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Since many tend to reserve purchasing sparkling wine for special occasions such as New Year’s Eve, birthdays and anniversaries, it’s no wonder that, to most, the world of fizz is a jumble of confusing terms and a seemingly endless selection. So what exactly is sparkling wine and how does it get those bubbles? Why are there so many names? Why can’t we just call it all Champagne? Fear not! Temper your effervescence, because this guide is here to make sense of this fermenting muddle.

There seems to be endless synonyms for this drink that rarely gets called its proper name. Champagne is a term thrown about carelessly to mean anything with bubbles, from Baby Duck to Prosecco to that de-alcoholized substance (much to the chagrin of the French). To help us make sense of the world of bubbles, and to distinguish its various incarnations, let’s talk first about how it’s made. Why? Well, it not only affects what it is called, but also its level of quality.

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How it’s made

  1. Traditional method: Secondary fermentation (which gives the bubbles) happens in bottle. Champagne, Franciacorta and Cava use this method along with various non-European examples that make it known on the label.
  2. Tank method: Secondary fermentation happens in tank. Prosecco and Asti Spumante use this method. Also called “Charmat Method.”
  3. Injection method: The finished wine is injected with carbon dioxide. It’s a very simple method that yields a less complex and polished wine, but hey, it’s cheap!

Traditionally produced wines have the most complex production and yield the highest quality. It’s distilled into four simple steps:

  1. Primary Fermentation: Most often, the grapes to produce sparkling wine are picked early for optimum acidity levels (the less ripe, the higher the acids). The juice is then fermented (sugar converted to alcohol with yeast) as a still wine.
  2. Secondary Fermentation: This is where the bubbles come in to play. To re-start the process, the still wine is topped up with a “liqueur de tirage,” a combination of yeast and sugary juice and capped while that sugar is fermented. As the wine ferments, the CO2 (a bi-product of fermentation) is trapped in the liquid.
  3. After spending some time capped with its lees (yeast sediment) for increased complexity and body, it undergoes a “riddling” process that gently moves the sediment into the neck of the bottle. Traditionally, this was achieved with small hands, turning the slanted bottles a notch every day. Now this process is mechanized using “gyropalattes” (which sounds like the name of a terrifying race of Transformer robot)
  4. Disgorgement: Pop goes the crown cap! But carefully, in order to preserve as much of the liquid as possible. The neck of the bottle is quickly frozen so that when the cap is removed, the sediment is ejected from the bottle. Before it is corked, a “dosage” of sweet liquid is given to the wine based on the level of sweetness intended by the producer.

So, that’s how it’s made. But you still need to know the terminology. Here are 23 New Year’s Eve-worthy bottles, from Champagne to Cava to Crémant to ‘Sparkling.’