If wine itself can be incredibly confusing, then champagne — the bubbly stuff in the bottle with the cork that’s almost impossible to get off — might well be the most confusing part of the entire confusing business.

Take what it’s called, for example. The only champagne that can be called champagne is French wine from the Champagne region. Everything else, according to labeling laws in Europe, the U.S. and most everywhere wine is made, must be called sparkling wine. Most champagne-style wine also lacks a vintage and doesn’t list its grapes. For a U.S. wine-drinking public raised on the idea that all wine needs a year and a name (such as 2001 chardonnay), this is almost an invitation not to drink.

Not to worry. This Valentine’s Day, know that most champagne-style wine is made from a combination of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier (though there are literally dozens of exceptions, especially for Italian and Spanish sparkling wines). And to maintain quality, most champagne is non-vintage; that is, it doesn’t have a date, but is a blend of several different crops.

The four basic champagne styles are brut, which is dry; extra dry, which is a little sweeter than brut (I said this was confusing); sec, which is medium dry; and doux, a sweet wine not often seen in the U.S. Look for the words methode traditional, methode champenoise, or some similar combination, especially on non-French sparkling wines. This means there were made in the Champagne style.

• Korbel Brut NV ($9). Dallas wine guru and radio host Darryl Beeson says not to fear — just because this is sold in grocery stores doesn’t mean it’s not a fine value.

• Gruet Methode Champenoise Brut NV ($13). This once was the house sparkler at the Mansion on Turtle Creek, and that it’s made in New Mexico didn’t matter. Lots of bubbles and a bit of fruit.

• Mumm Cordon Rouge NV ($41). Classic French bubbly from the heart of Champagne. Pricey, but if you wonder what actual Champagne tastes like, you can’t go wrong here.


WANT MORE?
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.