Sparkling wine is associated primarily with celebrations, as is the world renowned Champagne. These wines traditionally were considered an occasional extravagance. Today, sparkling wine is made in almost every wine-producing region around the world. It is very affordable and made for every budget.
In the Making
Sparkling wine is made from still wines, such as Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, French Colombard or Pinot Noir, which serve as a base for the unique winemaking process. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes are used almost exclusively in making premium sparkling wines.
One method of making sparkling wine is called the transfer process, which is the same as Méthode Champenoise, up to the point of the bottling. The second fermentation does not take place in the actual bottle as in the making of Champagne.
The wine is bottled en tirage. Following the secondary fermentation the bottles are emptied under pressure and the wine is filtered. The transferred wine is then bottled under pressure into a new set of bottles which are shipped to market.
Read the Label
Sparkling wines sold in the United States are subtly marked with the statement “Fermented in this bottle” which refers to the process being Méthode Champenoise. Or, a very similar statement, but a very different meaning will read, “Fermented in the bottle” which indicates that the process used was the transfer method.
Sparkling wine varieties:
- Cava is Spain’s sparkling wine
- Sekt is from Germany
- Spumante is from Italy
- Crémants are from France
Cava is produced in the Penedès region in Catalonia, Spain. Its name is derived from the Catalan word for cellar. It can be either white or pink sparkling wine. Under Spanish Denominación de Origen laws, Cava can be produced in six wine regions and must be made according to the Méthode champenoise.
By Spanish law, cavas are aged in the bottle a minimum of 9 months and the grand-reserves are aged 36 months. Cava spends less time on the lees than Champagne so it has more earthy flavors and has less yeasty flavors than Champagne.
Cava is produced in varying styles: brut (extra dry), seco (dry), semi-seco (medium) and dulce (sweet).
Asti or Asti Spumante
Asti is a DOCG sparkling wine produced in the Asti region in Piedmont, Italy. Made from the moscato grape, it is available as a sparkling wine (Asti, earlier known as Asti Spumante) and a frizzante (Moscato d’Asti). Both are sweet and low in alcohol, and often enjoyed with dessert.
Prosecco is a white sparkling wine made from the prosecco grape grown in the Veneto region in northern Italy. In Venice Prosecco is considered an ombrette, a pick-me-up. It has become the second leading sparkling wine or spumante in Italy after Asti.
Similar styled wines produced elsewhere are often called spumanti which is a generic term for all types of sparkling wine. Sparkling wines labeled as spumante are often semi-sweet or sweet.
Frizzante is an Italian term for semi-sparkling wine. The lower fizziness of frizzante wines is due to a partial second fermentation in the tank, a sort of interrupted Charmat process sparkling wine.
While the majority of sparkling wines are either white or rosé, Italy produces a red spumante made from barbera or nebbiolo grapes from the Piedmont region. Sparkling wines are perfect as an aperitif (whets the appetite).
French Sparkling Wine
Crémant de Bourgogne is the French sparkling wine from the cool-climate area of Burgundy. Crémants d’Alsace is a blend of traditional Champagne grapes (chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot meunier) and Alsatian grapes of pinot gris, pinot blanc and riesling. The Crémants d’Alsace range from tart, to citrusy, to a minerally sparkler depending on the blend of grapes.
The Loire Valley produces a sparkling Vouvray which is made with the chenin blanc grape and has less fizz or sparkle.
Sekt – German Sparklers
Deutscher Sekt is considered Germany’s quality sparkling wine and is made from the German traditional riesling and müller thurgau grapes.
German Sparklers are either Trocken (dry) or Halbtrocken (medium dry). Ninety-five percent of German sparkling wine is known as Sekt and made mostly from white grapes. German sparklers have a zesty mineral character.
Australian Sparkling Wine
The cool climate regions of Australia, such as the Yarra Valley and Pipers River, produce fresh simple sparkling wines. They also produce a red sparkler from the shiraz grape.
Brunch or Dinner
The wide range of styles makes sparkling wine the perfect aperitif. It is also one of the most food friendly of wines.
Here is a list of foods that will compliment your sparkling wine list: eggs, cream, olives, spicy dishes, green vegetables, raw oysters, clams, smoked fish, salmon tartare, lobster, crab, scallops, caviar, swordfish, sushi, sashimi, steak, sausage, pizza, foie gras, nuts, olives, paté, spicy foods, Thai foods, soft goat cheese.