Andrew Hutchins shows off two of the champagnes sold at The Liquor Hutch in Gasoline Alley: Baby Canadian and Dom Pérignon vintage 2004

Bring out the bubbly

When the clock strikes 12, the arrival of 2015 will be marked by the predictable sounds of noisemakers, butchered renditions of Auld Lang Syne — and popping champagne corks.

When the clock strikes 12, the arrival of 2015 will be marked by the predictable sounds of noisemakers, butchered renditions of Auld Lang Syne — and popping champagne corks.

The tradition of heralding the new year with bubbly beverages shows no signs of fizzling out, say local wine merchants.

“There’s a growing demand for it,” said Murray Tornack of the champagne at his Lacombe store, Chateau Wine & Spirits. “It seems to be on the rise, and there are more varieties now than ever.”

Brittany Gerbrandt, an employee at All Aboard Fine Wine & Spirits in Sylvan Lake, can also attest to the popularity of the special occasion drink.

“At Christmas time we sold a whole box of champagne to one guy.”

Andrew Hutchins, owner of The Liquor Hutch in Gasoline Alley, said New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day mark the peak selling periods for champagne, and demand is growing.

“I’ve found that we have sold more champagne this year than in the past.”

He thinks this reflects a broader consumer shift when it comes to alcoholic beverages.

“The whole wine industry in general has kind of gone up in the last five years, compared to what it was. Younger people are drinking it.”

There is some confusion about what is and isn’t champagne, pointed out Blair Gaume, owner of the Liquor Crossing Wine Centre in Red Deer. He explained that the name officially applies only to sparkling wines from the Champagne region of France.

“The true champagnes are probably $40 and up; you can spend as much as you want.”

For example, Dom Pérignon champagne sells for around $230 at the Liquor Crossing, with Cristal champagne in the $375 range.

There are less-expensive alternatives, said Gaume, ranging all the way to Canadian sparkling wines like Andrès Baby Duck and Spumante Bambino that cost about $10 a bottle.

“What’s really popular nowadays is prosecco, which is Italy’s version of champagne.”

With prices from about $15 to $40, prosecco provides good value, he said.

Tornack is also a fan of prosecco.

“There are some really good sparkling wines, proseccos, that are $20 to $30,” he said.

Of course, any wine will only achieve its potential if it’s served properly. This includes prior chilling, although Gaume offers some words of caution in this regard.

“Don’t leave it in the fridge for a month,” he said, explaining that this can affect taste.

A champagne flute, which is taller and narrower than a wine glass, is the best way to enjoy the flavour of sparkling wine, he added. And pour it slowly and carefully to minimize the loss of the carbon dioxide that gives sparkling wines their bubbly characteristic.

A final bit of advice from Hutchins?

“Just make sure you don’t hit yourself in the nose with the cork when it comes out.”

As humorous as this might sound, bottles can be pressurized to as much as 90 pounds per square inch — capable of discharging a cork at 80 km/h (50 mph).

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