How to Find the Best Sparkling Wine
Sparkling wine has always been a refined way to celebrate momentous occasions–but now it’s making headlines in Britain and beyond.
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Royal couple Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are expecting their first child very soon–by the time you read this, it may have already happened–and now Lynn Andriana, a writer for Martha Stewart Living, suggests that the perfect way to celebrate is with a glass of British sparkling wine. See also the Martha Stewart Wine Club Review here!
In fact, some estimate that British sparkling wine production, enabled by more temperate weather, will as much as double 2022, to an astounding ten million bottles per year.
It seems like a good time as any to pour a glass of sparkling wine–whether British, Italian or based in the United States.
But how do you find the best sparkling wine possible, and what even is the difference between sparkling wine and champagne?
In this article, we’ll cover all of the basics when it comes to sparkling wine so you can have your very best glass, no matter the occasion.
What Is The Difference Between Sparkling Wine and Champagne?
Sparkling wine and champagne often get confused with one another and understandably so. Both beverages include signature carbonation that adds a little extra kick and celebratory nature to every glass.
It isn’t so much that champagne and sparkling wine are distinctly different drinks, but there is a technicality as to what can be called champagne and what can be called sparkling wine.
Though not always followed, the only true champagne comes from where its name is derived: Champagne, France, a northeastern city near Paris. In other words champagne is classified by what region it comes from.
Considered a historic province that has been distinguished for centuries for its beautiful and verdant agricultural areas, it’s often referred to as ‘wine region’ According to European Union laws and other independent countries, only wine derived from that region can be called champagne.
In this sense, it’s less so that there’s a difference between sparkling wine and champagne as much as that champagne refers to a very distinct type of sparkling wine. The term sparkling wine indicates, then, all sparkling wine that does not come the French region of Champagne. So while all champagne is a sparkling wine, most sparkling wines cannot be called champagne.
It is true that some champagne in the United States does not meet these standards, so to determine if your champagne is truly champagne and not a sparkline wine blend (as is often the case), all you need to do is check the wine’s origin. Anything aside from the northern region in France is not true champagne.
How Is True Champagne Made vs Sparkling Wine?
True champagne is made from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir Meunier grapes and usually made through a lengthy traditional process that involves a secondary fermentation after the bottle is sealed.
First, the curvee is selected. The curvee refers to the specific blend of grapes being used to produce the champagne. Expensive champagnes are typically made using grapes from the Grand Cru vineyard, but can also be made with grapes in surrounding vineyards.
The Most Common Blends To Make Champagne Include:
- Blanc de Blancs: Translated as white of whites, this is white champagne, made almost exclusively from Chardonnay grapes.
- Rose, or Pink Champagne is usually made by adding still Pinot noir to a sparkling wine curvee.
- Blanc de Nories is white but made from black grapes, most commonly Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, as these are the only black grapes from the Champagne region.
After the initial base is made, still white wines are blended during a process known as “assemblage’, or assembly. The second fermentation occurs when yeast and sugar are added and the mixture is sealed in a glass bottle. From there, champagne is aged; how long it’s been aged of course depends on the champagne. For aging, champagne is normally stored in a cool, dark cellar.
Once the champagne has gone through its fermentation and aging process, dead yeast is removed, via a process known as ‘riddling’. In the step known as disgorging, the champagne is turned upside down and the neck of the bottle is kept in a frozen ice bath. In the final step before a cork is added, white wine, sugar, and sometimes brandy is added to taste.
Does This Process Differ For Any Sparkling Wine?
Aside from the grapes themselves coming from different regions than Champagne, it can be produced in different, sometimes less laborious methods. The traditional method, which is what we discussed above, may be favored for true champagne, but sparkling wine can also be processed through:
- Tank Method: Tanking consists of a simpler four step process of making a blend of base wine, sugar and yeast, going through a second fermentation, filtering, and then a dosage state.
- Ancestral Method: The ancestral method involved an initial fermentation, followed by filtration, bottle fermentation, and riddling.
- Transfer Method is similar to the traditional method, but involves a tirage, tank transfer, and dosing.
These other methods especially the tank method are cheaper than a traditional method.
Does Champagne Taste Different Than Sparkling Wine?
Does the method matter, and does champagne truly taste different than other sparkling wines? To a discerning connoisseur, yes. Most true champagnes have a ratio of about ? red to ¼ chardonnay, and exudes fruity, rich flavors after an initial bitterness. It is also noted for a complex and fresh taste; flavors vary based on the grape blend.
For anyone who has tasted champagne, they note its distinct flavor that simply cannot be matched by other sparkling wines. However, that isn’t to say that there are very fine sparkling wines as well.
How Much Does Champagne Cost vs Other Sparkling Wines?
If you’re wondering why you’d consider sparkling wine over a true champagne for your next celebration, consider this: sparkling wine can be far more affordable than true champagne.
This is especially true for vintage champagne, which easily can cost hundreds (non vintage champagne is far cheaper). Not only that, but you may have a wider selection of sparkling wines in terms of flavor profiles.
At the end of the day, though, whether you like other sparkling wine or champagne specifically, it’s a matter of budget and personal preference. How much labor went into making the champagne (the process) and the grapes used are among the biggest factors that go into how much sparkling wine or regular champagne costs.
How Is Sparkling Wine Classified and How Can it Help Me Pick The Best Sparkling Wine?
Another important step to finding the best sparkling wine for you? Understanding the different flavors and varieties that exist. Decoding a bottle can be tricky if you don’t understand what you’re reading.
The first thing you need to consider is how dry or sweet the wine is. Extra dry, or Extra Brut wine, there is very little sweetness or sugar left after the fermentation process. Sparkling wine ranges from extra brut to brut, extra dry, and finally demi-sec which is considered rather sweet.
While preferences will depend on personal taste what kind of sparkling wine you want depends on what you plan to pair it with. Demi-sec sparkling wines are often referred to as dessert wines and paired with either fruit or dessert while brut and extra dry are among the most popular and paired both with meals and appetizers.
Extra Brut does not tend to be as popular because it has a very strong taste.
Aside From Champagne, What are Some of The Most Popular and Best Sparkling Wine Varieties?
If champagne isn’t your thing, there are still several other sparkling wine varieties that are distinct in flavor and among the best choices when it comes to finding a wine for your next celebration. It is true that for the most part the bubbles are not as robust in these varieties, but they tend to be cheaper and in some cases, more versatile than champagne.
Canva is Spain’s prized variety of sparkling wine and is often more affordable than French champagne. It is actually also usually produced through the lengthy traditional process that champagne is and comes from a growing region in Catalonia and is most commonly either white or rose.
Under EU law, like champagne, it must be both from the specific region and go through a traditional method. It’s prized for light to medium body, and moderate sweetness and acidity.
Prosecco comes from northeast Italy and has a light body and a fresher taste than many other sparkling whites. Floral notes, citrus, and a dry quality make it a favorite for appetizers or not too sweet fruit.
There is also new age sparkling wine, and other blends you can try, but if you want to stick with classic sparkling wines, champagne, canva and prosecco will be your best bets.
Should I Go With a White, Red, or Rose Sparkling Wine?
If you’ve settled on what kind of sparkling wine variety–as well as if you prefer a more dry or sweeter wine–you also need to consider what kind of wine blend you’d like. Should you go for a white, pink or red sparkling wine?
- White sparkling wines tend be have fruity notes, such as apples, pears, melons, citrus, and in the case of Sauvignon, a touch of light herbs.
- Red sparkling wine varies greatly in flavor, but common flavors include berries such as blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries, and touches of spice, like clove.
- Pink sparkling wine infuses a mix of fruity, spicy, and more savory notes.
What are Some Common Mistakes Consumers Make When Purchasing Sparkling Wine?
Even if you know what kind of sparkling wine variety you’d like, there are of course many pitfalls when it comes to finding the best sparkling wine. Here are a few to look out for.
Paying too much attention to the price point (or not enough).
When selecting your sparkling wine, you don’t want to purchase just based on price. Just because sparkling wine is more expensive doesn’t mean you will like it better. On the other hand, also avoid going too cheap. If a wine is exceptionally cheap, just make sure you understand what you’re purchasing.
Not looking at the origin.
Checking the label for the origin will tell you if the sparkling wine is true champagne, canva or prosecco.
Going too bold.
Unless you’re used to drinking sparkling wine, it’s best to stay with a semi-dry sparkling wine with modest flavor notes. Very bitter or even overly sweet is not the best idea unless you have sampled sparkling wine like it before.
Not serving it at the proper temperature.
Even if you have managed to find your best sparkling wine, keep in mind that you don’t want to serve it ice cold: slightly above refrigeration temperature is ideal; too warm and the flavor will be lost, but sparkling wine should never be stored at a temperature below forty degrees Fahrenheit.
Not knowing what you like.
This seems like silly advice, but it’s especially true in the case of sparkling wine. A good idea, if you are new to wine or don’t know much about it, is to sample version of even a regular wine. Try red, white, and pink wines and see if you like more dry or sweeter wines.
Not paying attention to the bottle’s color.
It may seem strange, but the bottle’s color with the impact the overall quality of your sparkling wine, because wine deteriorates under UV light exposure. The darker the bottle, typically the better.
Expecting too much.
Even the very best bottle of sparkling wine only last so long, in terms of carbonation; sparkling wine goes flat after a few hours unless you buy a champagne bottle stopper which can be used to keep any sparkling wine fresh for longer. It’s a good and very affordable investment if you plan on enjoying sparkling wine over more than a single day.
Can You Recommend Some Sparkling Line For One Hundred Dollars?
While it’s great the get your hands on the bottle of the very best sparkling wine money can buy, for most of us that’s not a reality within our budgets. For this list of top wines, we’ve gathered some of the best sparkling wines under one hundred dollars a bottle, with enough variety in types and flavor profiles to suit a wide range of customers.
Laurent-Perrier NV Ultra Brut (Champagne):
This fine champagne, which earned a high rating from Wine Enthusiast, is dry but brightened expertly with citrus notes and the right touch of acidity. Considered complex and traditional champagne, pairing suggestions include seafood such as lobster, shellfish, and crab. It retails at around eighty dollars per bottle, still pricey but reasonable for authentic champagne.
The Hilt Vanguard Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, USA:
This Pinot Noir sparkling wine costs around fifty to sixty dollars a bottle is lightly perfumed, and pairs excellently with chicken, turkey and other mild light meats. Testers attribute white pepper and fruit notes, a velvety finish, and overall earthy tones, making it ideal for a move savory and rich sparkling wine.
Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé:
Earning a top rating from Paste, this sparkling wine ranges from eighty to one hundred dollars a bottle, so it’s the top of our budget range, but carries complexity of flavors that can be paralleled in more expensive bottles. Hints of strawberry, pear, cherry, and plum pair with rose petals, rich carbonation, and a light finish for an ideal dessert wine.
Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve NV:
This Nicolas Reserve sparkling wine is moderately dry and features a delightful taste blend of nuts, dried fruit, lemon meringue, and even a touch of honey. It is also among the most affordable options, at under thirty dollars a bottle.
Elyssia Pinot Noir Brut:
This Cava sparkling wine retails around twenty dollars a bottle but packs impressive flavor notes or ‘ripe raspberries’ cherries, and blackberries. The acidity is light and there is not much of an aftertaste, lending this is a pleasant sparkling wine but it’s versatile enough, as a brut to be served with both appetizers and meals.
Prosecco Romeo & Juliet Treviso, Pasqua:
Our most budget-friendly option, this prosecco is highly rated by customers and comes from Italy as all true prosecco should. Apple, citrus and white blossom notes are married with a brut for a lifted but not sweet finish.
FAQs About Sparkling Wine
I’m sure you have seen lots of sparkling wines on store shelfs, but if you still haven’t tried any yet, you should definitely start with a good Brut wine which is sweet and is low in tannins, making it great first choice. You can also try Proseco sparkling wine or go with Champagne.
If we are comparing sparkling wine with still wine, sparkling definitely is lower in alcohol, and varies between 12 to 13.5% ABV.
I’m sure you know that sparkling wine is made of white grapes like Muscat, Mauzac, Arbane, etc. but the reason why there are bubbles and it’s sweeter than white wine is because there is CO2 (carbon dioxide) which happens during fermentation, and because sugar and yeast are added in the second fermentation.
Now that we know the basics about Sparkling Wine, we can all agree Champagne is not the only option out there. The world of sparkling is very wide and your choice depends on the occasion you want to celebrate, the dish you are looking to pair and your taste preferences.
From a fine French Champagne to a light Prosecco, no matter what the occasion is, you will definitely find a sparkling wine in your price range and enjoy a bubbly experience.
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