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While global and national wine regions are known for their rich history, another thing they constantly do is innovate– and that’s especially true for the best sparkling wines around the world. For Spring, Chardon, a 60 plus-year-old company, announced new branding, meant to catch the eye of ‘adventurous shoppers.’ A new design features a modern, vertical stripe down the side for a sleek and simplified look.
Meanwhile, other sparkling wine producers, like Spain’s oldest producer of wine, Raventós Codorníu, are using this year to add more versatility in their collection, while others still are playing with new techniques and flavor notes– all in hopes of keeping their sparkling wines feeling fresh, new, and creative.
But, remarkable as it is to watch sparkling wines continue to evolve around the world, it can be downright overwhelming when it comes to selecting one for you.
In this guide, I’ll tell you what you need to know about sparkling wines and help you do just that: find the best sparkling wines around the world.
Sparkling Wine 101
First, I want to clarify some common misconceptions about sparkling wine. Sparkling wine is a delightful option paired with appetizers and even some desserts– but what exactly is sparkling wine? You may be surprised.
What is sparkling wine called?
Sparkling wine is typically called just that: sparkling wine, though there are different varieties. One of the most common sources of confusion, though, is the differences between sparkling wine vs Champagne.
Champagne is a type of sparkling wine, but in order to be considered Champagne, it must have originated specifically from the Champagne wine region in France. In this way, Champagne is very much a terroir sparkling wine, exhibiting certain qualities and produced using Old World, French winemaking techniques.
Sparkling wine is a general term, in other words, in which a variety of wines fit under. Champagne is merely a very particular type of sparkling wine. In other words: all Champagne is sparkling wine, but by no means are all sparkling wines Champagne.
What is a sparkling wine made of?
Sparkling wine, just as is the case with all wine, is made out of different grape varieties and produced through a variety of blending and fermentation processes. But sparkling wine is carbonated– other wines are flat. The bubbles in sparkling wine are produced in a specific way.
While there are a few different ways to make sparkling wine, all sparkling wines contain carbon dioxide– which is, of course, the source of the bubbles. Today, the majority of sparkling wines are made through a two-step fermentation process. It’s during that second fermentation that additional yeast and sugar are added to a flat/ still wine.
How do you drink sparkling wine?
Sparkling wine is best served chilled for a minimum of three hours. Carefully pour the wine so that it emits a faint hissing sound– you don’t want to pour too quickly, so as to best preserve the signature carbonation. I recommend an angled pour– at around 40 to 45 degrees if possible.
What are the best food pairings for sparkling wine?
Depending on the type of sparkling wine, the best wine with food pairings vary, but in general, the bubbly structure, relative dryness, and fruity profile lend sparkling wine towards laughter dishes– from seafood to creamy sauces, but also fruit, vegetables, and even light desserts.
I’ll discuss specific food pairings under each of my categories for the best sparkling wine around the world.
What is the best sparkling wine?
To find the best sparkling wine around the world is no small task– with now countless wine regions producing everything from playful to elegant sparkling options for celebrating your next occasion. While I can’t cover every sparkling wine in the world, I’ll list the most famous and high-quality types of sparkling wine, as well as my top picks and where to buy them.
If anything embodies the most acclaimed and popular of sparkling wines, it’s French Champagne. Champagne is more expensive than other sparkling wines in general, but stuns with its elegance and refinement– and is an iconic way to celebrate an event as life changing as a wedding.
Varieties and Flavor Notes
Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meurier from the region of Champagne are used, with Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Arbane, and Petit Mesilair often added in different ways for some variety. All Champagne must be produced on plots officially approved for its production.
Champagne is most noted for its bubbles: there simply is no sparkling wine that can match the ‘pearl-like presence,’ nor the crisp, acidic fruit flavors balanced by a smooth, elegant finish. Common flavor notes include citrus and stone fruits and occasionally hints of chairs. With barrel aging. Champagne exhibits rich almond, vanilla, and toasted biscuit notes.
In levels of sweetness, Champagne ranges from Extra Brut (with under 6 grams of sugar/ liter) to Doux (a very sweet wine, with over 50 grams of sugar). However, Brut and Extra Dry are the most popular normally, as it serves as an excellent accent to the signature carbonation, but still allows a bit of sweetness to come through.
Champagne comes in a few different varieties:
- Blanc de Blancs: Blanc de Blanc, which translates as ‘white of whites,’ is made almost entirely out of Chardonnay grapes
- Blanc de Noirs: This Champagne is made from black or red-skinned grapes, including the famous Bollinger.
- Cuvée de Prestige: Perhaps the most sought-after, this type of Champagne is made from the very most respected producers, including the acclaimed Moët & Chandon’s Dom Pérignon, and held to the very highest standards.
- Rosé Champagne: A pink hue, especially fruit-forward palate, and earthier undertones distinguish this type of Champagne, produced by winemakers such as Rinaurt and Veuve Clicquot. Brut is actually the most popular level of sweetness.
Champagne pairs well with creamy dishes, from Brie cheese to mascarpone, cream sauces, and butter-forward dishes. Other great pairings include light seafood, such as shellfish, but more hearty Champagne may even hold up to fried calamari or smoked fish.
At the same time, it’s a delightful complement to fruit and vegetable trays, as well as pastries, crepes, and honey-based offers, like Baklava. Even simple cookies, like shortbread, pair with Champagne. Just avoid overly complex desserts and stick to buttery and fruity flavors.
Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial NV Champagne
While a vintage Moët & Chandon can run you a few thousand dollars, you can still enjoy some of their best offerings, as is the case with this option. While perhaps not as rich and complex as a vintage, this bottle showcases some of the best of French Champagne, with a balanced profile of apples, zest lemon, and a satisfying finish– a classic in every way. Buy Here.
Ruinart Brut Blanc de Blancs
This beautiful Blanc de Blancs Champagne has earned critical acclaim for a reason. A golden gue greets you with a silky, almost mousse-like texture. Warm and inviting, brioche, toast, and roasted almonds pair with hints of honey and minerality for a long, satisfying finish– and fresh citrus to round it out. Buy Here.
Veuve Clicquot Vintage Brut Rosé 2012
At just shy of $100, you can buy a vintage Rose Champagne wine from a respected winemaker– and it’s a standout, from the vibrant blush and copper hue to the delicate bubbles. Anticipate a lively flavor profile of strawberries, raspberries, and cherries, graced with zesty grapefruit and spiced cinnamon. Meanwhile, vanilla and brioche notes add a rounded, full-body, silky finish. Buy Here.
While French Champagne steals the spotlight often, Spanish Cava deserves acclaim as well, and easily makes the list for the best sparkling wines around the world. Not only is Cava excellent for its flavor profile, but it’s also great if you’re on a budget: Cava, as a whole, is far more affordable than French Champagne.
Varieties and Flavor Notes
Spanish Cava is made from three primary grape varieties: Macabeu, Parallada, and Xarel-lo, all white grapes. It may also include Chardonnay, or red grapes, mostly commonly Pinot Noir, Garnacha, and/or Monastrell.
Common flavor profiles include lemon, floral notes, and pear and melon– most often with present acidity but a balanced, dry finish. Vintage Cava is a bit less acidic and exhibits toasted and nutty flavors.
- Extra Dry, Brut, Extra Brut, Brut Nature: The majority of Spanish Cava falls under the category of Brut to Brut Nature, which simply refers to the level of residual sugars. Brut Nature is actually even less sweet than Extra Brut, and there are some options for Semi Seco, or extra dry Cava. However, Brut and Extra Brut remain among the most popular options.
- Rosé Cava: This type of Cava exhibits a pink hue and includes unusual strawberry and raspberry flavors, stemming from the addition of Grenache.
Spanish Cava pairs with a wide variety of food– it’s considered quite a versatile sparkling wine, and food with wine pairings overlap with some of my recommendations for Champagne. Cava is delightful with both kinds of cheese and cream sauces, as well as vegetable dishes. But it distinguishes itself by pairing not so much with desserts, but instead heartier dishes, like risotto and other grains,
Avinyo Cava Reserva Rose 2018
This Reserve Cava is a playful and, yet still sophisticated choice. Finely structured bubbles exhibit with a cherry hue and raspberry notes, laced with licorice and undercurrents of herbs. It’s a delicate balance and focuses on the quality of the grapes for a pleasing wine, perhaps best enjoyed with fruit-based or light cheese dishes. Buy Here.
Cristalino Brut Cava
For a crowd-pleasing Cava that exhibits some of the classic flavors you’d expect, this affordable Brut Cava is an excellent choice. A crisp profile of green apples and bright citrus, toasted notes add some balance, and complement the fine carbonation and fresh finish. It’s an accessible sparkling wine, not only in terms of price but for its classic and easy-going profile. Buy Here.
Jaume Serra Cristalino Cava Brut
This Cava showcases the Traditional Method of Spanish winemaking, using a second fermentation for fine and present carbonation. At once vibrant and not overwhelming, this Brut Cava delights with green apple and citrus notes alongside some toasted and mineral accents, with a crisp and clean finish. Suggested food pairings include sushi, shellfish, Asian cuisine, and even fried food. Buy Here.
Originating in Italy, Prosecco is a popular sparkling wine that takes its name from a village in Italy. Produced amongst nine different provinces, it made its debut nearly 200 years after the first Champagne. More affordable, Prosecco is produced using the Tank method and features softer carbonation for a less bold, but pleasant choice.
Prosecco’s popularity as an excellent type of sparkling wine is due to affordability, availability, and sweeter notes– making it a great choice for those who love fruity wine, or even those who may not drink wine regularly.
Common flavors for Italian Prosecco include floral and fruity notes–tropical fruits are not uncommon, and often accompanied by hazelnut, vanilla, and creamy undertones. Prosecco is a light and pleasing sparkling wine that is also beloved for its expressive aromas that bring a bit of joy to any occasion.
Other Italian Sparkling Wine Varieties
While Prosecco is often praised, I’d be remiss not to mention some other excellent Italian sparkling wines.
- Moscato d’Asti and Moscato Spumante : Moscato sparkling wines are also quite popular in the United States. d’Asti is a semi-sparkling wine, and Spumane is a fully sparkling wine. They both are sweet, with bright acidity and a fairly balanced finish. Though not rich in flavor compared to other sparkling wines, they are highly versatile and popular for casual parties and get-togethers. They are also highly affordable.
Food pairings for Italian Prosecco and sparkling Moscato are different, mostly because Prosecco is more popularly enjoyed dry, whereas Moscato sparkling wines are typically enjoyed sweet or semi-sweet.
For Prosecco, I recommend pairing with appetizers, such as shrimp cocktails, nuts, vegetable dishes, and appetizer trays. You can also get by with sushi or light shellfish dishes, but I don’t recommend any dishes with heavy sauces, with the exception of soy-based or hot Asian sauces.
For Moscato in its sparkling variations, embrace the sweeter side, with citrus and creamy desserts with a clean finish. Fruit trays are a natural pairing, as are lemon, orange, or lime-based desserts. A New York Style cheesecake and citrus-infused cookies, also work. For hot months, sorbets are delightful with these sparkling wines.
2015 La Marca Prosecco N.V.
A vintage Italian Prosecco for under $20 that’s highly rated and pleasing, La Marca makes an impression with a crisp, dry wine that embraces citrus notes of lemon, grapefruit, lime, and tantalizing orange zest, rounded with green tree fruit and ripe peaches. Honeysuckle and a bit of mineral provide a refreshing, fruity finish. Buy Here.
Santa Margherita Prosecco Superiore DOCG
A refreshing, dry wine with a clean finish, this Prosecco is excellent for entertaining. Pears and green apples make for a crisp palate, made more elegant with a smooth, almost mousse-like finish. This is a bright, but almost elegant wine; suggested food pairings are more generous given its level of complexity and include grilled seafood and light pasta. Buy Here.
Rivata Moscato D’Astil
If you’re looking for sparkling wine with some playful tropical notes, consider this. This medium-bodied, affordable wine features soft, pleasant carbonation alongside peach, mango and honey notes. It can be drunk but itself, but makes for a great dessert wine for fruit-based desserts, fruity or vanilla cakes and pastries, and even ice cream. Buy Here.
Answer: Sparkling wine does not last as long– or at its best– as still wine. In general, you’ll want to drink a bottle of sparkling wine within three to five days after opening to ensure the best quality. While drinking sparkling wine after this period is unlikely to cause problems, it likely will have lost its signature carbonation and peak flavors.
If you don’t have a way of finishing a bottle quickly and enjoy sparkling wine often, I recommend considering a wine preservation system, which can greatly expand the period of time that you can enjoy your wine.
Answer: A 2001 and a follow-up 2007 scientific study suggests that you may get drunk a bit faster if you over-consume. In both, the group who drank flat Champagne became drunk at a slower rate, suggesting that carbonation played a role. Do keep in mind these were small sample sizes, and, if you don’t want to get drunk, sparkling wine can be enjoyed in moderation. Make sure to store leftovers in a wine cooler.
Sparkling wine, of course, can be bought from wineries in the United States and other places in the world. The best American sparkling wine is most commonly produced in wine regions in California and prizes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.