparkling wine.

There is really no difference between a "flute" or a "chimney" glass; both serve the same purpose — to enhance a good sparkling wine.

Crispness: No matter if the sparkling wine is sweet, like an Asti Spumante or a very refined Prosecco or Spanish Cava, there must be a thirst-quenching variable in a sparkling wine. This thirst-quenching aspect of the sparkler, mostly from the acids in the wine, are crucial in the overall enjoyment of the wine. Nothing is worse than a sparkling wine that ends up flabby with no freshness in the end tastes. Even sweeter sparkling wines must have this crispness to balance the sweetness or the wine might taste like sparkling Kool-Aid! Ugh! Choices for the New Year bash: Spanish Cava for about 12 bucks "Gran Moments." Clean and very good! The Gasparini Prosecco from Italy at about $20 is a real treat indeed.

There you have them! Happy New Year to all of you!