All that sparkles is not always Champagne

For that important toast or prior to a reception, Champagne or sparkling wine is a tradition enjoyed by everyone.

But not all that a sparkle – or bubbles – is necessarily Champagne. For a bubbly wine to be called “Champagne,” it must hail form the Champagne region of France and meet that country’s requirements for labeling. Al other bubbles from around thchardgrapese world carry their own designation.

 

For that important toast or prior to a reception, Champagne or sparkling wine is a tradition enjoyed by everyone.

But not all that a sparkle – or bubbles – is necessarily Champagne. For a bubbly wine to be called “Champagne,” it must hail form the Champagne region of France and meet that country’s requirements for labeling. Al other bubbles from around the world carry their own designation.

In America, bubbly wines are called “sparkling wines.” Italy has its own highly effervescent wines in “Prosecco,” and from Spain comes delicious and fizzy “Cava.”

And if you venture away from the Motherland of bubbles – France – you’re likely to find great tasting sparklers and much better values.

Our friend Tim Rutherford of Savannafoodie.com, has written about wine for more than decade and has a great bottom line thought on bubbles:

“I would much rather have an amazing bottle of Prosecco or Cava – or a superb American sparkling wine – than a bargain basement French Champagne.”

With that in mind, let’s take a look at each style – but first, let’s go in armed with some basic knowledge.

On Champagne in particular and other bubblies generally, there will be some indication on the label as to level of sweetness. You’re like to see these phrases – and here’s what it means:

Brut less than 15 gram of sugar per liter (dry, this is the typical style of Champagne with no sweetness) Extra-Dry 12-20 gram of sugar per liter (still dry with a hint of sweetness or slightly sweet)
Sec 17-35 gram of sugar per liter (medium sweet)
Demi-Sec 33-55 gram of sugar per liter (sweet)

The level you choose is up to you and your specific tastes. Brut is the most common Champagne chosen for a toast – but it is necessarily required that a toast Champagne be dry. Remember, it’s your special day – drink what you enjoy.

Sparkling wines are typically made from one of three grape varieties – or a blend of these varieties. Each grape has its role:

Pinot Noir adds body, structure, aroma, and a complexity of flavors.

Pinot Meunier contributes fruitiness, floral aromas, and character.

Chardonnay gives freshness, delicacy, elegance, and finesse. For this reason, many producers make a blanc de blancs (Chardonnay) Champagne.

American Sparkling Wines

Most grape growing regions of the US have winemakers who produce a sparkling wine. For those that are closest to French style look for producers who utilize “method champenoise.” This means the process used for fermenting, aging and bottling follows traditional French practices.

Some of our favorites include:

Iron Horse: Based in Sonoma County, California, Iron Horse is known for a long history of producing some of America’s most celebrated sparkling wines – including the sparkling wine that was used to toast the historic Reagan-Gorbachev Summit Meetings ending the Cold War. However, its “Wedding Cuvee” marks those special days – and anniversaries – more than any of its labels. This is Iron Horse’s Blanc de Noirs, made from predominantly Pinot Noir.

Gruet: The Gruet family has made Champagne in France for decades – but with this property near Truth or Consequence, New Mexico, produces still wines and sparkling wines from the highest elevation vineyard in North America. A large variety of vintage and non-vintage sparklers are produced, including some made with other grapes. Our favorite is Gruet NV Demi Sec – subtle fruity aromas and the freshness of the Demi-Sec drives the character of this light bodied, semi-dry sparkling wine. The palate carries through with a creamy sensation and vivid flavor of green apples, ripe pears, pineapple and a hint of mineral.

wolfmt3Destination only bubbles: If a destination wedding is in your plans, explore having your wedding on-site at an area winery – most use this alternate revenue stream as a way to bolster their wine business. For example, in North Georgia, Wolf Mountain Vineyard has a stunning, mountainside wedding pavilion and makes a variety of sparkling wines sold on-site only. The family uses method champenoise for all of its bubbles.

Prosecco

Italian sparkling wines are the domain of a handful of producers from the country’s famed Veneto region. Prosecco is a white wine that is generally dry or extra dry wine. It is normally made from the Glera grape – although some producers refer to the grape as “Prosecco.”

Labels to look for include:

bisolproperty

Bisol: This prominent family has been making wine around Valdobbiadene for more than five centuries. They produce a wide range – and wide price range – of Prosecco. All are delicious and representative of the region.

Carpene: Carpenè Malvolti Prosecco di Conegliano Extra Dry won a Gold Medal at the International Wine & Spirit Competition 2012. This wine is the epitome of how fine Prosecco Spumante should be: Fresh, dry, lively and deliciously grape-scented.

Cava

Spain is recognized for the great wine values it is currently producing – and its Cava is no exception.

Most Cava is produced in Catalonia – it may be white (blanco) or rosé(rosado). Only wines produced method champenoise may be labelled cava, those produced by other processes may only be called “sparkling wines” (vinos espumosos).

Labels we’ve sampled include:

Vega Barcelona: This producer’s Cava Brut Reserve is made from three Spanish grape varieties; this stunning sparkler serves up aromas and flavors of red delicious apple, pear, citrus and crème brulee.

Vinos Libre: Ya Cuvee 23 Reserva Cava is a fresh, clean Cava with a great nose, solid minerality, elegant mouth feel and a soft fresh lemon finish with very persistent bubbles.

Cheers!

Regardless of your choice – Champagne, American Sparkling Wine, Prosecco or Cava – all should be served well-chilled in flutes to show off the beautiful bubbles that dance to the surface.