POULSBO — Poulsbo Market wine buyer Don Thornton likes to say that an informed customer is more likely to be a repeat customer.
He’s hoping that with a little bit of instruction, champagne skeptics may try bubbly again this New Year’s Eve.
Thornton, who turned his personal passion for wine into a career about four and a half years ago, said he finds a good glass of sparkling wine (as all “champagnes” not made in the Champagne region of France should properly be called) a welcomed drink for any occasion. Even so, he said he comes across a lot of people who say they don’t like the drink, possibly because of a misunderstanding about the range of tastes.
There are actually four types of sparkling wine: brut, the driest or least sweet; extra dry, less dry but sweeter than brut (“Believe it or not,” said Thornton); demi sec, less dry and more sweet than extra dry; sec, the least dry and most sweet variety.
Brut is by far the most common and most popular variety worldwide, however, Thornton said most people who tell him they don’t like the taste of sparkling wine have only tried brut.
“Most people don’t like too sweet or too dry, they like wine that’s somewhere in the middle,” said Thornton, noting that he feels extra dry has a more widely-appealing taste, at least to Americans.
Once the drinker has decided what classification of wine they prefer, he said the only other real consideration is price.
Typically, he said, French manufacturers start at prices between $25 and $30, but there are equally good California and Washington wine merchants with products in the $10 to $15 range. However, Thornton said that with anything below these cost markers, it’s buyer beware.
“With really, really inexpensive wine you get what you pay for. They make it in huge, giant, 80,000-gallon tanks and you’re getting mass-produced wine for a mass-produced price,” he explained. “You can get good value wine at about $10 but when you’re talking $3 and $4 wine you’re getting what you pay for.”
Once the wine buyer gets their purchase home, Thornton added that the treatment of the bottle will also affect the experience of drinking the wine. First, he said, a bottle of sparkling wine should never, never be shaken. And as for the old trick of popping the cork across the room, that’s also a no, no for more than the reason that you could shoot your eye out, kid.
“A lot of people take wine, they undo the foil cap and cage and they literally twist the cap off and let it shoot out. You should never do that with sparkling wine because the idea is to keep all of the bubbles in the bottle,” Thornton commented. “If you’re trying to do it for the cause then I guess it’s okay but that’s not the best way to treat your wine.”
A better way to free the cork from the bottle, he suggested, is to wrap a towel or a cloth around the cork, hold the cork in one hand and the bottle in the other. Very gently turn the bottle rather than the cork, Thornton said. The cork will begin turning in the bottle and eventually it will exit the bottle with a slight whoosh or pop, rather than a loud pop with accompanying bubbly foam spilling all over.
And proper treatment of the wine also includes choosing the right glass. Thornton said the shallow, 1950s, “Rat Pack” style of glasses are no longer recommended. The ideal glass is a flute shape, which traps the coveted bubbles for a better drinking experience he said.
Lastly, it’s a little Aud Lang Syne, a toast to health and happiness and bottoms up. Cheers.