Sparkling wine — or bubbly, if you will — comes in many forms depending on where it comes from. It can often be a confusing prospect deciding what’s what and which one you should spend your hard-earned dollars on.
In our endeavor to provide a gateway to all things alcohol, we’ve created a little guide for you to get your bearings when it comes to the fizzy stuff. Below are the main types of sparkling wine being produced. Each region uses a slightly different method for producing their wines — that’s what makes them special. After that you really just need to know if you prefer sweeter sparkling wines (Duox and Demi-sec), middle of the road balance between sweetness and dryness (Dry and Extra Dry), or the often tart and very crisp side of things (Brut, Extra Brut, and Brut Nature). All that really means is that sparkling wines can pair with almost any dish!
Pro Note: Duox (sometimes dolce) sparkling wines will have up to 2 teaspoons of sugar per serving, a Brut Nature will have about 1/16 of a teaspoon per serving.
Sekt is what you’ll find in most German speaking countries. The name comes from the Berliner slang for the drink from the 1920s after the French forbade them calling their drink champagne with 1919’s Treaty of Versailles.
It’s made most commonly with the Charmat method. That’s when the second fermentation takes place in a pressurized tank, not the bottle. This means that costs can be lowered since secondary fermentation can be done in a factory and rather than taking up massive amounts of space in a cellar somewhere. Premium Sekt is made according to the Traditional Method (méthode traditionnelle). This is the same process as traditional champagne where the original fermentation takes place in a barrel, then yeast is added and the second fermentation takes place in the bottle. This means that the wine is naturally sparkling and secondary Co2 isn’t necessary to add fizz. You’ll be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a German Premium Sekt and a quality French Champagne, and you’ll likely save up to 50 percent on the price tag by going German over French.
Interestingly, German Sekt is largely made with imported grapes from Spain, Italy, and France unless it’s specifically called Deutscher Sekt. In that case, it’ll often be grapes from any of Germany’s 13 wine regions and mostly riesling, pinot blanc, pinot gris, and pinot noir grapes. In Germany any white wine that’s sparkling by way of a Co2 injection cannot be called Sekt. So that’s a good litmus to know whether what you’re buying is really Sekt.
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CAVA – Spain
Cava is Spain’s answer to champagne and sekt. Only sparkling wine made in the méthode traditionnelle are allowed to be called cava, according to Spain’s regulations. That means any other sparkling wine hailing from Spain must be called ‘vinos espumosos,’ or just sparkling wine.
What starts to set these sparkling wines apart are the grapes used to make them. German Sekt is made with a blend of grapes from all over Europe, while cava will be largely made from the Macabeu, Parellada, and Xarello grapes grown in Catalonia. The sun-baked Catalonian terroir and grapes provide the wine with a unique flavor that sets it apart from its French and German counterparts.
PROSECCO – Italy
Proseccos use the Charmat Methode by carrying out the secondary fermentation in a pressure tank. This makes it cheaper! Prosecco is an appellation for wine not a type of wine — meaning that the region is paramount to what is or isn’t called Prosecco. In this case, it’s from a village called Prosecco where some of the grapes originated. That also means you can get Prosecco in varying forms from still to spumante to frizzante.
Prosecco Frizzante is going to be the cheapest bottle since they take regular wine and shoot it up with Co2 after a single fermentation. To get the high-end sparkling vino produced in the traditional method (or Metodo Champenoise in Italian), you need to seek out a Spumante. Think of Frizzante as the sparkling wine of Italy and Spumante as the Champagne of Italy.
SOVETSKOYE SHAMPANSKOYE – Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia
In days long past, Russia had a huge wine growing region in what is now Ukraine and Moldova. So popular was their late 19th century production of sparking wine that they were the only variety that were officially allowed to call their product “champagne” outside of Champagne, France. It must have been amazing to get that honor. Unfortunately, Stalin didn’t see the necessity of quality over quantity and the product has yet to reach its epic Belle Epoque heights.
It’s largely believed they use the Continuous Method (or Soviet Method) where a secondary fermentation takes place in a tank with oak chips added right into the wine. Today, it’s a special treat that tastes wholly unique. It’s worth getting your hands on a bottle at the very least to try something completely different.
AMERICAN SPARKLING WINE – USA
Sparkling wine has been part of American viticulture since the late 1800s. It was the Korbel Brothers from German Bohemia who started producing sparkling wine from according the méthode champenoise — now the traditional method — in the Russian River Valley in 1892. Since then, most major American wine-makers put out at least one sparkling a year.
With American sparkling wine you’ll find a mess of grape varieties and methods utilized. The best bet for choosing an one is finding a winery you love, a grape you adore, and reading the label to figure out what method was used to make the wine. The Transfer Method is popular among new world wines. This is where the classic traditional method is used for primary and secondary fermentation, then the wine is re-tanked, alcohol is adjusted, it’s filtered, and re-bottled for sale. This allows for a much clearer, larger bubble structure, and a bit more complexity than the Charmat Method, but doesn’t quite reach the heights of the Traditional Method.
CHAMPAGNE – France
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This is the granddaddy of the whole sparkling wine world. It’s made in the Traditional Method in two very small regions in France. After the secondary fermentation in the bottle the product has to be riddled, disgorged, and dosed before it’s ready. This process of bottle turning and freezing precipitation takes well over two years to complete. Once the impurities and excess lees (left over yeasts) are purged, the bottles are topped up and corked and ready to go. Overall this labor intensive process combined with massive name recognition of the word “Champagne” and various labels drives the price of average champagne through the roof. You’re paying for someone to spend years turning those bottles in valuable cellar space in one tiny corner of France just as much as you’re paying to display that label at your table.
As with all wines, it comes down to your palate. Maybe the French varieties aren’t your jam… Or maybe your Italian grandmother or German grandfather insist on drinking Spumante or Sekt instead. It’s all good. Have fun finding one that you love and drink it ’til the ball drops!