Sparkling wines differences:

the complete guide,

no bullshit –

100% easy & fun!

Bubbles!

For a very long time sparkling wine was not popular because bubbles where created naturally with hot temperature and transportation and was considered as a defect… can you imagine?

Now sparkling wine are very prised and perfect for party or celebration occasion…But do you know that it exists a full range of taste, color, sweetness level as aromas? Champagne, Prosecco, Cremant, Cava to only named a few of them…

What are the main differences between those sparkling wines?

How do we make sparkling wines?

How to taste a sparkling wine?

Let’s discover more about, all easy & fun! .

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1/ Methods of production

Did you know that it exists 6 methods of sparkling wine production? Let’s discover the main differences here:

  • 1 Traditional (Classic) method

This is the one used for Champagne, Cremant or Cava. We make a regular still dry wine with grapes from different vintages. In that 1st wine there was already a first fermentation right? (sugar from grape + yeast = fermentation transformation sugar into alcohol). Wine is bottled up with…yes believe me, a 2nd fermentation! We will add again sugar and special yeast to create CO2 (carbon dioxide) and thus bubbles! Tada!

After aging (15 months for champagne for example), bottles are putting in back side position and slowly dead yeast sediments will come at the bottom (they give super nice aromas by the way!). We plunged the bottles into freezing liquid to open them and remove the sediment at the top. But there is a missing part. We then fill up with a mix of sugar (otherwise it will be too acid) that will define the sugar level and sparkling wine category (see below for sweetness level).

  • 2 Tank method (Charmat method)

This is the one used for Prosecco! Same thing we make still dry wine and we will add up that special mix of sugar and yeast but instead inside the bottle, it will happen inside a special pressure resistant tank (name comes from here) and the second fermentation happens there. Before being bottle up, wine gets added a mix of sugar that will defines the sugar level and sparkling wine category.

  • 3 Ancestral method

Remember that still wine has a 1st fermentation (sugar from grape + yeast = fermentation transforming sugar into alcohol)? In that method we stop this fermentation halfway and we filter the wine ( to keep the liquid only) and freeze it at 0ºC. Then wine is bottled up and the fermentation finishes inside the bottles creating naturally bubbles. (No sugar mix adjunction at the end). This is hence a method used for more “natural” sparkling wines.

  • 4 Transfer method

Same as method #1 – traditional – but after aging, bottles are opened – yes – and transferred (yes so name is coming from here) into pressure resistant tank with filers to remove the sediments and bottle sup again. This is used for special bottles sizes like ½ bottles or big ones.

  • 5 Continuous method

Same as method #1 – traditional – but after aging, bottles are opened – yes – and transferred (yes so name is coming from here) into pressure resistant tank with filers to remove the sediments and bottle sup again. This is used for special bottles sizes like ½ bottles or big ones.

  • 6 Carbonation

We put the still dry wine into a pressure resistant tank and we add directly add gas into to create bubbles. This is mostly used for lower quality sparkling wines

  • To remember: method #1 (Classic – Traditional) and #2 (Tank- Charmat) are the most common. Traditional method is happening inside the bottle, vs. Tank method into a tank.

 

2/ Main sparkling wines

:

There are many different sparkling wines. From different origin, characteristics, and different colors. Yes, it exists for example white but also rosé and red sparkling wines…

Let’s see the main ones (and yes this does not cover everything let’s keep it simple!):

 

1/ Champagne

 Origin:

France, Champagne region

 Grape(s):

Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier mainly (But also… Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier, and Arbane)

Method:

Traditional

 Color:

White – Rosé

 Style:

Mostly Dry

Aromas:

White: citrus, creamy and nutty

Rosé: berries

 Occasion:

Wedding, Special occasions

 

 

2/ Crémant

Origin:

France, anywhere else than Champagne region

 Grape(s):

Depends of the region

Method:

Traditional

 Color:

White – Rosé

 Style:

Mostly Dry

Aromas:

Depends on the region’ characteristics

 Occasion:

Birthdays

 

3/ Mousseux

 Origin:

France

 Grape(s):

Depends of the region

Method:

Ancestral

 Color:

White – Rosé

 Style:

Mostly Dry

Aromas:

Depends on the region’ characteristics

 Occasion:

Parties

4/ Prosecco

 Origin:

Italy, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia

 Grape(s):

Glera mainly

Method:

Tank

 Color:

White  (and soon Rosé)

 Style:

Mostly Dry, to Half Dry

Aromas:

Apple, lemon, white peach

 Occasion:

Apple, lemon, white peach

5/Franciacorta

 Origin:

Italy, Lombardy

 Grape(s):

Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc mainly

Method:

Traditional

 Color:

White – Rosé

 Style:

Mostly Dry

Aromas:

White: citrus

Rosé: berries

 Occasion:

Date

6/ Moscato

 Origin:

Italy, Piedmont

 Grape(s):

Muscat bianco

Method:

Tank

 Color:

White – Rosé

 Style:

Often sweet

Aromas:

Yellow fruits,  exotic flavor, orange blossom

 Occasion:

Tea time, parties

7/ Lambrusco

 Origin:

Italy, Emilia-Romagna mainly

 Grape(s):

Lambrusco grapes (different varieties)

Method:

Charmat, Ancestrale, Traditional

Color:

Red

 Style:

Often sweet

Aromas:

Berries, herbs

 Occasion:

Date, dinner

8/ Cava

 Origin:

Spain, Catalunia mainly

 Grape(s):

Macabeo, Xarello, Parellada, Chardonnay mainly

Method:

Traditional

 Color:

White – Rosé

 Style:

Mostly Dry

Aromas:

Citrus, floral

 Occasion:

Birthdays

9/ Sekt

 Origin:

Germany, Austria

 Grape(s):

Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Pinot gris, Chardonnay,  Silvaner, Gewürztraminer mainly

Method:

Tank mostly – sometimes Transfer or Traditional

 Color:

White – Rosé

 Style:

Dry to sweet

Aromas:

White fruits, citrus

 Occasion:

Parties

 

Notes: 

  • Champagne

When made only 100% Chardonnay grape it called “Blanc de Blancs” (White of White) because chardonnay is a white wine grape. 

When it is white Champagne mixed of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier it is called “Blanc de Noirs” (White of Blacks) because Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier ae typical red wine grapes. This one is often fruitier. 

By the way it exists still red wine in the region too!

 

  • Ranking

All the sparkling wine mentioned have their own classification category. For example:

Champagne : AOC Champagne (Regular one) / Premier Cru / Grand Cru,

Prosecco: Prosecco DOC / Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG / Asolo Prosecco DOCG / Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore Rive DOCG/ Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG…

 

  • Others

It exists plenty of others sparkling wines in other countries (Austria, South Africa, Australia, USA…) and great ones!

I only covered the main ones but I do strongly encourage you to try others especially from small producers and not famous brands and make your own opinion. Small producers are often best value for money and source of incredible stories to discover!

 

2/ Tasting

  • Temperature

Temperature is key. Drinking your wine at the wrong temperature will definitely affects your tasting! Drinking too cold will freezes aromas and highlight acidity, too cold will enhance the alcohol side. But what are we seeking in Sparkling wines? To be refreshing!

So get it cold, best temperature is 6-8ºC.

So it means that you can put it in your fridge the day before or also use ice bucket with ices or some cold keeping accessories.

For vintages ones (more about vintage sparkling wine below), a little hotter like 10ºC is perfect to enjoy its range of aromas.

  • Glass

The choice of glass will also affect what you smell – see – feel in the glass.

Let’s cover the 3 main ones:

 

Flute

↑ Pro: The traditional long flute maintains the cold temperature and preserve bubbles. Also practical to hold and cheers up! (I love cheering up to life!).

↓ Cons: It is not optimal to enjoy sparkling wine aromas.

It also exists some flute with a tulip shape glass so enabling to smell more floral and fruity aromas than flute. I personally like this one

 White wine glass

↑ Pro: Perfect shape to swirl a little the sparkling wine and let aromas release.

↓ Cons: Not ideal to maintain cold temperature (so drink fast haha!).

I like that one too! Perfect also for vintage sparkling wines with a lot of aromas.

Wide tulip shape glass is a good compromise between flute and white wine glass to enjoy your sparkling wine!

Coupe

↑ Pro: It is so chic & vintage! It is highly used in the 20’s and 30’s!

↓ Cons: Bubbles go away very easily; temperature warm up faster also.

Note:

As every glass thickness matters! A thin glass is better to smell more aromas.

But pick a resistant one too to not break it easily!

  • Tasting

Best part, right?

As wine we still get 3 main steps:

  • 1. LOOK: a lot of different color that will varies from grape used, origin, age, winemaking process. We often say that thinner the bubbles are, better it is! Actually, bubbles are also affected from the production method used and pressure.

 

  • 2. SMELL: What a range! We can smell floral aromas, fruity ones (citrus, white and yellow fruits), toasted or smokey ones but also bread – brioche – creamy too. We smell a 1st time, swirl a little the glass to release aromas and smell again. Aromas shall be more intense and easier to identify.

 

  • 3. TASTE: of course! I open a little my mouth to enter sparkling wine and air (like noodles). Then I turn the wine all over my mouth (glouglou) and swallow. What do you feel? Is it refreshing? How about the intensity: light or not? And aromas: fruity, floral, creamy, nutty? Sweetness: is it dry, mid, sweet?

But most importantly, is it good?

And again it is up to you! Pick the temperature – glass – tasting method you like and enjoy!

Often bad quality sparkling wine make me stomach pain in a few minutes so this might be an “indicator”….

Cheers!

4/ Labels

  • Sweetness level

At the end of the process when we plunged (traditional method) bottles into freezing liquid, sediments come out… but there is a missing part. We then fill up with a mix of sugar that will defines the sugar level and sparkling wine category. With tank method it will be adde dup just before being bottle up! So not every sparkling wine has all of those categories but here are all of them for your reference?

From the least sweet to the sweeter: (grams sugar per liter)

Brut Nature 0-3g /liter
Extra brut 0-6g /liter
Brut 0-12g /liter
Extra Dry/ Extra Sec 12-17 g/liter
Dry /Sec 17-32 g/liter
Half sweet /Demi sec 32-50g /liter
Sweet / Doux +50g /liter

 

  • Vintage

Sparkling wines are made from still wine from grape from different harvest years (this is why there is no vintage year mentioned on the label). This can guaranty a consistent quality and taste (…) for some brands.

When years are especially good, winemaker use only the grape from that specific year to make the sparkling wine. For vintage aging is longer. For example, for Champagne the rule is 3 years minimum (instead of non vintage which is 15 months).

Of course they are pricier…

  • ABV (Alcohol level)

Sparkling wine is generally between 11.-5-12.5 degrees’ alcohol.

Some are lighter like the Moscato d’Asti at 5.5 degrees.

5/ Cheers

So let’s taste & enjoy! Cheers!

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