Nothing says ‘celebrate’ like a bottle of sparkling wine. The pop of the cork as the bottle is opened (a bit more on this later), the frothy head as the wine is poured into the glass, the merry little bubbles floating to the surface, all giving sensory cues to be happy! At Aligra, we have a variety of different sparklers, from champagne to cremants, to cavas, to proseccos. I’m not going to take you into the weeds on all this, but here’s a small survey of what to look for, and what style and type of bubbly might fit your budget and preferences.
First, a brief primer on terms, technicalities aside.
Mousse: often associated with the frothy head of bubbles as you pour the wine into the glass. It also refers to the sensation of creaminess, or fulness in your mouth as you drink the wine. A mousse can be fine or coarse, depending on the method in which the wine was made.
Bead: the trail of bubbles that rises from the bottom of the glass to the surface of the wine. The bead can be persistent, or it could dissipate rather quickly, again depending on factors such as method of production, type of bubbly wine, and wine glass shape.
Pearl: the aggregation of tiny bubbles which forms on the surface of a glass of sparkling wine. The term originated in the 1980’s from the French ‘perlage’, in the sense of ‘adorning with pearls’. You will often see this as a little ring along the perimeter of the wine glass, on the surface of the wine. It literally looks like a pearl necklace.
Opening a bottle of bubbly: caution! All sparkling wines contain carbon dioxide. When the bottle is opened, this gas releases vigorously, unless you take precautions. How much CO2 you say? Prosecco Spumante 2-3 atmospheres. Cava about 3-4 atmospheres, maybe higher. Champagne 5-6 atmospheres. What is an atmosphere you say? One atmosphere is the air pressure at sea level: about 14.7 pounds per square inch. Three atmospheres equals average car tire pressure. Do the math, and hang on to that bottle! There are many videos out there showing how best to open a bottle of bubbly securely and safely, and in a way that doesn’t spray out all that delicious goodness into your kitchen.
How much sugar is in the sparkling wine: Virtually all sparkling wines have an indication of the amount of sugar the wine contains. Here are the limits that apply: Brut nature, pas dosé, zéro dosage: 0-3 grams per litre, and no sugar added; Extra brut: 0-6 g/l; Brut: 0-12 g/l; Extra dry: 12-17 g/l; Sec / Dry: 17-32 g/l; Demi-sec: 32-50 g/l; Doux:> 50 g/l
These numbers apply not only to Champagne, but are used on other sparkling wines as well, and they apply to all sparkling wines made inn the E.U
Types Of Sparkling Wines
Prosecco: Italian wine that is immensely popular, for its delicious profile, and relatively inexpensive price point. It is made by the Charmat, or tank method. Base wine is fermented in anaerobic tanks (CO2 cannot escape), then stabilized and bottled with CO2 inside. Some higher end proseccos are made in a more traditional method, and are more akin to Cava. Prosecco can be of two types: Spumante (full bubbles), or frizzante (semi bubbles). They are usually made either brut, dry, or extra dry.
Cava: Spanish sparkling wine made in the traditional way that Champagne is made: base wines are vinified, then transferred to individual bottles where a dose of sugar is added. The bottles is sealed, and secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle. The wine is usually allowed at least 15 months to process, then the wine is disgorged ( the bottle is opened and the cap of yeasty sediment blows out of the top), and re-sealed with a champagne style cork. Often made brut.
Crémant: The term used as France’s shorthand for the country’s finest dry sparkling wines made outside of the Champagne region, using the traditional method of sparkling wine making (often called Methode Champenoise). There are many cremants from many regions in France: Aligra has a couple; one from the Loire, for example. All must follow guidelines including a minimum 12 months between initial bottling and release. Usually brut.
Champagne: Wine can only be labeled ‘Champagne’ if it is produced in the limited region in North-East France designated by French and E.U. law. It is made under strict regulations. Like Cava, Champagne must be allowed at least 12 months in bottle before disgorgement, but many houses allow for much longer: 24 – 36 months in some cases. This extended time will develop a very fine mousse, with persistent bead and an elegant pearl. Can run the gamut; brut nature all the way to doux.
There, my dear readers, is my truncated survey to assist you in your bubbly wine decisions. I have left out much, including Pet-Nat, German Sekt, Italian Franciacorta, Prosecco col fondo, and the wonderful sparkling wines made in Canada and the U.S., but I sincerely hope this little tome can assist you in your bubbly wine decisions. All the best this holiday season to you and loved ones, from all of us here at Aligra Wine and Spirits.
List Of Sources
Decanter Staff, Champagne Fizz Fading – ask Decanter, September 24, 2016
Dr. Vinny, What Is The Technical Name For The Sparkle In Bubbly Wines?, Wine Spectator, ask Dr. Vinny, September 7, 2016
MacNeil, Karen, The Wine Bible, Workman Publishing, New York, 2001
Puckett, Madeline, and Hammock, Justin, Wine Folly: The Essential Guide To Wine, Avery, and imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC New York, New York, 2015
Robinson, Jancis, editor, and Harding, Julia, assistant editor, The Oxford Companion To Wine, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, Revised 2015