All about Sparkling Wine
When you think of celebrating, what are the first things that come to mind? Balloons, confetti, tasty food probably, and of course - bubbly. It is hard to properly celebrate without the pop of a cork from a sparkling wine. That one detail can come with a bit of stress when trying to find the right bottle to choose. Should you go with the classic celebration tool, Champagne? Will another sparkling do? What is the difference between sparkling varietals anyway? Does the price reflect the quality? Sparkling wine is a broad category so here’s some advice to help you pick the right option for all your festivities.
In the 1500s, carbonation in wine was not considered a good thing. Winemakers worked tirelessly to prevent bottles from re-fermenting and creating accidental bubbles. This process changed in the 17th century when the French began developing methods to purposefully produce the bubbles in sparkling wines we enjoy today, using carbon dioxide (CO2). When wine is put under pressure during fermentation, the CO2 is absorbed creating bubbles. There are two main ways these wines are produced: the traditional method and the Charmat method. The traditional method is used when the still wine is first bottled, then additional yeast and sugar are added during a secondary fermentation. Once incorporated, the yeast ferments the sugar into alcohol until it is dry and generates CO2, creating bubbles within the bottle. The Charmat method was developed during the turn of the 20th century. It allows the second fermentation to take place in a pressurized tank, instead of the bottle.
Champagne is a very specific varietal of sparkling wine. For sparkling to be classified as Champagne, the wine must be produced in the Champagne region of northern France and meet the winemaking requirements of the region. Champagne has coined the term “méthode Champenoise” in regard to its production process. It goes through the same system as the traditional method. The wines are often made with three different grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. If you see a bottle with the name “blanc de blancs,” this means it is made exclusively with Chardonnay. When a bottle is labeled “blanc de noir,” it uses Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier. These grapes are used commonly among American-made sparkling wines as well.
Prosecco is an Italian-made sparkling wine and is produced using Prosecco or Glera grapes. By European Union law, the wine must be produced in northeast Italy, traditionally the Veneto region, to be called Prosecco. This wine typically uses the Charmat method in order to produce a youthful and clean wine. Any vineyard using a minimum of 85% Glera grape can call their wine Prosecco. There are two types of Prosecco. You may find a bottle labeled “spumante,” which means it is heavily carbonated, while others are characterized as “frizzante,” meaning it has slightly less bubbles. In deciding which one to purchase, the choice is completely based on your own personal taste and desires.
Lastly, Cava is a wonderful and flavorful sparkling wine from Spain. Cava is most comparable to Champagne in both taste and production, with the biggest difference being the grapes. Its naming restrictions require it to be made in the traditional method. Commonly a white or Rosé blend, it is typically made with the Macabeu grape. To create Cava Rosé, vintners use the Spanish Garnacha and blend it with Macabeu for a sweeter, fruity flavor. About 95% of all Cava is produced in the Penedès area in Catalonia, Spain, but there are also some popular bottles from Rioja. Cava is very popular in Catalan and Spanish family traditions and tends to pair well with a variety of foods like tapas, seafood and even sushi. The flavor profile has a range, but typically features a more bitter taste than Prosecco, but not as nutty of a taste as Champagne.
There are plenty of other sparkling wines that do not fall into one of these three categories. Some of the most popular sparkling regions are the United States, New Zealand, Australia and Germany. These countries do not have strict production regulations, which allow for a wider range of flavors, textures and styles. The best way to learn what you like is by allowing yourself to try something new each time you shop.
It is a common misconception that higher price equals better quality when shopping sparkling wines. While it is sometimes nice to splurge on a higher priced bottle for a big occasion, it isn’t always necessary. At the end of the day, you should focus on celebrating with something you enjoy drinking. Ask your tastebuds what they are looking for.
Commonly asked questions about sparkling wine:
Where should I store my sparkling wine? Sparkling wines keep best at a cooler temperature. We recommend storing them in a location that is dark and cool and limits direct sunlight. Warmer temperatures cause the carbonation to fizz up and may lead to the cork popping prematurely. Some sparkling wines, like Champagne, should only be stored in the fridge for a short period of time before serving or you risk drying them out.
How long can I keep a sparkling wine for? When storing Champagne, keep the bottle on its side in order to keep the cork moist. This will help maintain the flavor. For other sparkling wines, store them up-right to keep the cork dry to prevent spoilage. Once opened, your sparkling wine has about a 3-5-day life span for enjoyment. In order to maximize this, use a sparkling wine stopper to preserve the carbonation.
Is sparkling wine a dessert/sweet wine? Some sparkling wines do veer towards the sweeter side. Most are considered an aperitif, meaning they are classified as a “pre-dinner” drink. However, this does not mean there are not varietals intended for post-meal consumption. Sweeter sparkling wines will be labeled “demi-sec” or “dolce” to show they have extra sugar added for a sweeter flavor. In general, we support drinking any form of sparkling wines whenever you see fit. These “rules” are more of a suggestion and should really depend on your personal tastes and desires.
Are sparkling wines a healthier choice? In comparison to red or white wines, sparkling wines tend to be healthier. They average less calories per serving size. Additionally, the carbonation can fill you up faster, causing you to consume less. However, it is important to keep in mind the specific type of sparkling wine you are consuming. Bottles labeled “brut” or “extra brut” imply that less sugar is used during production and tend to be considered healthier for this reason. Sparkling wines, as a whole, also tend to also have a lower alcohol by volume (ABV) than other varietals.