Guide to Sparkling Wine Spectrum
Sparkling wine is all about creating secondary fermentation. With the right mix of yeast, sugar & wine in a closed environment like a bottle, still wines become bubbly as the carbon dioxide released by the yeast has nowhere to go. What makes a good or bad sparkling is where it happens & how long.
SPARKLING WINEMAKING TECHNIQUES
Champagne or traditional method is the most labor-intensive process, happening inside bottle, with a minimum lees-aging (where the sediment is left in the bottle). Lees are removed by sitting the bottle upside down and frozen, forcing the sediment out when uncapped, before a mixture of sugar and wine is added & corked. This process creates richness & complexity, used in Champagne, Cava, and Cremant
Charmat is a less expensive way where secondary fermentation happens in tanks. Fermentation stops when the winemaker cools the tank, afterwhich the wine is filtered & bottled. This method enhances clean fruit aromatics to create easy drinking wine, often used for Processo
Ancestral method is what's used today to create pet-nat. Instread of creating a secondary fermentation, the first fermentation is allowed to continue in bottle, resulting in a cloudy, earthy, textured wine
Contrasting winemaking methods & grape varietals distinguish Processco from Champagne, with many having a strong preference for either or.
Originating from the Valdobbiadene region in Veneto, with most vineyards generally found on South facing slopes with good drainage & gentle winds due to the high amount of rainfall the region experiences. Glera grapes are made into wine using the Charmat method. This does mean that the bubbles don't last as long as Champagne methods, but that doesn't mean it's just an affordable sparkly.
Drank well on it's own or paired with medium intensity foods as a palate cleanser, it matches well with spicy curries or Thai, Vietnamese cuisine. Often brut style, the fruity apple, melon, pear flavors make it seem sweeter than it is.
Coming mostly from the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene region, look out for Valdobbiadene Superiore if you're looking for a classical style
Champagne is a wine region going wayyyy back centuries, with Barbe-Nicole or "Widow Clicquot" shepherding Champagne to the limelight in the 20th Century. The woman behind Veuve Clicquot in the 19th century, she was the businesswoman who brought her company from the brink of extinction & creating the moden champagne market.
What makes Champagne unique is the method they created, often called the traditional method. The juice is bottled and left to age on lees. The bottles are then riddied and put upside down, to let the sediment gather. Afterwhich, it is either degorged by hand, or frozen and removed mechanically. A sweet mixture of yeast, wine, and sugar is then readded to at the end of the second fermentation. This is essential as otherwise the wine is wayyyy too acidic.
Sweetness to balance out the acidity is created or managed totally differently from other wines. It's not about stopping fermentation, but about how much of the dosage is added. Usually, most Champagnes are brut level of sweetness, which is in the middle of the spectrum. When choosing a Champagne, other than the Cru classification, there's really 2 things to look out for; Ageing & Style.
There are 4 different styles of Champagne; Other than the standard with is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
- Blance de Blancs is a 100% Chardonnay variant, with more lemon & apple-like notes.
- Blanc de Noirs is made with 100% red grapes, usually Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier, giving more strawberry & white raspberry notes
- Rose is usually made by blending blanc Chamagne with a little Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier, giving the wines a tart, acidic red fruit profile
There is also aged vintages & non-vintages; The longer Champagne is aged, the more it develops bready, tasty & nutty aromas. Non-vintages are aged for a minimum of 15 months, and are fruitier. Vintages are aged for a minimum of 3 years and typically have a creamy or yeasty style.
Fun fact: Try pairing a Champagne with French fries. It will blow your mind. The acidity in the Champagne will cut the fat from the french fries, making an amazing pairing, which works with other fried foods
OTHER SPARKLING WINES
Cava is the "affordable Champagne". Typically, Macabeo, Parellada & Xarel-lo are the main grapes blended to make Cava, and they are made in a Champagne method. The more powerful and complex Cavas tend to be the Reserva and Gran Reserva classifications. These wines need to see more lees aging, and producers will often use much finer cuvées, with more richness, texture, and complexity to augment and compete with the heavy influence of lees-derivative aromas.
Brachetto d’Acqui is a semi-sparkling sweet red wine from Piedmont. Known for a distinct taste of candied strawberries & orange zest, it's a perfect match for creamy chocolate desserts or a berry tart.