There is something about sparkling wine that feels festive. With many festive occasions, a bottle of “bubbly” is presented and served to celebrate the cheerful moment. But what exactly is sparkling wine and what kind of sparkling wine are there?
Sparkling wine is a wine with significant levels of carbon dioxide in it, which makes it fizzy. There are many sorts of sparkling wines available, from sweet to dry. The sweetness is indicated with terms such as “Naturelle” (very dry), Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry (light sweet), demi-sec, sec en doux (sweet).
Champagne is a protected name which only the sparkling wines from the Champagne region of France are allowed to use. Even how they call the method by which they get the bubbles into the wine is protected; méthode champenoise or the Champagne method. Producing champagne is not that straight forward, it takes a lot of time and effort to produce it. Well-known champagne brands are Taittinger, Bollinger, Veuve, Louis Roederer, Krug and of course Moët & Chandon. These bottles don’t come cheap and would cost over €40 per bottle in Europe.
Despite the fact champagne has a light colour it is made from two red grapes and one type of white grape. The wines are made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Pinot Noir is a robust grape, the Pinot Meunier ensures maturity (only small amounts are being used) and the white grape gives a light, fruity and fresh taste to the champagne. Champagnes with less or no Pinot Meunier are seen as the best champagnes. This because the Pinot Meunier grape matures fast and has a limited expiration date. Therefore this grape is only being used for champagnes that are in the cellars to mature for a short period of time. The longer the maturing process, the more expensive the champagne is.
How it’s made
When the flavours are good, the wine goes in the bottle. A liquor that contains sugar and yeast is added. The bottle then gets its bottle cap and is stored in a cellar. Because of the liquor after a few weeks, another yeasting takes place. This time they don’t let the carbon dioxide escape. Because of the pressure, the carbon dioxide mixes with the wine and the non-sparkling wine turns into a sparkling wine: champagne.
Most champagne houses leave a non-vintage champagne (a mixture of multiple years old) ripen in their cellars for about three years. After that a special process known a riddling or “Le Remuage” is being used to remove the dead yeast from the bottle without losing its sparkle. In the final stage, the bottle again gets another dosage of liquor. Depending on the type of champagne the liquor contains a certain percentage of sugar. After that, it’s time to insert the cork, put the muselet over it and give the bottle of champagne its label for recognition. Cheers!
Every other sparkling wine that does not originate from the Champagne region, are categorised as Cremant. Often named after the region the Cremant comes from (Cremant de Limoux, Cremant d’Alsace, Cremant de Bourgogne, etc.), these wines also reflect the distinctive flavours of where the originate from. In contrast to champagne, there are no restrictions to the use of grape varieties.
This sparkling wine from Spain is known to be called “The Spanish champagne”, because Cava is produced in the same manner as champagne. The three most important grape varieties that are used to produce Cava are Parelleda, Xarello and Macabeo.
This Italian bubbly has gained immensely in popularity over the last few years. Made from the grape Glera (mostly indicated as the Prosecco grape), most Prosecco-wines are made via the Charmat method. The flavour of Prosecco is significantly different compared to champagne. Where champagne has more character and flavour, Prosecco is usually more young, fruity and vibrant.
The German version of sparkling wine named Sekt, is often made of Riesling and other local grape varieties. Sekt is usually made via the Charmat method. However, a small portion of the Sekt production is made via the original champagne method, the “method traditionelle”.