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Friday Fishwrap
Magnum Bottlings of Sparkling Wine Make Me Thirsty

By Stephen Eliot

I have heard all the explanations, and I don’t care if they are right or wrong. I like good sparkling wine that has been aged en tirage in magnums.

It is that time of the year, as it has been for the last thirty-five or so here at CGCW, that we start popping corks for our annual sparkling wine review. In all truth, I must confess that I have been slow to warm up to fizzy wines, and I do think that many are either too candied or too brittle and bitingly acidic. I must also admit that ever so slowly I have, with the unbridled passion of a true convert, become a fan of the really good stuff.

Now with most wines and spirits, no matter how good they may be, pouring a few extra glasses is neither prudent nor all that rewarding…especially the next day. I am not sure just why, but I find the best sparkling wines to be so engaging that it is all too easy to slip into thinking that, if a little is good, then more must be better. I mean can you really drink too much of the good stuff? I am not talking about the nasty New Years’ concoctions that we all can recall, the mawkish, manufactured potions which could understandably put someone off sparkling wine for years, I mean the good stuff…the really good stuff.

Perhaps it is because fine Champagne and its New World cousins are not wines that I would every chose to drink alone and that there is accordingly more competition for the last glass, but there simply never seems to be enough to quite go around, and the need for a second bottle seems a given. Several months back, I lamented the difficulty that attends finding smaller half-bottle formats for fine table wines, and now I find myself doing the same with regard to 1.5 liter magnum bottlings of fine Methode Champenoise sparklers.

There is much more behind my fond wishes for a better selection of bubbles in big bottles than simple convenience. Experience has taught that, with but an occasional exception, sparkling wines fermented and aged in larger formats are different and almost always better. We have seen it time and again in our tastings going back over the years, and, while we are aware that sometimes that which is bottled in magnum is in fact a different wine owing to everything from cuvee to time en tirage, it is an uncommon evening where a sparkling wine in a 750 ml is not bested by its magnum counterpart.

We have preached from our pulpit and recommended to our readers that they seek out larger bottles, and we are far from being the first and only folks to do so. I really don’t know just why it is that big-bottle bubbly turns out so good. I have heard all of the explanations of ratios of liquid to airspace and the subsequent and very suspect effects of some slow breathing through the cork as the wines age, but I have yet to see the science that can explain what I know to be true. I suppose, in the end, that I am just as happy that I have not. Call me an enological Luddite, if you will, but great wine, and that most certainly includes fine Champagne, is about poetry and passion and the emotional heart far more than about molecular chemistry. I just wish for a bit broader selection of large-format releases, particularly from those local vintners that stand at the head of the class.

We have seen the almost magnitudinal differences in magnums from Mumm, Chandon, Gloria Ferrer and J Wine Company, and I can only guess at what pleasures might lie in store if larger tête-de-cuvée bottlings of J. Schram, the Domaine Carneros Le Rêve and Roederer Estate’s L’Emitage were to be found.

I know what I want for Christmas. Is anyone listening?


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