Ring in the New Year With Sparkling Wine

Posted December 26, 2016

Stacy Brody

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As 2016 comes to a close and we look forward to a new year, we also look forward to a chance to break out a little bubbly. 

While it sometimes seems like Champagne has the celebration market cornered, you have options for sparkling wines from around the world.  

 

How are sparkling wines made?

Sparkling wines start out like all others. During a primary fermentation, little yeast beasts eat grape sugars and produce alcohol. Carbon dioxide is given off and released into the atmosphere.

In sparkling wine production, a second round of fermentation is induced. Sugar, dissolved in wine, is added. Yeasts are mixed in and quickly get to work on the fresh batch of sugar. This fermentation must take place within a sealed container to trap all the carbon dioxide, which dissolves in the wine to give you bubbles!

Precisely where this second fermentation takes place is a key difference in the methods of sparkling wine production. 

 

The Traditional Method, or Methode Champenoise

In this production method, the second fermentation takes place in the bottle. The wine remains in contact with the spent yeast cells (aka lees, as in sur lie or sur lees), which contribute a toasty character to the wine. The lees are removed in a process called 'disgorgement' before the wines are sold.

One of our favorite Champagnes to celebrate with is the Mumm Privilege Brut

Wines made by this method include Champagne, Cremant de Bourgogne, Cremant d’Alsace, Cava, and many premium domestic sparklers.

 

The Charmat Method, or Tank Method

In this method, the second fermentation takes place in a pressurized tank. Without significant time sur lees, these wines are often more floral and fruit-driven.

Prosecco is traditionally made in this fashion.

 

Where are sparkling wines made?

Sparkling wines are made worldwide. Everywhere you can find still wines, you’ll likely find sparkling variations.

Only sparkling wines made in France’s Champagne region can be labelled Champagne. At the northernmost reaches of wine production, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier struggle for ripeness and maintain a stinging acidity, which is just perfect for Champagne. The limestone soil and cool climate of this region are key defining features. The terroir, along with the region’s history, have made Champagne as recognizable as it is today.

Sparkling wines are made elsewhere in France, and by the same method (though the bottles often carry a very different price tag). When made in other regions of France, the wines are named Cremant de (insert region name here). These wines are made from the varieties of the region. So, a methode champenoise sparkling wine from Burgundy is called Cremant de Bourgogne (French for Burgundy) and is made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. In Cremant d’Alsace, producers may use pinot blanc, auxerrois, pinot noir, pinot gris, and/or chardonnay,

Moving beyond France’s boundaries, you encounter a whole world of sparkling wines. Cross over the Pyrenees into Spain. In the Penedes region of Catalonia, you’ll find cava. While this 4-letter word is easy to remember and easy to pronounce, the varieties used are another story. Native white varieties parellada, xarel-lo, macabeo,and subirat are used as well as the red varieties trepat and monastrell. Some producers may use Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as well.

In northern Italy, Prosecco is produced from the grape variety Glera, a widely planted grape variety (one of Italy’s top 10) that you may have never heard of. Another unsung hero of sparkling wine!

On other parts of the world, producers are free to experiment. Many follow the tradition set by Champagne, using Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The Brits - yes, the Brits - make some great sparkling wines with these traditional varieties. Try out this Sussex Blanc de Blanc, made from 100% Chardonnay.

Others forge their own paths. One of our favorite Portuguese producers, Luis Pato, makes a sparkling Maria Gomes. Maria Gomes, also known as Fernao Pires, is a native Portuguese variety offering citrus and floral notes and commonly grown in the coastal region Bairrada. Down in Australia, they make some super-fun sparkling Shiraz wines. 

 

How do I know what I’m getting?

If the label says Brut, it's dry. If the label says Extra Dry, the wine has a hint of sweetness. 

A few other notes about the labels: Blanc de Blanc means the only grape used was Chardonnay. A white wine from a white grape, as in Domaine Bzikot’s Cremant de Bourgogne.

Blanc de Noirs means the producer made a white wine from red/black grapes. The classic red Champagne varieties are Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The second one is rare outside of Champagne.  

 

What foods do I pair this with?

EVERYTHING. Sparkling wines go well with everything because of their bright acidity and palate-cleansing bubbles. Try oysters or caviar for classic pairings. Enjoy with fried chicken or French fries for something totally different; the stinging acidity cuts through the fat like a knife through butter. Stand a sparkler up to Mexican food. Bright acidity and vibrant fruit notes make Castellroig Rosat Cava the perfect match for quesadillas. Especially for you, our readers, I personally tested this.   

 

What do I use for my mimosas?

New Year's Eve I could take or leave. It's New Year's Day bubbly brunch I look forward to. For those mimosas, I’d recommend prosecco

--

Sparkling wines are phenomenal for cocktails, beyond your basic brunch mimosa or peach bellini. What have you made lately? Let me know @WineLib_StacyB.

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