Updated December 26, 2023.
Here's a list to help you with your holiday sparkling wine buys.
It's getting to be that time of year when the holiday parties and merriment begin. We're all starting to think about celebratory festivities where opening a bottle of lovely bubbly is customary. So, to help you navigate your wine store, this post will walk you through the different kinds of sparkling wine you can find on the shelves and what to expect from them. Our hope is that you walk away with a few bottles to show the range of sparkling wine.
A Quick Guide to Sparkling Wine
The most important thing to get out of the way is that for a sparkling 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, there are eight different types of grapes that can be used to make Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Petit Meslier, Arbane, and most recently approved, Voltis. Still, the most commonly used grapes in Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Also particular to Champagne is the traditional method of winemaking, where the wine goes through a second fermentation in individual wine bottles. Here, the wine spends extra time on lees, and carbon dioxide is trapped in the bottle, which later dissolves into bubbles.
When you see sparkling wines use the term 'Traditional Method' on the bottle, it means the wine was made like Champagne, with that second fermentation done in bottle.
Pol Roger Brut Champagne: This is a highly aromatic sparkling wine that continues to delight. Expect ripe fruit flavours amongst bright acidity and refined texture on the palate. From the same house that brings you the Winston Churchill Cuvee, you see a similar dedication to excellence here.
Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Champagne: Lovely Champagne at an approachable price point. Medium textured bubbles that provide a smooth mouthfeel.
The term Crémant is used in France to describe sparkling wines made outside of Champagne, using the Champoinzse method. Eight regions in all produce Crémant wines using the same traditional method as Champagne. The grapes used to make Crémant are known to the region in which it is made. For example, when you see a Crémant de Bordeaux, there is a good chance the grapes used are Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon because they are grapes the region of Bordeaux is known for.
The most important thing to take away is that Crémants are a great alternative to Champagne and at a fraction of the cost.
Louis Bouillot Perle d'Aurore Brut Rosé Crémant de Bourgogne: This is a delicious and food-friendly sparkling that will appeal to many. This is a blend of Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Chardonnay. Perle d'Aurore's red berry vivaciousness is a real treat. This wine pairs well with conversation, as well as salads and seafood.
Cave de Ribeauvillé Giersberger Brut Crémant d'Alsace: This fun blend of Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois is very giving on the palate and is matched up by even more enticing aromas. Expect zesty citrus notes, apple and honey. Truly a delightful sparkling wine.
Prosecco is Italy's answer to sparkling wine. What you want
to look for here are the ones marked with the DOCG designation.
Prosecco is found in two Italian regions, Veneto and Friuli; however, the best is located in a little area in Veneto called Conegliano Valdobbiadene. Proseccos of this quality come with zesty citrus, honeysuckle, pear, and melon with the trademarked fine bubbles and crisp acidity. You can read more about Conegliano Valdobbiadene here.
When it comes to winemaking, Prosecco diverges from Champagne in that it is made using the Glera grape and the Charmat Method. In the Charmat Method or Tank Method, the wines undergo second fermentation in a large pressurized tank (autoclave). Not having to follow the production of second fermentation in a bottle makes Prosecco low-cost and faster to produce, hence the more approachable pricing.
Prosecco is a fantastic sparkling choice, given its freshness, highly aromatic nature, and affordability.
Nino Franco Rustico Brut Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore: This wine is a must-try on the list. This is a true example of why all Prosecco should not be painted with the same brush. This wine is fresh and lively, as you would expect from Prosecco, but finishes off with layers of complexity that will leave you unpacking flavours, sip after sip.
Val d'Oca Prosecco DOCG: This is a staple Prosecco in the market, and rightfully so. Citrus, green apple, peach, pear, and hawthorn flowers on the nose. This is a dry wine with excellent acidity on the palate amongst notes of mandarin orange, peach, and ginger. All the while giving you persistent bubbles that do not dissipate.
Cava is Spain's answer to sparkling wine. 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.
Cava is a blend of grapes, the most popular being Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parellada. You can expect high aromatics, crisp acidity, pear, golden delicious apple, and rich texture on the palate between the grapes natural profile, and winemaking technique.
It is not uncommon to find higher-end producers pushing for quality and turning out wines with extended lees aging and some experimental extraction.
Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut Cava: I have added this to the list as it is the premium Cava from producer Freixenet, which many of you will be familiar with. Gauging various styles from one producer gives you greater insight into their production methods.
Pere Ventura Primer Reserva Brut Cava: Talk about a sparkler that punches above its weight! The Pere Ventura Primer Reserva Brut Cava spent 18 months in second firmentation in bottle. On the nose, think orange blossom and almond; on the palate, think lemon zest, melon, and brioche. This is a must try.
Sparkling Wine From Other Regions
Truthfully, you can find sparkling wine made in all wine regions. In the new world (wine regions outside of Europe), winemakers decide whether to follow the traditional method style of bubbles production or Charmat. The decision is really made based on access and affordability. Winemakers also get to determine what grapes they'll use. However, to be as closely styled as the boss of bubbles, Champagne, they'll usually make it with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir somewhere in the mix.
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.
Ontario: Ontario produces some spectacular sparkling wines, especially those using the traditional method, including Chardonnay and /or Pinot Noir in the assemblage. While you may not be able to find all of the sparkling Ontario has to offer at your local wine store, you can order the wines from the winery directly. I also encourage you to ask about tasting a winery's sparkling the next time you are doing a tasting anywhere in Ontario.
Nova Scotia: If you have yet to try sparkling wine from Benjamin Bridge, you should. Wonderful aromatics that span from citrus, tropical fruit, and florals with crisp acidity and spice on the palate. This wine is usually available at the LCBO.
California: Anderson Valley is one to explore for sparkling wine. Its coastal climate makes it a dream for grape growing, and Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrive here. An estimated 60% of the Chardonnay grown in the area is used in the regions sparkling wine program.
South Africa: Sparkling wine made from South African Chenin Blanc is beyond superb, especially if you are treated to one made from old vines.
Australia: There are two regions here that I love for sparkling wine and if you see them, pick them up.
Sparkling wine from Tasmania is otherworldly and incredibly hard to find in Ontario. The Tasmanian climate is picture-perfect for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and, as a result, produces a gratifying balance on the palate.
I am a big fan of Margaret River Chardonnay. It is not a stretch that I am also a massive fan of Blanc de Blanc (sparkling wine made from 100% Chardonnay grapes) from the same region.
As I write my notes for sparkling wine in general, it is clear there is room for another deep dive post about sparkling wines from all the world's wine regions. Also, let it be said that with all the sparkling wine around, there is no need to wait for a celebratory reason to open a bottle. I argue that, with its structure, sparkling wine is the best food pairing wine we have. Moreover, sparkling wine's range of price makes exploring this wine style a highly plausible and, let's face it, fun activity.
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.