Despite what some believe, not all sparkling wine is Champagne. Champagne is, in fact, a region in France and not a type of wine. Calling all sparkling wine Champagne is like calling all the white wine in the world “Napa Valley.” With so many options, it’s important to know the differences so here are a few tips on finding your next great glass of bubbles.
How the Bubbles are Made
Every still wine has the potential to become sparkling wine. As yeast consumes sugar to create alcohol it produces carbon dioxide. With regular still wines the gas escapes. Sparkling wine producers add more sugar and yeast to still wine and capture the carbon dioxide to generate bubbly wine. But not all bubbles are the same, in part because there are different ways to create them. Each method impacts the size of the bubbles as well as the flavors and even the textures in your glass:
1) Traditional/methode Champenoise
Bubbles are created in each bottle and yeast is removed from each bottle (Champagne, throughout France and Cavas)
2) Cuve close or charmat
Bubbles are created in a pressurized tank and then bottled under pressure (Prosecco and German sekt)
3) Transfer method
Bubbles are created in the bottle decanted into bulk tanks, yeast is filtered out and re-bottled (Australia and USA).
Champagne vs. Other Sparkling Wines
Champagnes are generally acidic, nutty, and bready. Producers work hard to create wines with a signature or house-specific flavor profile. This takes a lot of work as most Champagnes are a blend of different grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) and from different years (hence the term Non-Vintage or ‘NV’). Single vintage Champagnes are made only in exceptional years and carry an exceptional price tag to boot.
Compared to Champagne, sparkling wine can be made from any grape from anywhere in the world. In the US and Australia, you’ll find producers experimenting with lots of interesting varietals and styles. From northern Italy, there is Prosecco, which is slightly lower in alcohol and acidity, making it fresh and accessible. If you love a little sweetness, try Moscato D’Asti, it’s the perfect aperitif or brunch wine. If you want bigger bubbles and full-bodied flavor that tends to be drier than Prosecco, order Cava from Spain. German sekt is more likely to be sweet than it is dry.
Another sparkling wine from France is Crémant and you’ll typically find it under $25. Crémants can be made from any grape grown in the region where it’s produced. So, it can be a Crémant de Bourgogne (or Burgundy) made from Chardonnay or Crémant de Samur made from Chenin Blanc.
Go Forth and Drink Bubbly Wines
There are lots of great sparkling wines that are both inexpensive and delicious. Remember that sparkling wine is just regular wine with bubbles; many are affordable, delightful with food and there is more than one for every palate.
– Alix Ford, DIYSommelier.com