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.
How it’s made
- 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.
- Tank method: Secondary fermentation happens in tank. Prosecco and Asti Spumante use this method. Also called “Charmat Method.”
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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.’
An idiot’s guide to buying bubbly
ChampagneChampagne is a blend of three grapes–two of which are red, pinot noir and pinot meunier, and chardonnay, which is white. However, unless it states “rosé” on the label, the wine is white because the white juices of the grapes see little, if any, time on their coloured skins.
Pommery Brut Silver Champagne, Champagne, France, $58.95
Sparkling wine can be bone dry to very sweet depending on the dosage. The driest forms are labeled Brut Zero and Extra Brut and increase in sweetness from Brut (such as this example) and Demi-Sec. The Pommery Brut Silver is a fresh and classic Champagne that offers excellent value.
Château De Bligny Champagne Blanc De Blancs Brut, Champagne, France, $49.95
A fine example of a Grower’s Champagne - one which is made by the family or estate who actually grows the grapes. This is less common in Champagne where the large houses generally source their grapes from growers throughout the region. These tend to have more of a handcrafted, artisanal nature and can produce exceptional value. This sparkling wine uses only white grapes, which in Champagne, means it is entirely made from chardonnay (the only white grape used).
Laurent Perrier Millésimé Vintage Brut Champagne 2004, Champagne, France, $84.95
A vintage Champagne signifies that the entire cuvée comes from one single year (such as this example from 2004) and is thus called Vintage Champagne. These wines tend to be more costly and can happily stand the test of time. A more basic, ready to drink and readily available form is known as non-vintage Champagne (or NV). With youthful vibrancy and classic elegance, this well-priced vintage Champagne exudes class and refinement. LCBO
CrémantAlthough the term “Crémant” originally meant a less-bubbly version of Champagne, it now refers to a sparkling wine of French origin made outside the bounds of Champagne. Crémant is produced all over France and we most notably find it from Alsace, the Loire Valley and Burgundy. Crémant is an ideal option for those wanting to save a few dollars but want a quality, French experience – an everyday bubbly with class and refinement.
Pierre Sparr Crémant D'Alsace Brut Reserve, Alsace, France, $16.95 Produced in the region of Alsace, located just north of Burgundy, Crémant d’Alsace can be made from riesling, pinot blanc, pinot noir, pinot gris, auxerrois blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir varietals. Pierre Sparr is an important producer in Alsace, especially in terms of quality production, and his Crémant is crisp, fruity and surprisingly complex.
Paul Delane Crémant De Bourgogne, Burgundy, France, $20.10 Burgundy is known for its chardonnay and pinot noir production – which happen to be the most important grapes of Champagne, so it is no wonder that the region can produce some fine, traditional bubbly. This impressive and flavourful example is toasty, smoky and buttery with ample substance.
Château De Montgueret Crémant De Loire Brut, Loire Valley, France, $19.95 Chenin blanc is the grape varietal that leads the charge in the sparkling wines of the northern Loire region. The area's lovely limestone soils produce bright and elegant wines. This appealing Crémant features a creamy mousse with notes of biscuit, wild herbs, white flower and citrus. LCBO
CavaCava is a sparkling wine produced in the “Traditional Method,” and must come from Spain. Although it can originate from several different regions in Spain, it most notably comes from just outside Barcelona in the region of Penedès. Cava uses indigenous Spanish varietals such as Viura (aka Macabeo), Xarello and Parellada. It is probably the most Champagne-esque style of sparkling wine produced in Europe outside of Champagne.
Cavas Hill 1887 Brut, Penedès, Spain, $13.20 A well-priced Cava that was vetted by the experts – it was given the “Category Champion” designation at the World Wine Awards of Canada among non-vintage sparklers. Given the toasty quality, it’s a steal at this price.
Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava, Spain $14.25 Segura Viudas is a large Cava producer and because of this you can readily find it on the shelves of your local shop. Not only is it consistent in quality, it is a classic example of Cava that won’t break the bank.
Cygnus Brut Nature Reserva Cava, Méthode Champenoise, Penedès, Spain, $19.95 An organic Cava and one that uses the term “Brut Nature,” which means that little to no sweet dosage was added to the wine. It's crisp and bold, with plenty of characteristic mineral and saline that make it an excellent pairing for raw oysters. LCBO
ProseccoProsecco is a well-known Italian sparkler that comes from the northern regions of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia. It's made from the glera grape varietal, using the “Tank Method” of sparkling wine production. It is also a key ingredient in a tasty Bellini. Relatively inexpensive and easy to appreciate, it can run dry to slightly sweet. This is a great wine for casual times served with cured meat drizzled with olive oil.
Bottega Vino Dei Poeti Prosecco, Italy, $13.95 Readily available and easy to spot, the twisted gold drop on this label makes you wonder if the design is compensating for quality. Luckily, the wine is consistently a top value and features a lush floral and fruity character – a sparkler that aims to please.
Mionetto M O Prosecco, Treviso, Veneto, Italy, $17.95 This Venetian sparkler features a gentle, foamy fizz and notes of lemon-drop, white flowers, pear and sea salt. This distinctive Prosecco is both charming and elegant with a stylish, modern bottle shape.
Fantinel One And Only Single Vineyard Brut Prosecco 2012, Veneto, Italy, $19.95 All the grapes for this sophisticated and flavorful Prosecco come from a single vineyard instead of from vineyards throughout the regions, which is much more common. Generally speaking, the more specific a geographic location you can give a wine, the better quality and the more expensive the bottle becomes. A classy bottle that you won’t want to turn into a boozy slushie. LCBO
Moscato D'astiMoscato d’Asti is a popular style of fizz produced in the region of Piedmont in northern Italy around the village of Asti. As the name suggests, it is produced from the moscato grape varietal and is generally sweet and floral. Consider this a plus or not... It is also lower in alcohol, making it ideal as an aperitif, palate cleanser or brunch wine.
Batasiolo Bosc Dla Rei Moscato D'Asti 2011, Piedmont, Italy, $14.95 This sweet and floral treat is softened with a touch of mango and honey – it's a classic Moscato that's lush, pretty and appealing.
Boeri Ribota Moscato D'Asti 2013, Piedmont, Italy, $16.95 Classic notes of orange blossom, jasmine and persimmon don the palate of this ripe and succulent Moscato. Hard to resist even if the sweet stuff isn’t your thing! LCBO
Sparkling RoséThe pink colour of a sparkling rosé means that a red grape varietal was involved in some way during production, and that there was some skin to juice contact as opposed to an immediate pressing.. Rosé styles are made in almost all styles from all corners of the globe, so a good one is super-easy to find. These wines tend to be a little more robust than their white counterparts and show more red fruit in their flavour profile. Most rosé fizz can easily pair with a great deal of protein and makes an exciting match for dinner’s main course.
Cono Sur Sparkling Pinot Noir Rosé, Bio Bio Valley, Chile, $13.90 Bio Bio is a cool southern climate of Chile, ideal for the production of sparkling wine. This bottle offers excellent value– it's crisp, concise and dry, and offers characteristic red fruit and floral notes.
Oyster Bay Sparkling Cuvée Rosé 2012, New Zealand, $21.95 This popular brand is clean and fruity with a very pale colour. It is blended from 80 per cent chardonnay and 20 per cent pinot noir, delivering both delicacy and depth.
Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin Brut Rosé Champagne, France, $82.45 Veuve Cliquot is perhaps the most recognizable brand of Champagne in the world. In this incarnation, it trades in its distinctive yellow label for a pink robe, which enshrouds a rich, yeasty and floral wine of great complexity. LCBO
"New World" Sparkling WineLovely sparkling wine that doesn’t benefit from protected regions of origin are readily available and often for a great price. The best are produced using the “Traditional Method” and can come from a blend of grapes or a single varietal – few rules apply! “New World” refers to countries outside of Europe with the exception of Israel and much of North Africa, which were discovered by Europeans after the 1500s.
Josef Chromy Sparkling 2008, Méthode Traditionnelle, Tasmania, Australia, $29.95 Tasmania is the southernmost and the coolest Australian wine-producing region that is fast developing a reputation for excellent quality sparkling wine. Here is a fine example of the crisp and elegant style emerging from this rising star of a region.
Graham Beck Brut Sparkling Wine, Méthode Cap Classique, Western Cape, South Africa, $19.95 In South Africa, “Traditional Method” has a special name: “Méthode Cap Classique.” Graham Beck was the first to produce a wine using this method, and it's a huge hit.. This sparkler, currently in low supply across the country, is well-worth seeking out.
Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut, Méthode Traditionnelle, Sonoma County, California California, USA, $27.95 Plump, flavourful and exuberant, this Californian traditional method bubbly shines as an aperitif. Gloria Ferrer specializes in wine of the sparkling variety and this is a fine example of the class and elegance the house exudes. LCBO
Local Sparkling WineAlthough sparkling wine is made all over the world, you really needn’t look further than your local wineries for some stellar Brut. From coast to coast, we can genuinely feel pride in our local fizz. All of these wines are produced using the traditional Champagne method, although their grape blends vary. Show off to your out-of-town guests with these selections.
Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2011, Méthode Classique, Niagara Peninsula, $22.95 It’s hard to beat the price of this vintage-dated classical (or traditional) method sparkling wine from one of Niagara’s most recognized and time-honoured producers. Attractive, firm and generous, it’s sure to be a hit at any gathering.
Blue Mountain Brut, Méthode Traditionnelle, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia British Columbia, Canada, $27.95 Blue Mountain produces highly coveted “cult wines” of exceptional quality. This traditional method sparkler is dense and complex with a stately presence.
Benjamin Bridge Nova Scotia Brut 2009, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia, Canada, $49.95 Not your typical trio of Champenoise grape varietals, this blend is made up of l’acadie, seyval and chardonnay. The expertly crafted sparkling wines of Benjamin Bridge often fool top tasters into believing they are top-end Vintage Champagnes. LCBO