Summer is always a great time of year to enjoy a nice cold glass of bubbly with a refreshingly fruity taste combined with a bit of carbonation – perhaps also mixed with a splash of orange juice for that perfect Mimosa! What is your favorite Champagne, Sparkling Wine, Cava, Prosecco or “bubbly”? Did you know that there is a difference in each of these types of wines? The differences can originate from the region that the wine came from, as well as its fermentation method. There are two primary types of fermentation: bottle and tank; and both are used in many regions around the world.
The most traditional sparkling wine comes from the Champagne region of Northern France, which is where it gets its name, and is considered a “geographic designation”. Champagne is made using the traditional methodof bottle fermentation; and due to its “geographic designation”, no other sparkling wines can legally be called “Champagne”. This area of France provides a cool climate to grow the primary grapes used to make the base wine, which are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier. The bubbles and alcohol content come from the yeast and sugar that are added to the base wine during the fermentation process. The least amount of ageing for the wine to be ready is 12 months. This blend of grapes creates a light citrus and green apple flavor, high acidity, and a crisp, refreshing taste on the palate. When most people ask for a good bottle of Champagne, the French are unique in flavor and will always be considered some of the best.
Cava, in Spanish, means “cave” or “cellar” and is the term used in Spain for their traditional sparkling wines. Cava is also made using the traditional method of bottle fermentation, and the primary region that produces it, is Catalunya. The base wine comes from the pinot noir grape; and due to the warmer climate of the region, the grapes are harvested earlier in order to ensure high acidity flavors. The result is light, fruity flavors reminiscent of apples and pears, crisp and refreshing on the finish, still unique to their origin.
So, you may be wondering about sparkling wines that you have seen labeled as “California Champagne”. There is a long history, and there have been many disputes and misuse over using the name “champagne” if it did not come from Champagne, France. However, in 2005 there was finally an agreement between the U.S. and the E.U. that the name would no longer appear on domestic wine labels, unless a producer was already using one of those names, in which case they could continue to use the name on their label indefinitely. Most U.S. sparkling wine producers respect the agreement and do not use the term, but you will still find labels of “California Champagne”, especially on brands that have been in existence for many years; and on the shelves of local vendors depending on the types of wines they carry. Again, this really just signifies the traditional bottle fermentation method being used to create the sparkling wine.
However, California does produce many top sparkling wines, as does Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. These wines are referred to as “Sparkling Wines” and are produced using the traditional method as well. They also use Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as the primary grapes of the base wine. Due to the varying climate where these grapes are grown, the flavors tend to be a bit richer in their fruit quality, representing the increased ripeness of the grape when harvested.
There is a second, popular fermentation method by which sparkling wines are made, and that is the tank method. This method is used to produce what many of you may consider to be your favorite sparkling wine, Prosecco. Prosecco is actually a region in north-east Italy and is the origin of its primary base Glera grape. This grape, is a white grape that results in light to medium-bodied wines, with lighter flavors of apples and melons with a dry, to off-dry finish. If you prefer your sparkling wine to be a bit sweeter, you may want to find an Asti sparkling wine which is also named after a region in north-west Italy. It is made using a slight variation of the tank method and uses the Moscato (Muscat) grape as its base wine. These grapes give off a much more pronounced floral aroma, and provide smoother flavors of peaches and pears on the palate. The finish is longer and sweeter; and these wines are typically a bit lower in alcohol.
So, as you can see, there are many varieties of sparkling wines; and not all are exactly alike due to grapes, climates, taste, finish and fermentation process. The next time you go to look for that special-occasion, sparkling wine, take note of the different types and varieties and challenge yourself to try something new. Note how the taste of French Champagne is different than that of the Spanish Cava, which is different than the Italian Prosecco! Any variety is great with a Sunday (or any day) brunch of berries, cheeses and other light pairs.
At Wine Culture, I am excited to introduce you to your new, sparkling favorite!