A beginner’s guide to sparkling wine

Sipping a glass of sparkling wine is often a treasured component of most celebrations in many cultures. In fact, many people associate the wine directly with happiness, joy, and liveliness.

What is sparkling wine?

Like any other “fizzy” beverage, a sparkling wine has tiny bubbles that give it a unique life and sparkle. Most people tend to associate sparkling wine with class and affluence, thus preferring to drink it on special occasions. Like other red and white wines, sparkling wine can also be dry or sweet.

Although the wine is used across various cultures all over the world, it is particularly favored in Italy, Australia, United States, Chile, New Zealand, Austria, Spain, and Argentina.

The formation of sparkling wine

The most important process in the preparation of sparkling wine is carbonation. The fizzling bubbles are what make the sparkling wine to stand out among other varieties of wine, and the bubbles cannot exist without the carbonation process. How exactly are the bubbles formed? Normal wines undergo the process of harvesting, pressing, and then fermentation. However, sparkling wine undergoes the process of fermentation twice. The second round of fermentation is what leads to the production of the bubbly fizzling nature of the wine.

The two main methods used in the fermentation of sparkling wine include:

Methode traditionnelle

It is also referred to as method champenoise. This method of preparation introduces the second stage of fermentation for the sparkling wine and occurs inside a bottle. Sugar and yeast are added to the wine leading to the production of bubbles that are smaller in size. This classic method of fermentation is used in the production of Cava, Champagne, Franciacorta, and Cremant.

Cuve close

This method of preparation is also known as the Charmat method or the Tank method. Just as the name suggests, the second fermentation process takes place within a steel tank resulting in the production of large sized bubbles. Italian wines, such as the Prosseco sparkling wine, are made using this procedure.

Perhaps the most popular sparkling wine familiar with most people is Champagne. However this largely depends on the tastes and preferences of an individual. Some people may prefer the gentle fizzing nature of the French Cremant while others may be more into the vigorous effervescence of a German Sekt or the Italian Spumante.

Are sparkling wine and Champagne one and the same thing?

While many people think that Champagne and sparkling wine are the same, they are two distinct types of drinks. Sounds confusing? Think of it this way: Champagnes are sparkling wines but sparkling wines are not always Champagne.

For sparkling wine to be referred to as Champagne, it must originate from the region of France known as Champagne. The same applies to Prosseco. For a bottle of sparkling wine to be referred to as Prosseco, it must come from the region of Veneto in Italy.

How will you know if the Champagne you are about to buy is the authentic type and not some cheap knock off? Simple. Analyze the label on the wine. Where was the wine made? Check its origin. If the wine does not come from the Champagne area of France, then it is not an actual Champagne. Rather, it could be a normal sparkling wine.

This, however, does not mean that Champagne is the most superior sparkling wine. Some other types of sparkling wine are great, and you may like them better than you do Champagne.

Can sparkling wine be sweet or dry?

Yes, it can. Sparkling wine can range from sweet to dry. As such, it is important to look for certain terms on the label during purchase.

The terms of wine you should check for when buying dry sparkling wine are:

  • Brut Zero or Bone Dry – this type is extremely dry and does not have residual sugar.
  • Extra Dry or Extra Brut – this type comes with at most 6 grams of sugar per liter.
  • Brut – it is dry with at most 12 residual sugar grams per liter
  • Extra sec – the wine is dry with a range of between 12 and 17 grams of sugar per liter.
  • Sec – it is a dry wine with between 17 and 32 residual sugar grams per liter.

For sweet wine, check for:

  • Demi Sec – it is semi-sweet with at most 50 residual sugar grams per liter
  • Doux – it is incredibly sweet and with more than 50 grams of sugar per liter.

The best way to know the kind of sparkling wine that works for you is by trying them all!