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…
- 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 www.jwine.com
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
Cheers to the world of Sparkling Wine!