It's getting to be that time of year where the holiday parties and merriment begin. We're all starting to think about celebratory festivities where it is customary to open a bottle of lovely bubbly!! Wait! Stop. It must be mentioned here that I am a firm believer in drinking bubbly all throughout the year, and just because you want to and not because it's a celebration. Ok, now back to the topic at hand. With all this talk of sparkling wine, it's common to hear people call all sparkling wine Champagne, and that's actually not the case.
In this post, we'll walk through the different types of sparkling wine you'll likely encounter over the holidays, and that includes Champagne!
A Quick Guide to Sparkling Wine
The most important thing about sparkling wine is that for a wine to be called Champagne, it must come from Champagne, France.
Champagne is France's most northern wine region, just Northeast of Paris. According to the region's wine laws, the only grapes that can make Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Also particular to Champagne is the traditional method winemaking style where the wine goes through a second fermentation in a wine bottle. Here the wine spends extra time on lees, and carbon dioxide is trapped in the bottle and turns and dissolves into bubbles.
When you see sparkling wines use the term 'Traditional Method' on the bottle, that means the wine was made the same way as Champagne, with that second fermentation done in bottle.
The term Crémant is used in France to describe sparkling wines made outside of Champagne. It is important to note that while in Champaign only Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier can be used, with Crémants, the regions use the grape(s) they are known for. Crémants are all made using the traditional method style and are a great alternative to Champagne at a fraction of the cost.
Prosecco is Italy's answer to sparkling wine and the ones with DOCG designation are delightful! The wine is found in two Italian regions, Veneto and Friuli; however, the best is located in a little area in Veneto called Conegliano Valdobbiadene. Prosecco's of this quality come with zesty citrus, honeysuckle, pear, and melon with the trademarked fine bubbles and crisp acidity.
When it comes to winemaking, Prosecco diverges from Champagne in that it is made using the Glera grape and the Charmat Method. The wines go through a second fermentation in a large pressurized tank in the Charmat Method. Not having to follow the production of second fermentation in bottle makes Prosecco cheaper and faster to produce. This is a fantastic sparkling choice as your house bubbles, given its freshness and affordability.
Cava is Spain's answer to sparkling wine, and unlike Prosecco, it is made in the traditional method, with second fermentation happening in bottle. You'll find Cava in the Penedès region of Catalonia, Spain, and it's a beautiful area. If you ever get the chance to go, you should.
Cava is a blend of the Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parellada grapes. You can expect high aromatics, crisp acidity, pear, golden delicious apple, and rich texture on the palate between the grapes and the winemaking.
It is not uncommon to find higher-end producers pushing for quality and turning out wines with extended lees aging and some experimental extraction.
Truthfully, you can find sparkling wine made in all wine regions. In the new world, winemakers decide if they want to follow traditional method style of bubbles production or charmat. The decision is really made based on access and affordability. Winemakers also get to decide what grapes they'll use, but to be as closely styled to the boss of bubbles, Champagne, they'll usually make it with the same grape varieties that go into Champagne.
If you find a new world sparkling wine made using the traditional method and the same grapes found in Champagne, it won't hurt to pick it up and give it a try. The ones of this style that I have had, especially, from Ontario have been extraordinary.
Now, you've got all you need to make a decision on the type of bubbles you will have dancing in your glass this holiday season.