Sparkle All Night
Nothing says “Let’s Celebrate!” quite like the pop and fizz of a champagne bottle being opened and shared with friends. Choosing a bubbly you’ll enjoy can be a little overwhelming, though. For instance: what is the difference between “Sparkling Wine” and “Champagne”? Where do Prosecco, Cava and Spumante fit in? Here’s your basic guide to choosing bottles you’ll love.
Sparkling wine is any wine that contains dissolved carbon dioxide, resulting in a fizzy drink. The different names for these sparkling wines really come down to the Where and How they’re made, which results in a wide array of sparkling wines to enjoy. It’s made by taking the simple formula for fermentation (sugar + yeast = alcohol + CO2), and not allowing the resulting gas to escape.
When you ferment wine in a closed or sealed environment like a bottle, the CO2 returns into the wine, only to be released in the form of tiny bubbles after opening. Those bubbles can be achieved in a variety of ways, either by a second fermentation right in the bottle, in a large tank, or even by CO2 injection. Most sparkling wines contain about five liters of CO2 compressed in a 750ml bottle, so it requires a bottle with a specific shape and thicker glass designed to withstand the pressure. It’s sealed with a heavy-duty cork and muselet, a wire cage that holds the cork firmly in place.
Probably the most prestige bubbly there is, Champagne is where it all started… Although not entirely accurate, legend attributes the discovery to a monk named Dom Perignon (1638-1715) who lived in the Champagne region of France. Due to the region’s cooler climate, deep cellars and lack of insulation, fermentations would begin, but stop prematurely when winter began. Wines would be bottled before fermentation was complete, and when cellars warmed up in spring, fermentation would kick back into gear. With nowhere for the CO2 to escape, it returned to the wine and eventually blew the corks out of the bottles. It was here, as the legend goes, that brother Perignon caught the wine in his glass and proclaimed “Come quick! I am tasting stars!”
Nowadays, in order for a sparkling wine to be called Champagne, it must be produced from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier grapes grown in the Champagne region of France and follow strict rules governing production methods, especially secondary fermentation of the wine in the bottle to create carbonation. Today’s methods of making Sparkling Wine are much more controlled, but the chemistry is the same. Many producers outside the Champagne region use the same “méthode traditionelle” or “méthode classique” as Champagne, but will label their wine simply as “Sparkling Wine”. Great champagne will have fine bubbles, a creamy texture and often some toasty, nutty, freshly baked bread flavours which will improve the longer it ages, so look for older vintages. As a rule, it pairs well with hors-d’oeuvres and seafood.
Sparkling Wine – Moscato D’Asti and Asti:
- Moscato D’Asti is a lightly effervescent wine (a style sometimes referred to as crackling or frizzante in Italian) made from Moscato grapes in the region surrounding the town of Asti. It is sweeter and floral, with flavours of honey, peach and pear. It’s a great match for many desserts and creamy blue cheeses.
Example: Batasiolo Moscato d’Asti
- Asti (formerly known as Asti Spumante). Spumante simply means “Sparkling Wine” in Italian and Asti (Spumante) is the fully sparkling version of Moscato wine. Example: Martini Asti Spumante
Prosecco is an off-dry sparkling wine made in the Veneto region in northern Italy from the Glera grape variety. Prosecco is best enjoyed young and fresh, where its floral and white peach notes will shine through. It is a great pairing for Prosciutto, Brie, nuts and seafood…a wonderful party wine!
Prosecco Example: Ruffino Prosecco
Spanish Cava is made the same way as Champagne, but with a blend of three different grapes (Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo), which result in a balanced and fruity wine that is crisper and more citrusy than Prosecco and not quite as nutty as Champagne. Rosé blends are often available as well, with berry flavours thrown into the mix.
Cava Example: Segura Viudas Brut Reserva
Sparkling Wine Sweetness Scale:
Depending on where and how the wine is produced, you’ll often find a descriptor like “brut” on a bottle of bubbly. This refers to the amount of residual sugar in the wine, and there are lots of options to choose from. Very dry wines will have almost no residual sugar and will be labelled Brut Nature, Extra Brut or Brut. Wines that are off-dry will (confusingly) be labelled as Extra-Dry or Dry. Finally, wines labelled Demi-Sec, Demi-Doux or Doux will be sweeter wines.