Once upon a time, champagne, Prosecco and other sparkling wines were solely for special occasions: weddings, anniversaries, birthdays. Now, sparkling wines are everywhere — not only are they offered more than ever, but more wine regions are producing bubblies around the world.
In my expert opinion, I like to think that bubbles should be enjoyed on special and everyday occasions alike. Wednesday night? Sure, why not. Fried chicken on Friday night? Pair it with your favorite vintage. As sparkling wines become more ubiquitous, we should know the difference between the most common varietals offered.
The main difference between sparkling wines is the country where they were harvested and produced. Each country has a different name for the sparkling wines they produce: Spain makes Cava, Italy makes Prosecco, Asti and Spumante. Germany makes a varietal called Sekt. Bubblies from the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are simply called sparkling wines.
Bottom line? They all have bubbles. They’re all pretty delicious.
Let’s talk about three of the main varieties.
Let’s talk champagne, first. Known as the gold standard, Champagne is often dubbed the most popular sparkling wine. Only wines produced in the Champagne region of France are are designated as Champagne. Champagne is generally made from three grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Champagne tends to improve with age, a slow and continuous process that can last for several decades. If you really want to immerse yourself in all things champagne, I love the Champagne Campus app on www.champagne.wine. It will take you from the initial grape harvest to tasting notes, with trivia about the history and origin of champagne peppered throughout.
Hugely popular in the U.S., like champagne, Prosecco is known mainly for its mostly for its reasonable price point and flowery, fruity bouquet. Prosecco is a dry, white Italian wine that’s been fermented, but unlike Champagne it does not get better with age. So, there’s really no need to stash your Prosecco in the wine cellar when you could be drinking it…hint, hint.
Prosecco is made from Prosecco grapes and varies in flavor — some are dry and crisp while others have a more pronounced hint of sweetness. Prosecco is described as simple but sophisticated and you can read about all the varieties of Prosecco at www.prosecco.wine.
If you’re more into Italian reds, you can look for Lambrusco, an Italian sparkling red wine. Or, keep a bottle of each on hand so that you can always make a spur of the moment choice.
Although lesser known that Champagne and Prosecco, Cava is Spain’s answer to sparkling wine made from Xarello, Macabeo, and Parellada grapes, Often aged even longer than Champagne, Cava is made the same way Champagne is, only with different grapes. Therefore, it tastes more like a non-vintage Champagne or an American Sparkling wine than, say. Prosecco does.
Cava also tends to be inexpensive, much like Prosecco, because Cava producers have fully embraced some advanced mechanization to produce, store and bottle their Cava. When you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck, Cava is your best bet.
Now for some terminology…
When you pick up your bottle of bubbly, whatever that may be, you’re going to notice some common terminology on the front of the bottle. Many of these words refer to the flavor and taste of the bubbly inside the bottle, so pay attention to the descriptors along with the varietals, too.
Brut: The driest sparkling wines available, Brut wines tend to be food-friendly and perfect for pairing. If you’ve heard someone say “Champagne pairs with anything” then you know how to serve a Brut bubbly — pair with everything from salty snacks to a fruity dessert.
Extra Dry: With “extra dry” on the label, you can expect a dry finish with just a touch of fruity sweetness. Pick up an extra-dry bottle as an aperitif or to serve during a cocktail party with passed bites or desserts. These are versatile and super friendly to just about any palate or pairing.
Sec: When you see this term, know you’re getting a sparkling wine higher in sugar content than most. Also dubbed “off-dry” this is a good one if you like to sip on something sweeter or to serve as a dessert wine.
Demi-Sec: If you’re looking for a sparkling dessert wine, look for a label that says demi-sec, a term used for sparkling wines that have a non-cloying sweetness and caramelized flavor to the finish. Avoid pairing them with anything sweeter than the wine, which might overwhelm the palate. Fresh fruit is a good bet, or anything you might bring to a light outdoor picnic.
Blanc de Blanc: This means that the bubbly you’re drinking has been made with 100% Chardonnay grapes. Like most Chardonnays, it’ll be toasty, nutty and rich.
Blanc de Noir: This means that the bubbly you’re drinking has been made with Pinot Noir grapes. Like Pinot Noir, expect a bottle that is refreshing, fruit driven and full of citrus flavor.