I only drink Champagne on two occasions, when I am in love and when I am not. – Coco Chanel
My beverages are either water, coffee, or wine. And depending on the day, all three simultaneously. Today I want to talk about the fermented grape juice, the mommy juice, the good stuff. More specifically, the bubbly kind. But first there are a few things we need to get straight.
There are many different types of sparkling wine, most notably:
1. Champagne (France)
2. Prosecco (Italy)
3. Cava (Spain)
4. Crémant (France)
5. Rosé (France)
6. Moscato (Italy)
7. American Sparkling Wine (America)
In the US, we don’t have any laws about what grapes can be included in what wines, so technically just about anything could be used. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the most common choices. Some are made in the Methode Champenoise, but many are not. In general, cooler growing regions are better bets because the acidity in the grapes is preserved.
Sparkling wine varies in dryness from Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, and Demi-Sec. When buying sparkling wine, you may notice that the bottle comes labeled with a word like “brut,” “dry” or something of that nature. These words are referring to the dryness level of the particular bottle you are buying. This is measured by the amount of residual sugar in grams per liter of wine.
Sparkling wine is a carbonated wine, a wine that has bubbles, which usually takes on the name associated with the region or country specific to where the wine originated. The carbonation in sparkling wine is most commonly created using one of two methods: Méthode Champenoise (Champagne method) or Metodo Italiano, which is also known as the Charmat method.
There's also the Transfer method (which is a hybrid of the Champagne and Charmat methods) as well as the Continuous, Ancestral, and Carbonated methods, which are less common. But the key differentiator is secondary fermentation.
THE MYTH OF THE MONK
Because all good stories need a crafty monk. One of the most infamous myths is that of Monk Dom Perignon. As the story goes, in the 1600s the monk was making white wine in the Champagne region of France. He decided to bottle the wine he had fermented earlier than usual because, when he checked the fermentation tanks, it seemed to him that the yeast had finished converting all the sugar to alcohol. In fact, the temperature in the Champagne region had become so cold that the yeast in the tanks had simply gone to sleep, even though they weren’t done eating all the sugar.
When the spring came and the wine in the bottles began to warm, the yeast woke up and hurriedly began eating all of the leftover sugar. As they ate the sugar, the carbon dioxide they were creating had no place to escape, as it would in a large fermentation tanks, so instead the CO2 was absorbed by the wine, thereby carbonating it. When Dom Perignon went to check on his wine he encountered corks popping all around him; he tasted the wine and loved the results, thus the birth of Champagne.
Champagne is arguably the most popular type of sparkling wine, but sparkling wine can only be considered Champagne if it comes from the region of Champagne, France. To clarify, all champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is champagne. (Read more from this great article.)
Since the discovery of the Champagne method, which is often called the traditional method, Champagne has exploded across the world, quickly becoming the most well-known and highly regarded sparkler. It is for this reason that most other wine regions adopted the method as the way to make sparkling wine, including Spanish Cava. So if the majority of sparkling wine is made using the Champagne method, why don’t we call all sparkling wine Champagne? As you might expect, the French are pretty territorial over the name, allowing only sparkling wine that is actually made in the Champagne region of France to be called Champagne.
There were nearly 300 million bottles of Champagne exported in 2019, and interest in all things bubbly is rising and rising.
Unlike white grapes that become white wine, and red grapes that become red wine, pink grapes don’t exist in nature; so, how do winemakers create a style of wine that always has such a beautiful pink color?
The answer here is in the grape skin. When all grapes, no matter their color, are juiced, the juice that runs out of the fruit is clear. But wines receive their color not from the juice but from the juice’s contact with the skin of the grapes. As the skins and the juice soak together the color from the skin bleeds into the juice, giving the wine its yellow or red color. This process is known as maceration.
The wine region known for creating the most consistent rosés, no matter the price point, is Provence. The Provence wine region of France creates rosé more than any other style of wine, and they’ve become incredibly good at it.
Rosé is going to need its own post, because there's a lot of yumminess to discuss there. But you can read more here.
So now that we're all on the same page, here are a few of my favorites (under $60):
1. Veuve Clicquot (Champagne)
2. Moët & Chandon (Champagne & Rosé)
3. Nicolas Feuillatte (Champagne)
4. La Marca Luminore (Prosecco)
5. Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad (Cava)
6. Mumm Napa (Sparkling & Rosé)
7. Gloria Ferrer (Sparkling, Méthode Champenoise )
8. Freixenet Cordon Negro (Cava, great for mimosas)
Generally, I go for a Brut. I like lots of fine bubbles with a soft sophisticated taste. If you're a newbie, start by looking for something made in France or Italy, or one that specifies that it's made in their methods. I have found that I don't generally have a taste for many Cavas, but you may. And I don't trust many under $10, but you can find a lot of good ones in the $15-20 range.
I got champagne problems, champagne problems, so pour a glass and let's drink up all my champagne problems! (Meghan Trainor)
Sources: Vine Pair