The Wide World of Bubbles For Any Taste
Over the last ten years of my life I’ve bought a lot of Champagne. Every time someone got married, graduated from college, had a big birthday, got a promotion, I bought a bottle of Champagne. It’s the universal celebration sparkling wine. It flows like water on New Year’s Eve and nothing says party quite like the pop of a cork. Something about that bright effervescence just feels special. But, the cost adds up quickly and with most bottles of Champagne averaging about $50 it can really put a hurting on your wallet. The good news? There’s a world of options when it comes to bubbly at a range of prices to fit any budget.
Styles of Sparkling wines to discover
A common misconception these days is that all bubbly is Champagne, when in fact, only a small portion of the sparkling wine produced in the world is actually Champagne. In order to don the name a wine has to be produced from grapes grown in the region of Champagne in France. Yes, this does mean the price tag is often on the higher side but it also denotes a certain level of quality.
The region has strict guidelines as to what grapes can be used, how it is fermented and how long it is or is not aged before release. Champagne can only contain a single variety or blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier and secondary fermentation (where the bubbles are produced) is achieved using the traditional methode champenoise. Champagne is often a little toasty on the nose with hints of brioche on the palate, a touch of citrus from time to time, and for aged champagnes a bit of almonds and cream.
Really want some French bubbles but just really don’t want to drop the cash needed for a Champagne? You’re in luck! France also produces a good amount of a sparkler called Cremant. Also produced using the methode champenoise these sparklers are made in Burgundy, Alsace, Jura, the Loire, you name it! They’re an amazing value and often quite beautiful.
The Loire is the largest producer, making cremants mainly from Chenin Blanc that make for a wonderfully complex and bright wine. Try hunting down one from the village of Savennieres for a real treat! Another option to find the best bottle of Cremant is to use Wine Picker, the best wine app for Android, that helps choose the right wine in the restaurant.
Over in Italy they have their own protected sparkling wine, Prosecco. Prosecco has been around for quite some time but only as of 2008 has it had protected status. The Prosecco DOC contains nine provinces throughout the Veneto and Friuili Venezia Giulia regions while Prosecco Superiore DOCG is produced in either the Treviso or Asolo provinces of the Veneto. It must contain at least 85% of a grape called Glera (formerly called Prosecco but renamed for obvious reasons).
The secondary fermentation most often takes places in tanks making it significantly cheaper to produce than champagne. Prosecco tends to have very orchard like aromas of pears and green apples, hints of honeysuckle, sometimes even white flowers and jasmine tea. It’s often pretty and softer than champagne in both taste and price.
Spain joined the party too, with Cava. Rather than being region specific the only strict requirement in order to be labeled ‘Cava’ is that secondary fermentation must be done using the traditional method, the very same one used in champagne. It is made primarily with native Spanish grapes, Macabeo, Parellada and Xarello, though others may be used as part of the blend. Most are Macabeo based as it contributes more complex flavors and makes the wine more age worthy. Cavas tend to be quite citrus driven though aged Cavas can pick up some of the breadiness often seen in Champagne.
Do other countries produce sparkling wines?
Sparkling wine isn’t relegated to only the regions we’ve discussed either. Any wine can be turned into a sparkling and plenty of countries do it quite well. In Germany sparkling wine is merely called ‘Sekt’ and may come from any of the wine growing regions. Often riesling, it is absolutely stunning in its own right. All that minerality, honeyed fruit and acid swirling around with some bubbles is truly delightful.
The US produces tons of sparklers each year and many of them have made quite a name for themselves. Perhaps the most famous is Schramsberg. It is made in the traditional method and is rated quite highly every year. Davis Family Vineyards, known for their Pinot Noirs, also produces a sparkling rosé that could easily stand up to most rosé champagnes out there.
A new trend that has emerged over the last couple of years is a sparkling wine called ‘Pet-Nat,’ or Pétillant-naturel. Pet Nats can be produced anywhere from any grapes but are made using the méthode ancestrale. This method is perhaps the oldest method for making sparkling wine. Before the first fermentation is complete the wine is bottled and closed with a crown cap rather than a cork. Fermentation completes in bottle trapping the CO2 (bubbles) and only stops when the yeast run out of sugar. Nothing is added to catalyze a second fermentation and the wine is not filtered.
The result is a very rustic, somewhat funky, cloudy wine with a slightly lower ABV. They can be red, white or rosé and are great food wines. Prosecco produces some really fun ones, called ‘Prosecco Col Fondo,’ and many of the folks jumping on the ‘natural wine’ bandwagon are starting to produce them as well.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to bubbly. While Champagne may have the corner on the ‘luxury’ bubbles there’s no reason you can’t find a bottle for every occasion, small or large and for any taste from classic to just downright weird. The options are endless. Have a producer of still wine that you already love? Chances are if they do a sparkling wine it’s going to be right up your alley as well.