It’s December and the Holiday Season is upon us. It’s time for family, friends, parties, food and, of course, wine -- at least in our world.
Your best bet for any party or get together where wine is involved is bubbles. Yes, Sparkling Wine.
What is Sparkling Wine? Is it Champagne? Yes. But it's also so much more!
There are a lot of great ‘sparklers’ produced in all areas of the world. We would like to cover just four of them for reference as you go into your local wine store --
Champagne, Cremant, Cava and Prosecco.
How do they make those bubbles?
There is one main distinction between all sparkling wines throughout the world -- the method from which the bubbles are born.
All still wine goes through a fermentation process. Yeast is added to the pressed grape juice shortly after harvest. This yeast converts the natural sugar from the grapes to alcohol.
Without getting too technical, almost all sparking wine is born from a ‘secondary fermentation’. It’s where that secondary fermentation takes place is key to know.
With sparkling wine, a second dose of yeast is added after the initial fermentation. When there is no more sugar to convert because of the first fermentation, this second dose of yeast creates the bubbles as it dies.
The most famous method of secondary fermentation is the ‘Traditional Method’ or, as the French call it, ‘Methode Champenoise’. This secondary fermentation takes place in the actual bottle. Yeast is added to each individual bottle and then they are capped and tipped upside down for a number of years. During this time, the yeast dies and becomes ‘lees’ and bubbles are created. The bottles are tipped upside down to catch the lees after a few years and the lees can be removed before the final cork is placed in the bottle.
As you can imagine this method is labor intensive and expensive, one of the reasons that Champagne can be costly.
The other method used for secondary fermentation is the ‘Charmat Method’ or ‘tank method’. Quite simply, once the wine goes through its initial fermentation, all the juice is added to a very large refrigerated steel tank. A second dose of yeast is added and secondary fermentation takes place in the tank over a much shorter period of time than the traditional method. The tank is then emptied into bottles and the bottles are corked and shipped to consumers.
As a consumer, what is the difference in the final product?
Under the Method Champenoise, because the juice is left “on the lees” (the dead yeast) for some time, the sparkling wine can develop a ‘toasty’ or almond taste. Under this method too, the bubbles are more fine and abundant. Under the Charmat Method, the sparkling wine is much less toasty and more fruity. The bubbles are also softer and less abundant than the traditional method.
Champagne is sparkling wine made in the Method Champenoise from the Champagne region of France. And yes, producers can only call it Champagne if it comes from the Champagne region. The laws are strict in France as to wine production and, with a very few exceptions, Champagne is produced from either Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier.
Champagne is the king of sparkling wine but can cost at least $40 for a quality bottle of juice. That may be nice for some, but not for your typical Tuesday sipper. So what to do?
What is ‘Cremant’? Quite simply, it is sparkling wine, made in the traditional method, from France, just not from the Champagne region. Producers of Cremant are also able to use the grapes indigenous to their regions such as Chardonnay (Burgundy), Chenin Blanc (Loire) and Riesling (Alsace). These sparklers are not aged as long as Champagne and thus are much more approachable at about half the cost of Champagne.
Cava is Spain’s answer to Champagne. Made in the same traditional method, it is just not aged nearly as long as Champagne. Cava also uses different grapes for its juice -- including Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parellada. Cava tends to have a rich mouthfeel like Champagne, but shows more fruit flavors as it is not left on the lees for years like Champagne. Cava also comes in at a fraction of the cost of Champagne. If you like rich dry bubbles, give Cava a try.
Prosecco is sparkling wine from the Veneto region of Italy. It is made from the Glera grape and is produced in the ‘tank method’. Prosecco tends to be lighter and fruitier than any of the aforementioned sparklers and comes in a great prices for us consumers.
Some final Bubble notes . . .
Sparklers pair well with almost all food. From burgers to popcorn to fried chicken. Why? It’s a palate cleanser for one thing. And the acidity of the bubbles just makes your mouth water and wanting more food.
You may wonder about the terms ‘Brut’, ‘Dry’, or ‘Extra Dry’. These are sweetness levels in sparkling wine. Most sparklers are produced at the Brut sweetness level -- which has a touch of sweetness, almost undetectable, to it.
The order, if you are wondering, from driest to sweetest is . . . Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Dry, Demi-Sec, and lastly, the sweetie, Doux.
Lastly, sparkling wine is made all over the world, from different grapes. Try one from Argentina, Chile, South Africa and Australia. Michigan also makes some pretty good sparklers, our friends at L. Mawby Winery have an amazing selection -- seek those out.
Cheers and Happy Holidays from Brut Detroit!!