Sparkling wine, Champagne, the wines most called upon for wedding and New Year’s Eve toasts, and other festive occasions are loved by many, but often misunderstood.
Champagne is the name by which most Sparkling Wines are referred, and it is used to pretty much cover the gamut of Sparkling Wine. Well, Champagne is Sparkling Wine and it works well to have one name, except that most Sparkling Wine is not legally “Champagne”. Only Champagne from France’s Champagne region has dibs on the name; all other Sparkling Wines are just and only that: Sparkling Wine.
Sparkling Wine by Any Other Name Tastes Just as Sweet
Not even the other Sparkling Wine producing regions of France can use the name Champagne; other French regions refer to their bubbly as “Crémant” or”Vins Mousseux”. Sparkling wine is produced in several other countries and called by different names, like Espumante of Portugal, Cava of Spain, and Italy’s popular “Spumante” (aka Asti Spumante).“Sekt” is the term applied to Sparkling Wines from Austria and Germany.
The United States has a number of Sparkling Wine producers located in a number of states and is a large producer of Sparkling Wine. The United Kingdomproduced some of the earliestin the Sparkling Wine category of wine, and has recently begun producing it again.
Sparkling Wine and Champagne’s Common Ground
The commonality in both Champagne and Sparkling Wines by any other name is that they have a significant amount of carbon dioxide included in its structure that causes wine to “sparkle” and to fizz. The wine’s carbon dioxide can be the result ofeither natural fermentation, occurring either in the bottle, as done in the processed known as “Méthode Champenoise” or by using a tank that is designed to bear the pressures of injections of carbon dioxide as in the process known as“Charmat”.
Differences between processes are easily noticeable in the end products. Charmat processed Sparkling Wines typically have larger, shorter-lasting bubbles. Méthode Champenoise processed Sparkling Wines have bubbles that are integrated in the wine and are longer lasting. The Charmat method is a faster carbon dioxide inducing method, as additional time is required in the Méthode Champenoise method to clear sediment. The extra processing time creates a yeast autolysis (i.e., chemical breakdown) that subsequently adds complexity and creaminess to the Sparkling Wine that is missing from Sparkling Wines processed by faster methods.
Sparkling Wine Comes in Both Red and White Wine Types
Most people think of Sparkling wine as being a white wine or a roséwine, however,many red bubblies are also made, such as Italy’s Brachetto and Australia’s sparkling Shiraz. Sparkling wines tend to be sweet with sweetness ranging from a quite dry, less sweet “Brut” to a sweeter “Doux” variety.
SPARKLING WINE SWEETNESS
|Description||Residual Sugar %|
|Brut Nature||.0 to .5|
|Brut||.5 to 1.5|
|Extra Dry (only U.S)||1.2 to 2.0|
|Sec||1.7 to 3.5|
|Demi-Sec||3.3 to 5.0|
|Doux||More than 5.0|
Standards exist in the European market for residual sugar requirements but there are no strict policies established for adherence. Sparkling Wine that is described with the term Brut is very, very dry with no hint of sweetness. Used primarily in the American market, the Extra Dry terminology is attributed to Sparkling Wine that is dry but slightly sweet. The term “Sec” describes Sparkling Wine that is dry with noticeable sweetness. The term Demi-Sec describes wine that is very sweet and Doux describes wine that is very, very sweet.
To further complicate a Sparking Wine’s description, American producers of Sparkling Wines don’t always conform to European standards; although they adhere to the hierarchy structure when they do. For example, Brut Nature in the U.S. is drier than “Brut”, which is drier than “Extra Dry”, and so on. A general guide to American Sparkling Wine is: the cheaper the Sparkling Wine, the sweeter it will taste, a guideline not associated with table wines.
A Sparkling Wine’s flavor profile is comprised of more than its sweetness or dryness. The style of Sparkling Wine produced varies by wine maker in terms of flavor and body. Some wine makers prefer less flavorful and more delicate styles that emphasize a wine’sfreshness and texture, while others may favor more yeasty, creamy, or oak flavor associated more strongly with an aged wine. Still others may prefer a combination of styles.
An interesting note is that the majority of Sparkling Wines are non-vintage dated, meaning that the winemaker will blend an older wine with a new wine, to attain a certain flavor profile. Non-vintage Sparkling Wines are immediately ready to consume and should be drunk within a year or two. Aging beyond that time does not do well with a non-vintage wine as it will begin to spoil.
Vintage-dated Sparkling Wine can sometimes benefit from time in the bottle, but not beyond ten years. Up to that time, aging the wine can result in a richer, fatter body but with less vivacious flavors.As a rule of thumb, it is usually best to enjoy a Sparkling Wine when it is young.
Sparkling Wines Are for All Occasions
While Sparkling Wines are usually considered an occasional extravagance with corks popping only on the most festive and important occasions, they are really one of the most versatile wine styles when paired with food. In addition, they have lower alcohol than is found in the majority of table wines. And with modernized production techniques, Sparkling Wine has become more accessible and affordable. So, with that in mind, we may find a reason to drink it on any occasion, or perhaps for no occasion at all except to enjoying Sparkling Wine.