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To celebrate a special occasion, there's simply no substitute for a bottle of bubbly.
For many, champagne is the ultimate symbol of luxury and style. The sound of a cork popping means it's time for a party to start.
On Wednesday when the clock strikes midnight, it's New Year's Eve - a perfect time to raise a glass of champagne and toast the passing of one year as well as the beginning of the next.
So what makes this bottle of bubbly magical?
"I'm drinking stars," said Benedictine monk Dom Perignon when he first tasted champagne. Some say he expressed this remark not out of joy but rather from disappointment, as the wine he tasted was bubbly.
Champagne is a specific appellation in France, just like Bordeaux or Burgundy. Sparkling wines such as Cava, Sekt, Spumanti and others are made with the same or a similar method as champagne, but unless they grow in the vineyards of Champagne, France, they cannot use the name.
The story of the green region of Champagne in northern France is filled with larger-than-life characters such as Dom Perignon, the father of champagne, who, contrary to popular belief, worked his entire life to keep bubbles out of champagne; Napoleon, who, in trying to conquer the world, introduced it to champagne; and Claude MoÃ«t, one of the most familiar producers, who hauled his bottles to Versailles and gave Madame de Pompadour her first taste of bubbly.
There are just three grapes used to make champagne: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. The first two are black grapes, the latter is white.
Most champagne is white, and may be made from any combination of the three grapes. The pulp, and therefore the juice, of the two black grapes is white, so a white wine is obtained from these grapes by gentle pressing and taking the juice off the skins before they have had time to impart any color.
The classic method of making sparkling wines requires a second fermentation. This process, which takes place inside a sealed bottle, produces carbon dioxide, and the result is a fizzy wine.
With New Year celebrations coming in few days, a few simple tips on serving sparkling wine should be all you need to get the party started.
Quick cooling of sparkling wines
To serve a sparkling wine, you will need to chill it properly by refrigerating the bottle for three hours before opening. But if you just bought it and it is at room temperature, you can cool it down quickly by filling a sink with enough ice and water to cover the bottle. Don't use ice alone. The presence of water is necessary for quick cooling. Lay the bottle in the iced water and twirl it for two to four minutes or let it stand for about 10 minutes. Put it in the refrigerator if you will be serving it later.
Sparkling wines are drunk as much for their appearance as their taste. The goal is a clear, totally dry glass. White wine glasses will do, but a fluted glass is worth the investment, as it encourages the bubbles to collect and rise to the top. Wipe the glasses with a dry cloth before serving and make sure they are totally dry. Water ruins the visual effect of sparkling wines. And don't chill the glasses - they will fog up and cloud the view.
Removing the cork
When removing a cork from a bottle of sparkling wine, be aware that the cork might shoot out like a bullet, so watch where you point the bottle.
The key to elegant cork removal is to wrap the cork with a towel and twist the bottle, not the cork. One can usually feel the cork coming free. Try to ease the cork out at the last second so the "pop" impact can be controlled - to the delight of all the onlookers.
Here are a few sparkling wines worth raising in a toast for the New Year:
Castell d'Olerdola, Brut Cava: Not imitating champagne but providing an alternative style, this semi-dry wine is clean, refreshing and even kosher. NIS 45
Lanson, Brut Black Label: A crisp and fresh champagne with a delicate aroma of spring blossom. NIS 220 (not kosher)
Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve Champagne: nicely balanced with long aftertaste. NIS 280 (not kosher)
Codorniu Reserva Raventus: an excellent quality dry sparkling wine with rich and toasty fresh flavor. NIS 60 (not kosher)
Marques De Monistrol Reserva Rose:
Crisp on the palate with ripe wild strawberry fruit flavors. NIS 40 (not kosher)
No lesser festive is the new limited edition of Absolut vodka that comes in brand new packaging. Following the success of last year's shiny Absolut Disco bottle which was packed in 1,000 reflecting prisms, this year the guys in Sweden have gone even flashier with Absolut Masquerade. The ultra-stylish limited gift pack is made from 3238 shiny red sequins and comes with a zipper in the back. When you unzip the wrapping, the label reads: "In an Absolut world, every night is a masquerade." NIS 120 (not kosher)
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