A Wino's Guide to Bubbles & Beyond
If you've been keeping up with me on social media, you know I've been preaching the gospel of sparkling wine ALL month long. So much so, that some of you might be sick of it, honestly. But you know what? Not a single one of you is going to make the blasphemous mistake of calling Prosecco "champagne"---a crime that should be punishable by an exorbitant amount of jail time at this point. In all seriousness, I do hope that you learned a little from the mini-series & feel better equipped when shopping for sparkling wines. Wine is already a beast, and when you add in the sub-categories of it, you run the risk of falling further down a rabbit hole if no one is there to guide you. Keep me in your back pocket, and The Certified Wino will be the only guide ya need!
A BRIEF RECAP
We have covered the humble history of sparkling wine, production methods & key terminology in the past, so I won't beat a dead horse with this one. I will, however, provide you with a much-needed refresher just in time for tonight's NYE festivities. There's no better place to start than with the region that started it all: Champagne. Well, sorta. The creation of the sparkling wine that the region has become synonymous with was not intentional. It was a beautiful accident. Monks were storing away still wine in cold underground cellars to allow their wines time to rest & age before consumption in the springtime. Their understanding of the fermentation process was fickle at best. Exposure to cold temps would halt the primary fermentation early and then when things started to warm up again, the wine would enter into a secondary fermentation. During secondary fermentation, yeast eats the remaining sugar of a wine and converts it into CO2. Thus, creating bubbles in the wine. It was seen as a "fault" in the wine at the time, so the wine was disposed of. Well, at least what was left in the bottles that didn't explode from the pressure that had formed within them.
See it was the British who actually took this anomaly and ran with it. They figured out how to actively control the secondary fermentation process for sparkling wine. The region of Champagne was quick on the come up, and quickly followed suit by developing bottles that would be able to contain sparkling wine. That BIG indentation in the base of the bottle helps maintain the pressure created by the CO2 trapped inside. This humble beginning was referred to as the "ancestral method". If you are ever shopping shelves in a retail store and come across a Pet-Nat, this is a sparkling wine produced in this method. Hipster chic sparkling but also holding firm to the origins of bubble production. The traditional champagne method echoes parts of the ancestral method, but with added steps like removing the dead yeast & adding sugar to balance the wine. Now though Champagne coined the term, they did not put restrictions on other parts of the world mimicking their technique. Most wine regions have unique name designates for their sparkling wines made in this method since they, legally, can't use the protected name of Champagne. Perfect examples would be Cava from Spain & Cap Classique from South Africa. Some parts of the world even learned new methods to create bubbles that includes the use of alternative vessels like stainless steel tanks. *See previous posts for details of the Charmat Method and alternative methods of sparkling production.
READING SPARKLING LABELS
I've mentioned before that we love to be extra confusing in the wine world. It's a compulsion that won't ever end, unfortunately. One major piece to sparkling wine that is fundamental to understand are the labeling terms. Words like "brut" or "extra brut" denote the sweetness level of a sparkling wine. It's completely ass backwards and I'm kind of obsessed with it. Some of y'all have been completely gaslighted into the thinking "extra dry" was a literal meaning, ha! Save the chart below to help you decipher your next bottle of bubbly:
Variation in bottle size is not exclusive to sparkling wines, but the chart to the right will show you exactly which size you should go for to get the party started. If you're bringing the Nebuchadnezzar of Champagne, I'm your best friend forever. ------------------------------------------->
NEED A SNACK WITH YOUR BUBBLES?
Depending on the method of production, sparkling wine can take on a wide range of aromatics and characteristics on the palate. Wines made in the traditional method tend to lean heavy into notes of enriched breads, nuts, and developed fruit flavors. Wines produced in alternative methods like the tank method will allow the resulting juice to retain a lot those delicate aromatics of stone fruit, citrus and flowers. For me, the best sparkling wines have a zesty acidity & creamy mouthfeel that keep me coming back to the glass.
The best celebrations tend to begin with bubbles, and rightfully so. All those lovely tasting notes I mentioned above are what make sparkling wines so fun to pair with. I'm talking nachos loaded with guac at a Superbowl party or a massive grazing board at the holiday office party. Classic pairings include Champs & raw oysters (or roasted, depending on your vibe). The acid in the wine helps sweeten the briny quality of the oyster. It's really quite amazing. This is coming from someone who really dislikes oysters on their own but will likely demolish an entire dozen when there's a sparkling libation in play.
Bohemian Wine Bar
Assorted Table Wine & Shop
Bond Street Wine
Though this singular post isn't a comprehensive bible for sparkling wine, it should be a great reference piece for all my casual wine lovers out there. Definitely worth backtracking to the other sparkling related posts on the site for additional deets not covered here. I hope that you were all able to make some awesome selections this year and make the final countdown into the new year extra special. Let me know what sparkling wines you've enjoyed this year or what new bubbles I should try!