champagne
On New Year’s Eve, the yellow fizzy stuff in your glass might not actually be Champagne. Photo by Sam Howzit via Flickr.

Wherever you end up on New Year’s Eve, chances are someone’s going to put a glass of yellow fizzy stuff in your hand by about 11:55 p.m.

It’s not something to which people tend to give a second thought. Champagne at midnight is “just what’s done.” However, since this is a beer-themed site afterall, it’s a good bet that if drinking figures into your plans for Dec. 31 by the time the ball drops, you already would have finished your third or fourth pint and you might be ready for a palate reset. Champagne fits that bill.

Of course, what’s in your glass might not actually be Champagne. The term has become so generalized that it’s easy to forget that Champagne is what the French call an appellation d’origine controlee (AOC) and has to actually be produced in Champagne for it to bear that label.

That doesn’t mean anything that’s not produced there isn’t good, despite what some snobs might think. In fact, there are other classes of bubbly that enjoy the protection of other controlled appellations.

champagne
The Alsace region of France is well known for its Crémant d’Alsace, and it is also one of the great hop-growing regions of Europe. Photo by Jeff Cioletti.

For instance, the Alsace region is well known for its Crémant d’Alsace, which received its AOC designation from the Institute National de L’Origine et de la Qualité (let’s just call it French regulatory body) in 1976. Most frequently, Crémant d’Alsace uses Pinot Blanc grapes as its base, but it’s also common to find Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay or Pinot Noir varietals in it. There’s some variation on the sweet/dry scale, but some of the dryer ones (the Bruts) could have a yeasty/earthy/floral thing going on that can be quite appealing to a beer drinker. In fact, Alsace is one of the great hop-growing regions of Europe, producing everything from the familiar (Cascade, Nugget, Fuggle) to the curious (Bouclier and Aramis). If you’re a believer in the concept of terroir, it might make you giddy that the grapes are emerging from the same soil as those lupulin lovelies.

The term “crémant,” relates to the creaminess the carbonation evokes—all, from secondary fermentation in the bottle. Crémants are produced all over France and there are other Crémant AOCs (Crémant de Bourgogne and Crémant de Loire, for instance), so be on the lookout for the Crémant d’Alsace seal if that’s the route you want to go.

Now, there’s a good chance that what’s in your glass isn’t even from France. The Italians do a respectable job with their own sparkling stuff, Prosecco, which, if you actually wake up in time for brunch on Jan. 1, is probably what’s in your Bellini. Two key differences between Prosecco and Crémant d’Alsace, aside from country of origin, are the grapes used (Prosecco primarily uses the northern Italian glera varietal, previously and sometimes called “Prosecco”) and the method of secondary fermentation.

Prosecco’s secondary fermentation takes place in large stainless steel tanks, versus in the bottle. The ones that are robustly bubbly have undergone an extensive secondary fermentation and are known as Prosecco Spumante, which are usually the higher-end, more premium-priced sparklers.

So, why does any of this matter? You’re already very cognizant of the ingredients, brewing methods and points of origin of every carefully selected beer you’ll be consuming on December 31 (and the other 364 days for that matter). The same should apply to anything else you might drink that night—even if it’s just a single, fleeting sip at the moment 2014 becomes 2015.

Jeff Cioletti is author of the upcoming book, The Year of Drinking Adventurously from Turner publishing and founder of the beverage travel site, DrinkableGlobe.com. He’s covered the global beverage market for 12 years at Beverage World magazine, where he’s currently editor-at-large. 

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