Sparkling wines extend far beyond the classic “Champagne”. Almost every major wine region in the world has its own style of sparkling wine, from the Spumantes of Italy to the Cavas of Spain. Most sparkling wines are white, but there are many examples of red sparkling wines such as Italian Brachetto and Australian sparkling Shiraz that are also very delicious.
It is important to note that sparkling wines can vary drastically in sweetness. The following terms are commonly found on the labels of sparkling wine, and are listed from very, very dry to very sweet.
Brut Nature (very dry with no added sugar)
Extra Dry, Extra Sec, Extra Seco
Dry, Sec, Seco
Doux, Sweet, Dulce (very sweet)
The one commonality in all sparkling wines is of course their bubbly, carbonated nature. There are four ways to produce the carbonation in sparkling wine after the initial fermentation.
The first method simply injects arbon dioxide into the wine. Not to sound too snobby, but no respectable sparkling winemaker would recommend using this method…
Another method is the Metodo Italiano, or Charmat process. In this process, the secondary fermentation happens in bulk tanks, and is then bottled under pressure. This method produces smaller, longer-lasting bubbles and is commonly used for Prosecco and Asti, two popular Italian sparkling wines.
A third method is the méthode champenoise. Here, the secondary fermentation takes place not in a tank, but in the same bottle in which it is ultimately sold. This process requires more time and care and thus is more expensive than the Charmot process, resulting in higher-priced final products. This is also the method used for the production of French Champagne and other high quality sparkling wines.
The last method is the “transfer method”. In this method, similar to the methode champenoise, the cuvee goes into a bottle for the secondary fermentation, but is transferred to a larger tank before final bottling.
Sparkling wines are more sensitive to temperature and light than other types of wine, so it’s even more important to store them in a cool, dark area. They are best consumed rather cold, around 45 degrees F. To reach that temperature, either chill for at least two hours in your fridge, or place in a bucket with ice and water for 15-20 minutes. Remember, it’s carbonated so do not put it in the freezer!
Flutes which are typically taller wine glasses with tapered tops, are the ideal glass for experiencing these types of wines. The smaller opening reduces the surface area of the wine which limits its contact with the air and keeps it bubbly. Be careful when pouring. Start slowly and pour against the side of the glass to avoid fizzing over.