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Buying the bubbly

There’s a sparkling wine to fit every holiday budget

December 25, 2011
By BARBARA WALLACE HUGHES, Messenger managing editor , Messenger News

Opening a bottle of Champagne to toast the New Year?

You won't be alone.

Bruce Murman, manager of Hy-Vee Wine and Spirits, 1511 Second Ave. N., said between 45 and 50 percent of his store's annual Champagne and sparkling wine sales occur in the last two weeks of the year.

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Hy-Vee Wine and Spirits store manager Bruce Murman displays a bottle of California champagne available for holiday celebrations. Only the beverage made in France is allowed to use the name Champagne with a capital “C.”

Champagne, Murman said, is usually sold to mark special occasions - New Year's Eve or weddings. Few people, he said, regularly drink the bubbly.

In fact, Murman said, local Champagne consumption seems to be dwindling.

"We sell less and less each year," he said, as regular, or still, wine consumption continues to rise.

And, while all Champagne is sparkling wine, the reverse is not true.

Champagne, Murman said, describes not only the fermentation process that creates the bubbly wine, it also means that grapes used in its manufacture must come from the Champagne region of France.

U.S. officials signed an agreement in 2006 to stop new producers from using the name. Existing brands were grandfathered in, but have to list their origin on the label.

It's not just American creations that have to refrain. Cava from Spain, sekt from Germany and prosecco from Italy also feature bubbles, but can't use the Champagne name.

Karen French, owner of Karen's Spirits and Wine Ltd., 328 Second Ave. S., said she, like Murman, rings up plenty of Champagne sales in the last two weeks of the year. But, French said, another segment of sparkling wines is a consistent seller throughout the year.

She said her customers are showing year-round interest in Moscato d'Asti, light fizzy wines produced in Italy.

"They're buying it all year long, not just to celebrate" special occasions, French said.

But for those who insist on Champagne, there's an effervescent choice to suit every budget, Murman and French agreed.

It's possible to spend more than $300 for a bottle of Louis Roederer's Cristal at Hy-Vee Wine and Spirits, and both stores stock the ever-popular and ever-pricey Dom Perignon. But the top seller at the Hy-Vee store and Karen's checks out at less than $5 a bottle: Andre, made by E & J Gallo.

In fact, Andre, according to industry reports, is the top selling sparkling wine in the United States.

No matter what the price tag, Murman and French agreed there are certain protocols to opening and drinking Champagne.

"It has to be really cold," said Murman. Most experts agree that 45 to 50 degrees is optimal; warm Champagne tends to foam and spill out of the bottle.

However, the debate continues how much cork-popping needs to be performed. Some revelers might enjoy watching a cork bounce off the ceiling, but there are safety issues to consider.

Ideally, a towel should be wrapped around the bottle's neck to prevent warmth being transferred from the hands of the person opening the bottle. The corks are held onto the bottles with wire cages because the contents are under pressure. The cages should be loosened or removed carefully. Turning the towel-wrapped bottle instead of pulling the cork results in less mess, less waste and less danger.

Once the bottle is open, there's no point in trying to extend the Champagne's life, said Murman.

"It's not really meant to be capped," he said. "After you've opened it, don't try to keep it or cork it. Drink it."

For those who want a different take on Champagne for New Year's Day, which falls on a Sunday this year, French suggested a new addition to her inventory, pre-mixed Mimosas.

Thanks to a company in Wisconsin, customers can purchase Champagne and orange juice already combined in one bottle.

"It's perfect for a Sunday brunch," French said, "and it just uses a church key; you don't need a corkscrew to open it."

Contact Barbara Wallace Hughes at (515) 573-2141 or



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