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Pop The Cork On Sparkling Wines From Around The World

Mon, 02/16/2015

Pop the cork on sparkling wines from around the world

Bubbly 101 just in time for Valentine’s Day

By Courtney Schiessi

With Valentine’s Day recently,many of you may have experienced the pressure to pick out a bottle of bubbly for the occasion. From Champagne to Prosecco, non-vintage to vintage, Blanc de Blancs to Blanc de Noirs, the world of sparkling wine can seem complicated, but never fear: this sparkling 101 is all the preparation needed to pop the cork on a perfect bottle.

Though the word “champagne” is often used as a blanket term for all sparkling wine, in fact, Champagne can only come from the region of Champagne in France. With a winemaking tradition dating back centuries, Champagne‘s combination of unique attributes makes its wines one-of-a-kind.

First, the terroir: the region’s cold, harsh climate and limestone-chalk soil breed grapes high in acidity and minerality, key characteristics of Champagne. Second, the vinification: all Champagnes must be made in the méthode Champenoise (also known as “traditional method”), which means that the secondary fermentation, which creates the bubbles, takes place in the bottle. This process makes higher-quality bubbles and leaves behind lees, or dead yeast cells, in the bottle. While that may not sound appetizing, it brings forth a third point: aging requirements. After bottling, Champagnes must be aged for a minimum of fifteen months, giving the wine extended contact with the lees to create richness, complexity, and at times a nutty, creamy flavor.

With the basics of Champagne down, new options are presented when it comes time to buy a bottle. Below, the wine shop pros’ cheat sheet:

  • Non-vintage (NV): In order to maintain a consistent “house style,” non-vintage Champagnes are a blend of wine from multiple vintages. Most Champagnes fall into this category.
  • Vintage: Made only in top years, vintage Champagnes may only use wine from that year’s harvest. They are aged for longer and lower in quantity, commanding higher prices.
  • Blanc de Blancs: Literally translated as “white from whites,” these cuvées may use only Chardonnay, the sole white grape permitted in Champagne. They tend to be bright and fresh, with more citrus character.
  • Blanc de Noirs: The opposite of Blanc de Blancs, this is made only from Champagne’s permitted red grapes, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. By pressing the grapes immediately, no color is transferred to the juice, making a white wine. These bottles have more richness and intensity and can sometimes have red fruit flavors.
  • Rosé: Typically made by blending a bit of red wine with white before secondary fermentation, rosé champagnes are growing in popularity. Styles range from delicate to deeply flavorful.

All of these factors contribute to a reason for hesitation in buying Champagne: the price. With many bottles starting around the $50 mark, many ask if the splurge is worthwhile. The unequivocal answer is absolutely. With such complexity and elegance, there simply isn’t anything else like it in the world. The NV Duc de Romet Brut ($35) is a crazy-affordable introduction to the world of Champagne, while the NV Savart Premier Cru ‘L’Ouverture’ ($55) is a complex Blanc de Noirs well worth the step-up in price.

Of course, Champagne isn’t the only worthwhile bubbly out there, and common sparkling wines such as cava, prosecco, and crémant often combine quality and affordability. Produced in seven different regions of France, crémant wines are made in the traditional method from local grapes and aged for the same length of time as Champagne. Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant de Loire, and Crémant de Jura are three favorites, all of which can imitate Champagne’s classic qualities. The NV Tripoz Crémant de Bourgogne ($22) is a particular standout, bright yet creamy, with Champagne-like chalkiness.

Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine most commonly made in Catalunya, around the city of Barcelona. Made in the traditional method, it is usually dry and fresh, with citrus flavors and a slight minerality. While high-end bottles are made, Cava tends to have excellent value, such as the NV Via de la Plata Brut Nature ($18), a minerally, lightly fruity, bone-dry cava that tastes more expensive than it is.

Many are familiar with Prosecco, the classic sparkler of Italy that has become synonymous with everyday bubbly. In order to retain a clean, fruit-driven character, winemakers opt to induce secondary fermentation in tank, rather than in bottle. This also contributes to Prosecco’s affordability, with many bottles falling in the under-$15 range. Lovers of fruity wines are likely to be devotees of Prosecco, such as the NV Montelvini Prosecco ($11), with its floral notes, or the NV Col Vetoraz Prosecco ($16), a particularly elegant bottle.

American sparkling wines, Lambrusco, Cap Classique, Franciacorta – the sparkling possibilities are endless, so don’t be afraid to try something new on Valentine’s Day. In fact, with the wealth of bubblies out there, perhaps it’s time to consider popping some corks outside of special occasions as well. It’s the only way to fully explore the wonderful world of sparkling wine.