Sparkling wine is a wine with carbon dioxide in it, which essentially makes it fizzy. While most people associate sparkling wine exclusively with Champagne and actually use the terms interchangeably, the term is actually legally reserved for products produced in the Champagne region of France.
Sparkling tends to either be white or rose, but there are a few notable examples of sparkling reds as well, such as the Italian Brachetto and Lambrusco, Australian sparkling Shiraz and Spanish Cava. Similar to regular red, white and rose, sparkling wines vary in sweetness, from dry brut styles to much sweeter varieties.
Where does the sparkling quality of the wines come from? Simple, from carbon dioxide content and a possible result of natural fermentation in a bottle. Some less expensive sparkling wines are also injected with CO2 to imitate the fermentation.
It’s important to point out that in EU countries, the term “Champagne” is reserved for sparkling wines from France's Champagne region. Similarly, there are terms such as Mousseux and Cremant that refer to the regions in Southern France, Asti from Italy, Cava from Spain. Sparkling wines have been made in Europe since the early 1900s, but became more popular and quite recognized since the production of Champagne started.
Right now, sparkling wines are being produced all across the globe, with countries in both the New World and the Old World making their own sparkling wines.
How is Champagne different from other sparkling wines?
As we’ve mentioned before, the main difference is that the wine has to come from the Champagne region of France. However, there is a bit more to it. Champagne has to also be produced using a traditional process called Methode Champenoise. Also, only three grapes are to be used when making champagne, which are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.
How is Champagne made?
The method begins with creating a number of still wines by pressing grapes and adding yeast to the juice to convert all sugars to alcohol. Then, the still wines are blended to the desired taste. Wines can be from various grapes, vintages, and vineyards. Finally, once the blend is ready, a mix of yeast and sugar is added.
After this, the wine is put into its bottles and capped temporarily for the second stage of fermentation to occur. Then the sparkling is aged for at least 3 years for vintage and 15 months for non-vintage champagnes.
Closer to the end of cellar aging, the riddling process starts, when the bottles are placed on A-shaped racks and gradually turned until the yeast sediment is entirely in the neck of the bottle. After that, the bottleneck is frozen and the bottle cap is taken off. The winemaker then adds a combination of wine and sugar to each bottle to make it dry or sweet. Lastly, the cork is added to finalize the process.
What should I look for in a Champagne / sparkling wine?
Similar to still wines, sparkling wines can be anywhere on spectrum from light-bodied to full-bodied, dry to sweet and delicate to rich. However, the mark of an excellent choice is a good balance of fruits and acidity. Generally, smaller bubbles are more favoured, as they result in a much more elegant experience.
How should sparkling wine be served?
First of all, sparkling wines must be served chilled. Also, try to be careful when taking off the cage and cork as the bottles are sealed under pressure, which can turn the bottle into a weapon when pointed in the wrong direction. All you have to do is to keep your hand firmly on the bottle’s top when removing the cage and twist the cork and bottle in different directions to ease out the cork. Pretty simple, once you’ve done it once or twice!
If you’d like to give sparkling wines or Champagne a try, drop by the ZYN liquor store in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, or shop online at ZYN.ca!