Top differences between Sparkling Wines
What is the difference between Sparkling Wines?
The typical short answer is that sparkling wine can only be called ‘Champagne’ if it is made and comes from the designated wine region of Champagne in northern France, just a short distance east of Paris. Possibly if you have time, you might add – the bubbles which you are enjoying in Champagne are made inside the bottle from which you are serving, and not made elsewhere and transferred. Known as bottle fermentation (aka secondary fermentation) or Méthode Traditionnelle (the Traditional Method).
But this doesn’t do justice or give the right respect to the many varied, different and exciting styles of sparkling wines made and enjoyed around the world. Yes – all Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. We need to think of Champagne with a much more insightful and broader understanding – rather than just in terms of a geographical place and more as a unique winemaking style, character and flavour profile.
In simple terms – sparkling wine is made by taking the formula of fermentation (grape sugar + yeast = alcohol and CO2), and not allowing the resulting CO2 gas to escape (as we do for still wines). When you ferment wine in a closed or sealed container, the carbon dioxide (CO2) dissolves back into the liquid, only to be released as bubbles after opening.
Fully-sparkling wines, such as Champagne and quality Méthode Traditionnelle wines, are generally made with 5 to 6 atmospheres of pressure inside the bottle. This is nearly 2-3 times the pressure found in a car tire. EU regulations define a sparkling wine as any wine with an excess of 3 atmospheres in pressure. These include German Sekt, Spanish Espumoso, Italian Spumante and French Crémant or Mousseux wines. *(Quality Prosecco 2-3 atmospheres).
Semi-sparkling wines are defined as those with between 1 to 2.5 atmospheres and include German Spritzig, Italian Frizzante and French Pétillant wines.
Here are just a few styles of Sparkling Wines crafted around the world:
• Spain – Cava (bottle fermented) is made in many different styles, but the best examples have small-medium bubbles and a balanced freshness and palate structure.
• Italy – (from the Veneto wine region) – Prosecco is taking over the world with its fresh medium sized bubbles and its focus on bright citrus characters. Made in pressurised tanks making it lighter and less yeasty than bottle fermentation. Prosecco can be a little sweeter than Champagne or Cava, with vibrant flavours of apple, pear, lemon, light flowers and even tropical fruits. Italy also has Asti and Moscato d’Asti sparkling wines.
• Austria & Germany – Sekt sparkling wine (which is typically made in a pressurised tank and transferred to a bottle) can vary in sweetness and is typically lower in alcohol than Champagne.
• French – Sparkling wines can come from France (outside of the Champagne region) – Crémant d’Alsace, Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant de Limoux and Crémant de Loire plus 3 other regions… – and are made in a variety of dry to sweet, and rosé styles.
• Portuguese – Espumante is their name for sparkling wine. An example is DOC Bairrada, located just south of Vinho Verde. For a wine to be certified as a quality Espumante from DOC Bairrada, it must be fermented in the bottle (indicate the year of harvest) and stamped with the VEQPRD (Vinho Espumante de Qualidade Produzido em Região Determinada) certification.
• Other Countries – for several years now, a great number of quality sparkling producers (using the term Méthode Traditionnelle – i.e. Bottle fermented sparkling wine) in Tasmania – Australia, Argentina, Chile, Australia, USA, New Zealand and for a decade now in the UK. With several around the world having investment and guidance from French Champagne houses.
Depending on the occasion of opening and serving bubbles. Like you do for white and red wines – you need to start thinking about its style and flavour profile. Is it being served on its own or with breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert. If served with food (oysters, salmon, pork cutlets, roast chicken, lemon meringue, Panna cotta with berries or just with fruit sorbet…) Think about how fresh is the style of sparkling wine. How bright is the acidity and are the citrus, biscuit or yeasty flavours alive on your palate, it is fruit driven but not sweet or vice-versa? How dry, lingering or sweet is the length and finish of the sparkling with. Will it complement the cuisine or be overwhelming?
Is the flavour profile of the sparkling wine more citrus in style, or does it has a biscotti-biscuit note, or is it rich and yeasty mouth filling with toasty, spice notes which engage all the palate. Are the bubbles small and elegant or large and clumsy on the palate?
Typically, the smaller and more persistent the elegant fine bubbles – this is a sign of a high-quality sparkling wine. In general, broad terms – if the sparkling wine has been made quickly in just a few weeks and under less atmospheric pressures – the resulting bubbles will be few in numbers, large-in-size on the tongue and will be short lived in the glass. Added time – can add to the number of finer bubbles, yes this can add to the cost of the wine. But it can result in a better quality sparkling wine, with added depth of characters, more layers of flavour and a more engaging and longer lasting sparkling wine. Plus – the grapes used in the blend and the ‘house style’ of sparkling wine and local culture – can all have an effect on the flavours and style of sparkling wine produced.
Levels of Sweetness in Champagne: *(grams per litre)
• Extra Brut (no dosage) also called Brut Integral, Brut Nature 0-6 g/L
• Brut (Dry) 3-15 g/L
• Extra Sec (Off-Dry to Medium Dry) 12-20 g/L
• Sec (Medium-Dry) 17-35 g/L
• Demi-Sec. (Quite Sweet) 33-50 g/L
• Doux (Rich and Sweet) 50 g/L plus – which is Champagne are becoming rare, with the world demanding and enjoying drier styles of Champagne.
Sparkling wine may be made with the classic three grapes as in Champagne (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier & Chardonnay) or from an entirely different blend. From Brut to Rosé (which can add another dimension to the flavour profile…) – plus made up to super sweet sparkling dessert wines, like Moscato d’Asti. The difference between sparkling wines is not just price… Enjoy the journey through the wonderful world of sparkling wines.