In our house we don’t need a special occasion to crack open a bottle of sparkling. The big question is what type of sparkling to drink? For this year’s World Champagne Day on Friday 18th October we celebrate all types of sparkling wine. They’re made in a range of styles from red, white or rosé, different flavours and levels of sweetness and have a variety of names.
Typically, a go-to name for sparkling wine is ‘bubbles’ (I can hear the girls calling out “who wants a glass of bubbles?”) or ‘Champagne’. But unless you’re drinking a sparkling made in the French region of Champagne, you’re not drinking Champagne.
Here’s what you need to know to sound like a bubbles wine pro. Put the bubbly on ice, sustainably grown of course!
Sparkling Wine Styles
Non-vintage – wines are made from grapes grown in different vintages/years. The resulting wines are blended to produce a consistent ‘house’ style. Think of your favourite go-to bubbly that tastes the same year in, year out. There’s a reason for it!
Vintage – wines are made from a single year which will be stated on the label. Depending on the region, a vintage sparkling may only be produced in good years. Generally, they are mid- to high-priced wines.
Rosé – basically rosé with bubbles! It can be made from a variety of red grapes where the skins have been left in contact with the juice for a short maceration to achieve a range of pink hues.
Blanc de Blancs – white sparkling wine made exclusively from white grape varieties. For example, Chardonnay.
Blanc de Noirs – white sparkling wine made exclusively from black grape varieties. For example, Pinot Noir or Meunier.
Prestige Cuveé – a cuveé is a blend of different wines. So, a prestige cuveé is a blend of a producer’s best wine.
There are many sweetness levels to consider
Sparkling wine can be made in all levels of sweetness making it a wine style that can please all palates. A winemaker can adjust sweetness levels by a process called liqueur de expedition or dosage. A sweet liquid is added before the final sealing of the bottle. The dosage added is expressed as grams per litre (g/L).
You can easily identify the sweetness level by what’s on the label. There are seven terms to describe the levels of sweetness (see below diagram). These include Brut Nature (bone dry) to Doux (very sweet). The term Brut describes a wide range of sweetness levels, so if you prefer dry choose Extra Brut or Brut Nature.
Tip – f you’re after a style that is closer to natural look for Brut Nature with zero dosage or no additional sugar added.
*image by Wine Folly
How the bubbles are put in
This is a whole separate post and quite frankly if you’ve read this far, you’ll be reaching for glass, so I’ll keep it brief. These are the different methods you need to know:
Traditional Method or Méthode Traditionnelle
This method is used to produce Champagne, Cremant, Cava and premium sparkling wines, the wine undergoes two fermentations. The first takes place in stainless or oak vats. The resulting wine is then blended from different years (non-vintage) or made from a single year (vintage). The blend is then bottled and all subsequent winemaking processes take place in the bottle. To kickstart the second fermentation a yeast mixture is added and the CO2 produced dissolves into the wine creating the bubbles. This method will produce a greater depth of flavour due to extended contact with lees (dead yeast cells) – think brioche and toasty flavours.
A wine’s label will state ‘traditional method’ or ‘méthode traditionnelle’
Method Ancestral AKA Pet Nat (Petillant Naturel)
It seems every wine-loving millennial is drinking ‘pet nat’. A pet nat is the original way Champagne was made. This wine is made from either white or red grapes and bottled before fermentation is finished, trapping the bubbles and everything else such as the lees in the bottle, rendering the wine cloudy. Think of a pet nat as a rustic and relaxed style of wine. On the flip side, they can be unpredictable as the winemaker has less control over the finish of the wine.
Tank Method or Charmat method
This method is used to make Prosecco, Sekt and sparkling wine made from a wide range of grapes. The wine undergoes two fermentations but they both take place in a stainless vat. These wines generally do not spend time on lees; the resulting wine retains the primary floral and fruit flavours. This is less labour intensive and thus a cost-effective production method and ensures a consistent quality and style.
Where in the world is my sparkling wine from?
Champagne is the name given to sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France. There are strict regulations with only three grape varieties permitted (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier) and only traditional method permitted. A cool continental climate and potential frosts make growing conditions challenging. Producers are committed to sustainable farming and reducing synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.
Crémant is the name given to French sparkling wines made in the traditional method in the regions of Burgundy, Loire Valley and Alsace.
Cava is mostly produced in the Catalonia region of Spain and is made in the traditional method, exactly like Champagne; it can be either white or rosé and can be made in a range of sweetness levels. However, the grapes used are different, a blend of Macabeo, Parellada and Xarello grapes. Until the 1970s this wine was called Spanish Champagne but was changed to Cava (meaning cave or cellar) to differentiate from French Champagne.
Prosecco (Italy and everywhere else)
Prosecco comes from the regions Veneto and Friuli in North-East Italy and is made from the Glera grape variety. Any sparkling wine, from anywhere in the world, made from this grape variety can be labelled Prosecco. It’s typically produced by the tank method and is made in all levels of sweetness, but generally residual sugar is higher than Champagne and Cava.
Sparkling in Australia and New Zealand
At home sparkling wine is made with many different grape varieties, made in all styles and, dependant on price point, uses different production methods. You will find premium styles from the cool and moderate regions of Tasmania, Adelaide Hills, Yarra Valley, Central Otago and Marlborough. There are many Organic, Biodynamic and Sustainable wine producers making delicious sparkling’s and pet nat’s. Our favourite producers include: Battle of Bosworth, Ngeringa, Smallfry, Lark Hill and Tamburlaine. Check out our curated Spectacular Sparkling pack or choose your own from our range of Champagne’s, Sparkling’s and Pet Nat’s in the Renegade’s Choice section. All the fun without the headaches!
When to drink sparkling
Sparkling is great for a celebration, but don’t shirk from drinking it at any time you like. Try a light pet nat whilst playing frisbee in the park; a slightly sweeter style can make a great match for a spicy Asian meal; and a rich sparkling Shiraz goes brilliantly with conversation and a crumbly blue cheese. And everyone enjoys one for brunch, don’t they? Anytime really…oh and what about just catching up with girls?
One final word
Musicians have known for years of the magic in a bottle of sparkling wine: ‘Champagne Supernova’ by Brit rockers, Oasis and ‘Tiny Bubbles’ by Dan Ho. We’ve an earlier post about wine and music, check it out here.