There are so many choices, it can be difficult to know what to buy without defaulting to what you always have.
Sparkling wine is the tradition to bring in the New Year, however it can be frustrating to know the difference. I will break down the choices so you have the tools to make the best decision.
Before getting into the different options let’s talk about how sparkling wine is made. Sparkling wine goes through two fermentation processes, however it is the second fermentation the produces the bubbles. Most sparkling wine is made is one of two methods, Traditional (Classic) method or Method Champenoise and Tank (Charmat) method.
The traditional method has the second fermentation taking place in the bottle where sugars and yeasts are added. This method produces smaller bubbles and is the method used when making Champagne.
The Tank method has the second fermentation taking place in a large steel tank. This process helps to create larger bubbles and is used in sparkling wines such a Prosecco.
Sparkling wines have different pressure levels which will affect our perception of their taste. Beady describes a wine bottled with less than 1 additional atmosphere of pressure and bubbles will appear on the sides of the bottle when wine is opened. Semi sparkling or Frizzante is slightly sparkling with 1 to 2.5 atmospheres of pressure. Sparkling or Cremant, Sekt or Spumante has 3 or more atmospheres.
Let’s talk about six types of sparkling you will find in your local liquor store.
Champagne is probably the most popular and widely known sparkling wine. The name is often used to describe sparkling wine in general, like Kleenex or Aspirin, however Champagne can only be considered Champagne unless it comes from the region of Champagne, France.
Grapes are picked and fermented into a dry wine and then blended together into a cuvee. Yeast and sugars are added to the cuvee to start a second fermentation and wines are bottled. As the yeast dies it remains in the bottle while the wine ages.
Champagne requires a minimum of 15 months of aging (36 months for vintage). The yeast is collected in the neck of the bottle, which is then disgorged from the bottle.
A mixture of wine and sugar is added to fill bottles and then recorked and labeled. Champagne is quite versatile when pairing with foods.
Prosecco gets its name from the village it originated in Prosecco, Italy. Prosecco is made from the Glera grapes and tends to be on the sweeter side. This sparkling wine is made using the tank method and has larger bubbles. Prosecco is a popular addition to cocktails.
Cava is a sparkling wine that comes from Catalonia, Spain and is produced in the traditional method and is made from the Spanish grape, Macabeo. This grape adds a fresh lemony flavor to the wine. It can also be made with the Xarello and Parellada grapes which adds fruity undertones of pear and citrus. Cava tends to have floral aromas and is less sweet in taste than Prosecco.
Cremant is a sparkling wine that can be produced in several areas of France outside of Champagne. These are done in the traditional method and though the flavor may vary depending on the grape used most have a creamy and nutty taste rather than sweet.
Sekt is a sparkling wine that comes from Germany and is known for its low sweetness and alcohol levels. The wine has a natural acidity and fruitiness and can be made in both the tank and traditional method. Then you also have to decide what level of sweetness you would like. Extra brut is the driest form with 0 to six grams per liter of residual sugar. This level of sweetness goes great with French Fries, Oysters, and Sashimi.
Brut is the most popular as it is still dry but has a touch of sweetness. It can have up to 12 grams per liter of residual sugar. Champagne often comes in this variety. This goes great with a cheese plate, scallops and a mushroom risotto.
Extra Dry ironically contains more residual sugar than the previous two. It will contain anywhere from 12 to 17 grams per liter. Prosecco is often extra dry and goes lovely with a charcuterie board, devilled eggs and asparagus.
Demi Sec is the sweetest of the group. This variety can contain anywhere from 32 – 50 grams of residual sugar. This is a wine that one would drink with dessert such as dark chocolate, strawberries and cheesecake.