The Weekender Guide To Sparkling Wine

You can’t have New Year’s Eve without popping a cork, so this weekend we’re out to help you choose a nice bottle of bubbly to enjoy with friends and family.

The Basics

All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. Only wine produced in the Champagne region of France (about 100 miles away from Paris) can use the name. But what’s the fizz all about?

In the 1600s, bottled wine would get cold in the winter, then as the cellar would warm up in the spring the wine would go through a second fermentation. During the second fermentation, the alcohol content increases and carbon dioxide dissolves into the wine to create the ‘sparkle.’ Once winemakers realized they really didn’t have a way of stopping this from happening (central heat was many years away) they began to work with it, learning what type of bottle and cork would keep the bottles from blowing up and how to remove sediment from the wine.

Today’s Bubbly

Champagne is still bottled through the Traditional Method. The winemaker starts with a dry, still wine as its base and blends in other varietals to create the desired style. Before bottling and sealing, a mixture of sugar and yeast is added and then the wine heads to the cellar. Over about a six week period, the yeast breaks down the sugar and turns to alcohol and carbon dioxide. The length of time the yeast remains in the bottle determines the flavor profile and amount of carbonation. The bottles are rotated in the cellar over a period of weeks and months until the remaining yeast is lodged in the neck of the bottle; that yeast is frozen and removed and a little extra wine is added to balance things out before the traditional mushroom cork and wire cage is added and the wine ages a little more.

If this all sounds labor intensive and thus expensive, you’re right. That’s the primary difference between a bottle that costs $100 and one that costs $10 (or, heaven forbid, the $2.99 stuff my grandmother served). Cheaper wines do this second fermentation in a pressurized tank instead of individual bottles.

Otherwise, the primary difference between Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, or an American sparkling wine is where it’s made and the grape varietals used. Prosecco is made in Italy and aged in steel tanks; Cavas are made certain parts of Spain and must be aged in glass bottles for at least nine months.

If you’re looking for a dry wine, look for a Brut. For sweet, seek out Dulce (or if you’re pairing with a dessert, maybe a Moscato would work).

My go-to bottle is the Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad Brut Cava. It’s from Catalonia, Spain and it’s a full, well balanced wine that delivers some nice dried fruit flavors. It’s usually easy to find under $20 at places like Total Wine and Costco. This is what I reach for when planning special dinners or celebrations. (Sure, I’d love a bottle of Veuve Cliquot, but I can buy 2 bottles of the Seguura Viudas for that price!)

If I’m making mimosas at brunch, I’ll opt for a Prosecco. La Vostra has notes of apple and peach that blends well with the fruit juice. This retails around $10.

Cheers to a Happy New Year!

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