Defining sparkling wine is almost as hard as defining Country Music. How is a body to make sense of all those sparklers: Champagne, California Sparkling Wine, Prosecco, Spumante, Cremant, Blanquette, and Cava?
And what on earth is the difference between Vintage and Non-Vintage, Brut Natural and Brut, Extra Dry and Sec, Demi Sec and Doux?
How to navigate the ocean of bubbles out there:
The term “Champagne” gets tossed around pretty freely.
Authentic Champagne derives only from the Champagne region of Northern France. By law, it may only be made from chardonnay, pinot noir, or pinot meunier grapes, secondary fermentation must take place in the bottle, and only specially designated (outstanding) years can be labeled “Vintage.” The vast majority of Champagne is Non-Vintage (NV).
Champagne’s extended bottle-aging allows flavors to evolve and increases the formation of tiny bubbles and those tiny bubbles carry big aroma and flavor messages to our senses. Famous Champagne houses such as Pol Roger and Gosset take great pride in their unique tradition and style: Pol Roger (NV) Brut (59.00) and Gosset Brut Excellence (39.00)
California Sparkling Wines are often made using the Champagne Method (and the label will say so) but producers are not subject to Champagne’s strict regulations. Two favorites from California: Mumm Napa Brut Prestige (22.00) and Mumm Napa Brut Rose (24.00)
Prosecco and Spumante, from Northeast Italy, are fermented under pressure in glass-lined tanks. Both wines are relatively low in alcohol and have moderate fizz. Prosecco tends to have a hint of residual sugar while Spumante is unapologetically sweet: DaLuca Prosecco (14.00) and Lamberti Rose Spumante (14.00) are great examples of the two styles.
Cremant and Blanquette are French sparkling wines and pre-date Champagne. Both undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle but cost a fraction the price of their Champagne cousins. Charles Sparr Cermant Rose (19.00) brings home red fruit-tinged bubbles from the Alsace region of France.
Cavas are Spanish bubblies made in the Champagne Method using indigenous grapes. Cavas, like Segura Viudas Brut (11.00) are generally dry, crisp, and outstanding for quality and value.
European sparkling wines are labeled according to their residual sugar—from driest to sweetest: Brut Nature, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec, Demi Sec, and Doux. Residual sugar standards are a little different in the USA but we use the same terms—except Brut Nature (the driest) is sometimes labeled “Natural” or “Extra Brut” here. Brut or Extra Dry are the most popular styles. Odd as it may seem, Brut is drier than Extra Dry—confusing? Oui.