The Sparkling Pom-Berry Splash combines pomegranate-blueberry juice and sparkling wine. - Bob Pennell

Bring on the bubbly

Chris Dennett doesn't wait until New Year's to break out the bubbly.

Sparkling wine adds flair to numerous cocktails — no matter the date on the calendar — at Dennett's Elements Tapas Bar & Lounge in downtown Medford.

"It gives it sort of a texture," says Dennett. "Even just the cheap stuff is really good."

Elements uses Wycliff, produced in California, in its cocktails, but Dennett also recommends Andre, a budget label that tends toward the sweet end of the spectrum. The subtle sweetness, however, can be used to bartenders' advantage when mixing fizzy drinks.

"(Sparkling wines) get used a lot in some of the traditional cocktails, like the French 75," says Dennett. "That was being made in the '20s."

So a bit of bubbly is appropriate in Dennett's Encore, a cocktail crafted earlier this month in honor of downtown's historical Holly Theatre. Elements is just one in a handful of downtown eateries featuring the Encore on their cocktail menus. At Elements, $3 from every Encore sale will be donated toward the theater's restoration, which began last week.

"As a celebration ... I thought that something with sparkling wine would be pretty fitting," says Dennett.

New Year's traditions aside, the lightness of many sparkling wine-topped cocktails encourages revelers to imbibe a bit more, says Dennett. The Encore's inclusion of Peychaud's Bitters is indicative of the trend toward more savory cocktails that don't go down like desserts, he adds.

Sweetness levels assigned to Champagne can confuse casual consumers. Brut is usually the driest and most commonplace style; extra-dry is actually slightly sweet; sec means "dry" in French but, when applied to bubbly, means medium-sweet; demi-sec, which literally means "half-dry," in bubbly means quite sweet; and doux is the sweetest bubbly, a dessert wine.

Marketing and terminology around Champagne also percolates with protocol. True Champagne is made in the French region by that name. Elsewhere in France, it is vin mosseux.

In Germany, sparkling wine is sekt. In Italy it is spumante. In Spain it is cava. In Russia it is often called shampanskoye, although that irks the French because it's too close to "Champagne." In the Americas, Australia and South Africa, it is sparkling wine, although the term Champagne often is used.

Although various varietals of wine can be used to produce a bubbly, the actual bubbles traditionally are the product of fermentation. Natural grape sugar combined with yeast yields alcohol and carbon dioxide. Winemakers who don't want to wait for the chemical reaction simply pump carbon dioxide into their wines.

Michael Giudici styles himself as the only local winemaker using the traditional "methode Champenoise" to produce sparkling wine at his John Michael Champagne Cellars in the Applegate. The labor-intensive process takes about 10 years, making for a wine that will hold its quality for two to three years after bottling.

"It's already aged," says Giudici.

At $50 or more per bottle, his Champagne — or any other fine label — should have a glass all to itself, says Giudici. And don't hold onto it for the perfect occasion, he adds.

"When you put a cork in a bottle of Champagne, drink it."

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email McClatchy News Service contributed to this story.

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