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Sparkling Wine 101

 

We all enjoy a delightful glass of Champagne. Although Champagne is the generic term used by many for sparkling wine, technically only sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France can be referred to as "Champagne". The French themselves are so stringent about this that French sparkling wines from outside of Champagne are referred to as Cremant. Italian Prosecco & Lambrusco, Spanish Cava and US sparkling wine are now giving France a run for their money by creating enjoyable and more affordable sparklers. Here is a quick 101 on sparkling wine:

 

Where do the bubbles in sparkling wine come from?

The bubbles are formed during a second fermentation process where the winemaker adds sugar and yeast to still wine that converts to carbon dioxide and alcohol. This second fermentation typically occurs in the actual bottle (traditional Champagne Method) but can also take place in the fermentation tank (Charmat Method).

 

What are the various sparkling wines?

  • Champagne - The original sparkler from the Champagne region of France. Champagne is made using Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
  • Cremant – Sparkling wine from other regions of France. This is often made using Chardonnay and Pinot Noir however Pinot Blanc, Riesling or Pinot Gris are also used.
  • Cava - This is the sparkler from Spain and typically made from native Spanish grapes - Xarello, Macabeo and Parellada. Cava is usually made using the traditional Champagne method.
  • Prosecco - This is the sparkler from Italy and typically made of Glera grapes. Prosecco is usually made using the Charmat method.
  • Lambrusco - This is a red sparkler from Italy and made from the Lambrusco or Colorino that is a wine grape variety planted primarily in Tuscany. Lambrusco is typically made frizzante (slightly sparkling) and like Prosecco is usually made using the Charmat method
  • US Sparkling Wine - In the US, we call it as we see it - simply Sparkling Wine. US sparkling wine is typically made similar to Champagne using Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes and the Champagne method.

What else do you need to know? Well a couple more things are you are almost an expert!

Dry or Sweet?

You may have noticed terms such as "Brut" or "Demi-Sec" on a sparkling wine bottle. What does this mean? These are classifications generally referring to the sugar level in the wine. The most common are:

  • Extra Brut - extra dry
  • Brut – dry (most popular style and very food-friendly)
  • Extra dry – middle of the road dry (great as an aperitif)
  • Demi-sec – pretty sweet (pair with fruit and dessert)
  • Dulce – very sweet and typically more than 50 grams of sugar per liter (serve as a dessert)

Vintage or Non Vintage?

Sparkling wines are also categorized as "vintage" or "non-vintage" (NV) meaning they either come from a single year or are a blend of several different years. The "vintage" Champagnes are typically pricier however the non-vintage Champagne and sparkling wines make up the majority of the market and are often as good!

 

White, Rose or Red?

Typically most sparkling wine is white or rose. Rose is a wine type that incorporates some of the color from the grape skins but not enough to be classified red. Red sparklers are not as widely produced.

Now that you are armed with the knowledge, go ahead and enjoy some delightful Sparkling Wine.

 

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