The Wide World of Sparkling Wine

Champagne, Sparkling Wines … always make any occasion festive! But it is a very complicated subject. What makes Champagne, Champagne? And what’s the difference between Champagne and Sparkling Wine?

During our March Fine Wine Divas event, we set out to explore the subject. Here are some of the highlights and the group favorites.

What is Sparkling Wine?

Sparkling wine is a wine containing significant levels of carbon dioxide – making it fizzy. This carbonation may result from natural fermentation in the bottle or in a tank (see “How is Sparkling Wine Made?” below), or as a result of carbon dioxide injection.

Sparkling wine is usually white or rosé, but there are examples of sparkling red wine such as Italian Brachetto and Australian Sparkling Shiraz.

Types of Sparkling Wines

  • Champagne: The classic example of a sparkling wine is Champagne. This wine is exclusively produced in the Champagne region of France. While many other countries produce exceptional sparkling wines, they cannot be called “Champagne.”
    • Since 1985, use of the term “method champenoise” has been banned from all wines produced or sold in the European Union.
    • Blending is the hallmark of Champagne wine – usually involving a blend of Chardonnay (finesse and ability to age), Pinot Noir (body) and Pinot Meunier (fruit and floral notes).
    • The majority of Champagnes produced are non-vintage (NV, no year or vintage listed), but vintage Champagne is produced when the producers feel that the grapes from that year have the complexity and richness to warrant being on their own.
  • Crémant: Sparkling wines designated as Crémant (or, “creamy”) were originally named because their lower carbon dioxide pressure gave them a more creamy rather than fizzy mouth-feel.
    • French law dictates that a Crémant must be harvested by hand with yields not exceeding a set amount for their AOC. The wines must also be aged for a minimum of one year.
    • The Loire Valley is France’s largest producer of sparkling wines outside of the Champagne region.
    • The designation “Crémant” is not limited to use within France, and other EU countries that fulfill the production criteria may use it.
  • Prosecco: Prosecco is an Italian sparkling white wine made from Glera grapes.
    • As opposed to champagne, Prosecco is almost always made by the Charmat, or “tank method.” Large steel tanks keep the wine under pressure to capture the fresh fruitiness of the prosecco grape.
    • Prosecco can be either Spumante (more bubbly) or Frizzante (less bubbly), but the taste is usually Dry or Extra Dry.
  • Cava:  Cava is Spanish white or rosé sparkling wine produced mainly in the Penedès region in Catalonia (southwest of Barcelona).
    • Cava is produced in the method champenoise, but includes grape varieties different than those used to make Champagne.
    • In 1872, Cava was first created by Josep Raventós after seeing the success of the Champagne region.
    • Cava can be produced in six Spanish wine regions, and must be produced in the traditional method utilizing a combination of the following grapes: Macabeu, Parellada, Xarel-lo, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Subirat.

How Is Sparkling Wine Made?

  • The Traditional Method: The classic way is the méthode traditionelle (traditional method), or méthode Champenoise (Champagne method), developed in Champagne, France. Wine is produced in the normal way, then bottled with a sugar and yeast mixture to sit for a second fermentation. Carbon dioxide is produced during this fermentation creating the tiny bubbles. The yeast cells die and sink to the bottom of the bottle, referred to as the lees. While the wine is aged on the lees, complexity in the flavor develops (Champagne requires a minimum of 15 months for this second fermentation). Next the sediment is removed through ‘riddling,’ the tilting of the bottle on riddling racks to allow the sediment to move to the neck. The neck is then frozen, the cap removed, the plug of frozen sediment shoots out from the pressure. The bottle is then topped up with dosage (small amount of sugar solution, amount added varies based on sweetness and dryness levels desired), recorked and wire caged. Whoosh! Quite a process. Now you know why Champagne is expensive!
  • The Charmat Method: This method, also known as the Italian method, is quicker and used to make many less expensive sparkling wines. In this process, the yeast and sugar are added to the wine in the pressurized stainless steel fermentation tanks.Then this wine is bottled.

For our Fine Wine Divas event, we tasted the following 8 Sparkling Wines:

  • Baby Prosecco Veneto IGT, Veneto, Italy ($10)
  • NV Codorníu Anna de Codorníu Cava Brut, Catalonia, Spain ($16)
  • 2008 Trump Sparkling Rosé, Virginia, USA ($29)
  • 2008 Argyle Willamette Valley Brut, Oregon, USA ($25)
  • J Cuvée 20 Brut (NV), California, USA ($28)
  • NV Louis de Sacy Brut Grand Cru, Champagne, France ($37)
  • 2006 Marguet Pere et Fils Grand Cru Brut Champagne, France ($50)
  • 2010 Inniskillin Sparkling Ice Wine, Ontario, Canada ($70)

And the evening’s favorites were…

J Cuvée 20 Brut (NV)

  • Variety: 49% Chardonnay, 49% Pinot Noir, 2% Pinot Meunier from Russian River Valley, California
  • Aroma: Nose of lemon peel, honeysuckle, and delicate yeast.
  • Taste: Flavors of apple, grapefruit, angel food cake and almond. Balanced acidity.
  • Price:  $28 available on
  • My thoughts: Judy Jordan has developed an amazing wine here, and in the Sparkling Rosé they have. Founded in 1986, Judy started the company after working for her father’s Jordan Winery. You can taste the care put into the wine…grapes are hand-harvested and pressed in a special gentle press.

2008 Argyle Willamette Valley Brut

  • Variety: 63% Pinot Noir, 37% Chardonnay from Willamette Valley, Oregon
  • Aroma: Nose of pear, apple, citrus and brioche.
  • Taste: Flavors pear, Meyer lemon and toasted bread.
  • Price: $25 available from Argyle Winery
  • My thoughts: With Oregon known for its incredible Pinot Noir, it’s not surprising to find this incredible Sparkler there. Argyle has produced world-class, award-winning Champagne-style Sparkling Wine since 1987.

2010 Inniskillin Sparkling Ice Wine

  • Variety: 100% Vidal Blanc, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada
  • Aroma & Taste: Nose and flavors of peach, apricot and honey.
  • Taste: Tropical fruits and honey.
  • Price: $80 available from Inniskillin
  • My thoughts: Ice wine is created by leaving the grapes on the vine into the winter months in order to concentrate the flavors. This wine packs a sweet punch but it’s a perfect after dinner drink.

While many in the group liked the Marguet Pere et Fils Grand Cru Champagne, the majority of the likes went to the above three. Nice work North America!

For more on tasting of Sparkling Wine, see Around the World of Sparkling Wine. And check out this great Sparkling Wine infographic.

Cheers to the world of Sparkling Wine!


Tour of Italian Wine

A Tour of Italy was the theme for our Fine Wine Divas February event and Acqua al 2 in DC, my favorite Italian restaurant here and in Florence, was the perfect spot for it.

Italy, which is slightly smaller than the state of California, is one HUGE vineyard, stretching from Piedmont in the north to Sicily in the south. It is home to some of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world, and has overtaken France as the world’s largest wine producer. There are over one million vineyards in the country! This great map from De Long is an incredible resource that captures it.

Some other great Italian wine region facts…

  • Italy is divided into 20 wine-producing regions that are subdivided into almost 100 provinces and 8,100 communes.
  • There are over 2,000 varieties of Italian wine – far surpassing any other country in terms of variety.
  • There are over 1,000 different grape varieties, most of which are indigenous. 100 of these varieties have shown capacity to make great wine.

Wine in Italy dates back to Etruscans and Greek settlers. Ancient Greeks called their Italian colonies Oenotria, the land of wine. Romans started their own vineyards in the 2nd Century B.C. The Romans developed techniques still used today, like large-scale production and storage like barrel-making and bottling leading.

Italian Wine Classifications

Many wine country’s classifications system can be confusing. Here’s how to make sense what you’ll find on Italian wine labels.

  • Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG):  Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin includes the most famous wine producing areas. Similar to DOC but wines must pass government analysis.
  • Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC): Denomination of Controlled Origin is modeled on the French AOC system. This classification is based on geography, grape varieties and production methods.
  • Vino a Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT): Typical Geographic Indication is a less strict classification. These wines use the geographic name of a zone to designate a wine made there, like Toscana (Tuscany) or Sicilia (Sicily). At least 85% of the wine must come from the named geographic zone.
  • Vino da Tavola (VdT): “Table wine” can be produced anywhere in Italy and usually designates cheap bulk wines. However, some of Italy’s best wines have been produced under this classification.

Additional designations you will see…

  • Classico: Classic, refers to a more restricted production area that is held to be particularly suited for product and historically recognized as such.
  • Superiore: Superior, refers to a higher alcohol content.
  • Riserva: Reserve, refers to the longer aging period used.

On our tour of Italy, we enjoyed six Italian wines from five regions across Italy, from north to south: Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Piedmont, Tuscany, Abruzzo and Campania.

  • Fantinel Spumante Prosecco Extra Dry NV (IGT)
  • 2011 Bruni Plinio Vermentino Maremma Toscana (IGT)
  • 2011 Tenuta La Cipressaia Chianti Classico DOCG
  • 2007 Visconti Della Rocca Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva DOC
  • 2010 Damilano Barbera d’Asti DOCG
  • 2001 Serpico dei Feudi di San Gregorio Irpinia Anglianico
The resounding favorites of the group were…

Fantinel Spumante Prosecco Extra Dry NV (IGT)

  • VarietyGlera (formerly known as Prosecco) from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region
  • AromaGolden apple, pear, honeysuckle
  • Taste: Crisp and fruity with undertones of spice and nut
  • Price: $16, available on,
  • My Thoughts: This is an excellent Prosecco that everyone enjoyed and commented about how it was the perfect balance of dry and fruit without much sweetness. Prosecco is my favorite bubbly and a great economical bubbly option.

2010 Damilano Barbera d’Asti DOCG

  • Variety: Barbera from the Barbera d’Asti region in Piedmont
  • Aroma: Sour cherry and earthy
  • Taste: Sweet jam, berries, light tobacco or leather
  • Price: $16, available  on
  • My Thoughts: This is a big wine and was our 5th of the evening. Everyone was impressed with it’s complexity and for such a great price!

There are so many wines to explore in Italy. Grape Occasions has many articles on Italian wine, and in the next few articles, we’ll highlight some other Italian tastings we’ve done in the past few months to help in your Italian exploration.

Share with us YOUR favorite Italian!

Saluté to the wonderful world of Italian wine!

July 4th Red, White & Blue Wine Line Up

It’s July 4th! Here in the U.S. that means a holiday for bbqs and celebrations!

Here’s the Red (okay pink), White & Blue (ok blue on the label) American wine choices for our festivities. AND had to add a sparkling that isn’t American but one of my favorites.

  • The RED: King Estate 2011 Pinot Noir Signature Vin Gris from Oregon. Strawberry and orange notes with crisp acidity. Perfect for cooling off in the late day sun!
  • The WHITE & The BLUE: Blenheim Vineyards 2011 Viognier from Virginia. It’s full of pineapple, mango and pear with honey and vanilla notes. Perfect with the bbq!
  • The Sparkler: Baby Prosecco from Italy. Fruit and floral aromas followed by green apple and tropical flavor with a crisp refreshing acidity. Perfect pairing for the fireworks!

Happy Birthday America! Cheers!

Rosé Season is Here!

Rosé is back in season…at least here in the Washington, DC area where temperatures are already soaring, making it the perfect time for the refreshing wine. I’ve discovered two new ones you’ll definitely want to check out.

 2011 A to Z Rosé

  • Varietal: 100% Sangiovese organically grown
  • Aroma: Strawberry, raspberry, blueberry
  • Taste: Juicy watermelon and cherry with tropical notes and a crisp finish
  • Price: $11
  • My thoughts: Yum! This is a BIG juicy rosé made from Sangiovese grapes. A to Z is a great Oregon winery I’ve enjoyed for some time. Living in Amsterdam, our local wine shop, Grape District, carried their Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir which was a good American wine to have in Europe. I spotted this wine out at The Majestic restaurant. The intense pink color was striking in the bottle. Unfortunately the one they were pouring for the customer was their last. Then I happened upon it last week at my local Whole Foods Market! I was not disappointed when I opened the bottle. Like their other wines, it’s the ‘Essence of Oregon’ … ‘Aristocratic wines at Democratic Prices’, as they say.

Bebé Sparkling Rosé

  • Varietal: Prosecco and Raboso grape blend
  • Aroma: Strawberry and vanilla
  • Taste: A crisp juicy strawberry vanilla
  • Price: $12
  • My thoughts: From the maker of my favorite Prosecco, I finally found this sparkling rosé (at a wine shop in Frederick, MD)! It’s a gorgeous pop top bottle with snazzy striped label full of strawberry vanilla deliciousness! Bebé, meaning Baby, Prosecco is from the small family owned vineyards of Vini Tonon and Musarango in Italy’s Veneto Region (origin of all Prosecco) and made exclusively for Siema Wines, a local importer/distributor.

Cheers to Rosé season!

Wine Pairings for Thanksgiving Dinner

It’s that time of year. Thanksgiving dinner shopping and choosing wines to serve with it. There’s lots of advice out there this week on-line so thought I’d share my pairing guidance.

Whether you chose red or white wine, I recommend serving both, the general advice is pair simple wines (lighter and less complex) with complex meals (meaning rich foods, heavy spices and herbs) and pair complex wines with simple meals. Thanksgiving dinner is a little of both so totally up to you! I’m going with simple wines for our big dinner at friend’s house…probably a bottle or more of each category below.


Any special meal should start and end with bubbles! You could go high-end Champagne or serve a bottle of Prosecco or other sparking wine.

Red Wines

Red wines with low tannins are suggested for Thanksgiving so a lighter bodied fruity wine to go with the richness of the meal.

  • Beaujolais: Beaujolais Nouveau, a red wine made in less than 10 weeks from the Gamay grape in Burgundy, France, is meant to be enjoyed immediately upon its release last week (always the 3rd Thursday of November). It’s a light bodied fruity, easy to drink wine. Georges Dubouef’s is the classic you’ll see everywhere ($11). Or you could go with a fuller bodied Beaujolais-Village from Dubouef or Louis Jadot (either $14).
  • Pinot Noir: Another great option is go American with Oregon’s red wine specialty, Pinot Noir, made of ripe red fruit for lots of berry and juicy flavor. Last weekend I discovered Lachini Vineyard‘s amazing Pinot Noir wines. Their 2008 Estate Pinot Noir was full of raspberry and white pepper with taste of sweet fruit, floral and dark chocolate ($40). King Estate is another great option…their namesake Signature Pinot Noir ($30) or their Acrobat ($19).

White Wines

White wines with bright flavors are perfect for Thanksgiving dinner.

Snooth and are great resources for your wine ordering online.

Cheers to Thanksgiving week with great wine and food!