I never was too much a fan of bubbly until I started traveling. Up until then, I only remember ever having it on New Year's Eve or at a wedding. Well, let me tell you, trying different types of sparkling wine in new countries is an exciting experience. I don’t know how many times I’ve enjoyed some bubbly in the oddest of locations, and not to mention with the most interesting company. With that said, if it’s your turn to buy the bubbly don’t stress.
Choosing a sparkling wine can seem overwhelming, especially when in an unknown country, but rest assured, you’re in good hands here. Yes, granted, if you’re trying to buy a nice bottle to enjoy on a romantic night with your partner, you’re probably going to have to know a thing or two about the effervescent beverage. Besides that, play around with it. All you really have to understand are the basic differences between the types of sparkling wine, and that each variety has its unique bouquet of flavors and characteristics.
If you’re reading this, I am assuming you already have an idea about what a sparkling wine is or how to experience wine tasting, however, if you need a refresher, here you are.
Sparkling wine is classified as any wine which has been artificially or naturally made effervescent. The process of creating a sparkling wine includes the introduction of carbon dioxide, either by the winemaker or produced when the wine undergoes a second fermentation.
Finding your way in the world of sparkle doesn’t have to be a headache. Yes, there are so many different types of sparkling wine to choose, but then again, that’s what makes experiencing sparkling wine in a new country exciting. Every kind of bubbly is often made using a different grape varietal, most commonly either a Chardonnay or Pinot Noir grape, depending on where in the world you are.
Also, remember that if you fancy a particular type of sparkling wine like Cava, you probably won’t find the best ones in Germany, as Cava is produced in Spain. For a real authentic experience, head to the country, or even better, the specific region where the local sparkling wine is made. Choosing the right bubbly greatly depends on where you are. In my personal opinion, there’s nothing better than sampling local sparkling wine from its location of production.
Without further ado, let's jump into the world of sparkle!
When it's time to celebrate, Champagne suits the occasion. This bubbly is by far the most famous in the world, coming from none other than the agriculturally rich region of Champagne in France.
The traditional method used to make Champagne, also called méthode champenoise, produces smaller bubbles with a fruitier flavor. Any of the following grapes can be used to make Champagne:
I’m sure you already know, but in case the wine world is foreign to you, here’s an essential piece of information to point out. Only sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France can be labeled and sold as Champagne.
Yes, that’s right; if you think you could make some homemade sparkling wine and label it as Champagne, you might be in for a lawsuit, and I’m pretty sure no one would be happy to toast to that.
Champagne tends to be quite expensive partly due to its brand and limited production. Although, its cost is mostly influenced by the way it is made. The traditional process requires a lot of time, labor, and storage space. It is due to these additional factors that make the price of the world’s most iconic bubbly so high.
Always remember this, a poorly made bottle of champagne may only be an overly expensive substitute for an incredible tasting sparkling wine.
I may be slightly biased when I say I prefer Spanish sparkling wine (aka Cava), and that’s because Spain is my adopted home. Thus my preferences tend to lean towards local products. However, I enjoy the taste of it much more than the other types of sparkling wine.
Grapes with floral aromas can be used to make Cava, although the best Cava is primarily made with Macabeo grapes, which have a fresh lemon flavor. The resulting sparkling wine takes on only a light sweetness, unlike Prosecco which is predominately sweet in taste. Like champagne, cava is also made using the traditional method.
If you want to taste cava or other Spanish wines, I’d recommend visiting one of Spain’s colorful cities, like Barcelona (again, not biased because I live here, but seriously, Barcelona is fantastic and if you haven’t been, get yourself over here).
For a full gastronomical experience, you can take a food and wine tour around the old center. While you’re here, make sure to sample the incredible selection of traditional Spanish tapas on offer. There’s also no shortage of events and festivals in the city that are best accompanied by a glass of Cava.
The famous Italian sparkling white wine, produced using the transfer method, is champagne’s biggest competitor. Prosecco is produced in the region of Veneto, where it received its name. Although other non-bubbly forms of it exist, Prosecco Spumante is the most well known. The secondary fermentation of Prosecco occurs in stainless steel barrels before it is bottled a second time under pressure; this results in a sparkling wine with lighter, larger and frothier bubbles. Prosecco is excellent to drink alone or to add to one of the best Italian cocktails.
Bellinis or Mimosas anyone? Yes, please!
Produced throughout all regions in France, the method to make Crémant is the same as to make Champagne. The main difference is in the type of grapes used to make Crémant, which give a creamy and nutty taste to the final product. I don’t know about you, but my taste buds are definitely warming up!
When you think of sparkling wine, Tuscany’s wine regions, or those of France or Spain may come to mind. However, believe it or not, Germany produces one of the best varieties of sparkling wine.
You can find various types of Sekt, made with both the tank and the traditional method. The resulting flavor is nutty and floral while giving off a natural acidity. Sweetness and alcohol levels are also quite low. Whoever thought Germany had a bubbly side?
Whether it be still or sparkling, Rose wine is delicious! Notable for its fruity aroma and pink hues, Rose originated in Italy although its popularity has spread across the world. If sparkling rose wine is your preference, remember that all of the sparkling wines I listed above also have a rose version.
What’s the main difference? The red grape skins usually are left for a few days longer to add color and a subtle flavor to the wine.
Okay, maybe going pro isn’t your objective, but an understanding of the sparkling wine process does give you the upper edge. I also guarantee, the more you know about sparkling wine, the better you’ll be able to appreciate it’s complexity. More importantly, the real reason I am going to share with you the process of making sparkling wine is that I can’t miss the opportunity to share these wine facts from my nerdy brain! Also, a little extra knowledge won’t hurt you. If anything, it’ll make you look like a pro and help you impress your friends or significant other.
Alright, let’s kick off with the most basic yet comprehensive explanation of the sparkling wine process including the different methods of production.
Pay close attention to step 5; this is where the process splits into either the traditional method or the transfer method.
1. It all starts with, you guessed it, some deliciously ripe grapes as the base; white or red grapes will do the job.
2. Add ‘Liqueur de triage’ (yeast, sugar, clarifying agent, and nutrients) to the base.
3. Seal the bottle and place it horizontally to ferment. The ideal temperature should be between 10-12°C.
Bet you didn’t know that during fermentation, the pressure inside the bottle grows three times greater than the pressure in your standard tire?! In other words, making bubbly is a high-pressure job. Who would have guessed? Once the fermentation process is complete, the yeast dies and leaves behind a sediment of cells, called lees. Through the breakdown of the lees, in a process called yeast autolysis, various chemical compounds and proteins are released. This stage takes between roughly from 12 months to 5 years to complete.
*The specific fermentation method used is what ultimately affects the price, taste, type of bubbles and overall quality.
4. Next up is the removal of the lees through a process called ‘riddling’ in which by successive movements of rotating the bottle day by day, the lees fall to the neck of the bottle.
Yes, that’s right, much of this process is still done by manual labor! That means someone is physically rotating each bottle in the cellar. I’m sure you have a little more appreciation for bubbly now, I sure do!
Through disgorgement, these lees eventually exit the bottle in the same way a cork would when it pops off.
5. So now what happens with all the extra space in the bottle? In the traditional method, after disgorgement, the bottle is topped off with a wine and sugar cane mixture called liqueur d’expedition. The sweetness of the final product is determined by the amount of sugar added at this stage. In contrast, the transfer method requires the liquid in the bottles to be poured into large tanks where it then undergoes filtration. Once complete, the winemakers bottle the bubbly.
Yippie! It’s time to crack into the world of sparkle! Hold up; there’s still one more critical step.
6. The secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle for both methods. The traditional method undergoes its fermentation with age whereas the fermentation of the transfer method takes place under pressurized tanks. Some sparkling wines are insanely expensive in large part due to the way they undergo their second fermentation.
Many sparkling wine connoisseurs debate that, the highest quality sparkling wines are all made using the traditional method. This claim may be valid, but in fact, some of the best sparkling wines are produced using the transfer method. Personally, I am a big fan of the traditional method. All the time and energy that goes into making the perfect bottle of bubbly is all worth it for me!
Although I’m not a huge fan, there are three additional production methods used when making sparkling wine; they are:
If you’re looking for high quality bubbly to impress your sweetheart, friends, family or in-laws, sorry to say but these options won’t cut it. Aside from being inexpensive, their low cost of production means they are used only in high volume production.
Considering your budget and your tastebuds is the best way to end up with your perfect bottle of bubbly. If fruity sparkling wines are more suited to your palate, choose a Prosecco. Are you looking for an alternative to Champagne? Pick a bottle of Cava instead.
Here’s a little note on bottle labeling; If you’ve come across the word brut on bottles of sparkling wine and aren’t sure what it means, here’s your 1-minute lesson in brut!
What is Brut? - The dryness level of the sparkling wine
How is it measured? - Calculating the grams of residual sugar per 1 liter of wine
What are the categories of Brut - Extra Brut/Brut Nature (driest), Brut (dry with a touch of sweetness), Extra dry (less dry than Extra Brut and Brut), and Demi-Sec (sweetest variety).
There you have it, far more types of sparkling wine exist than Champagne, however, choosing the best one shouldn’t give you a headache, that is unless you’ve drunk the whole bottle yourself.
So what are you waiting for; crack open your bottle with your newly learned knowledge and raise a glass to the world of sparkle.
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