Made in a range of styles, Champagne will always be the classic bubbly and the go-to for celebrations.
To be called Champagne, the grapes must come from the Champagne region of France - no exceptions allowed. The wines can only be made with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Pinot Meunier, and the second fermentation must happen in the bottle. There are strict rules for the amount of time the wine must rest on the “lees,” or yeast cells before they are disgorged. The category of sweetness, indicated as “brut,” “demi-sec,” and so forth, is determined by the grams of sugar that are added after the yeast has been disgorged and just before the wine is ready to be sold.
Many champagne producers have a signature non-vintage style that the “chef de cave” works meticulously to recreate year after year. Vintage champagnes will vary, based on the weather and harvest of that vintage, and are generally crafted to increase in quality with age. The NV “house styles” will be consistent in flavor profile and quality and are meant to be consumed upon purchase.
Classic pairings include oysters, creamy cheeses, caviar, and eggs, but give unconventional pairings like fried chicken, hush puppies, and tater tots a try - you won’t be disappointed.
The Spanish Champagne
Just like Champagne, the process begins with a still wine that has been made from slightly underripe grapes (to ensure a high acidity and low alcohol). The wine is then bottled with the addition of yeast and sugar so that a second fermentation occurs inside the bottle, creating a sparkling wine. Like in France, there is a minimum aging requirement for the wine to “lie on the lees,” lees being the yeast cells, creating a delicious brioche complexity to the finished bubbly. No need to worry, the lees are disgorged just before the bottle is ready to sell. The main difference between the two styles of sparkling is the required aging period. Cava will spend less time “on the lees” for each category than Champagne.
Cava sold in America is made in a Brut, or dry, style; they’ll taste lean and tart, with a crisp, refreshing zap of zesty bubbles.
The Sweety of Sparkling
While not technically a sweet wine, the bouquet of ripe fruit aromas conveys a sweeter style of bubbly.
Unlike Champagne, where the second fermentation occurs in the bottle, with Prosecco, the still wines are blended together with the addition of sugar and yeast in a large tank. The tank becomes pressurized as the second fermentation occurs, and then the wines are filtered and bottled without any aging.
Most Prosecco wines are produced in a dry “brut” style, but the grapes’ fruity flavors of green apple, honeydew melon, pear, and honeysuckle, give the perception of something sweeter than it actually is. Tank method sparkling wines tend to have a fresh, fruit-forward character that goes down almost too easily on its own and pairs wonderfully with sweet, salty, and creamy dishes.
Prosciutto, stuffed mushrooms, creamy sauces, almonds, seafood, fried fare, spicy Asian entrees and even potato chips, buttered popcorn, and cake.
The "every occasion" option
Did you know, sparkling rosé is the only type of rosé that allows red and white wines to be blended together? Often a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay, the three grape varieties are blended together to create a beautiful bouquet. The cellar master, or “chef de cave,” blends the different still wines together before the second fermentation to create the perfect color, flavors, and aromas, creating a signature style for each house.
There is a wide range of styles, from bone dry to fruity and sweet. Expect sparkling rosé from Champagne or those that say “traditional method,” to be dry and food friendly.
Dry sparkling rosés work incredibly well with food because of the complexity of flavors, crisp texture, and high acidity. Pair with cheeses, seafood, cream sauces, pork, chicken, or even steak. These wines can honestly pair with nearly everything, and of course, they are perfectly delicious on their own as well.
The next big thing
Germans have been drinking it forever, but Sekt is certainly the new kid on the block for the cool kids of wine.
For a long time, German sparkling wine was simply a cheaper imitation of Champagne. That’s all changing today though, with a growing trend of small producers using “traditional method” for production and creating terroir driven small batch sparkling wines. Riesling is naturally high in acid with an alluring bouquet of flowers and fresh fruit, making it a perfect variety for refreshing sparkling wines.
German sparkling wines, known locally as Sekt, come in a wide range of styles, from the cheap, simple, and fruity style made by the large brands, to the highly complex and vineyard specific styles made by small grower-producers. Only 2% of production is the latter premium style, so it’s best to ask before you buy.
Let the energetic and refreshing quality of these wines contrast to creamy sauces, cheeses, or pork or chicken sausages. This nervy style, which is often quite high in acid, is likely best for food pairings, rather than sipping on its own.
The hipster of bubbles
What’s the deal with Pét-Nat, and why does every hipster bar in Brooklyn seem to be pushing it?
An old-school style of making wine in which the wine is bottled before alcoholic fermentation is finished so that the fermentation continues during bottling. Carbon dioxide is trapped inside the bottle - making the resulting wine sparkle. Also known as Pétillant Naturel or Méthode Ancestral.
Pét-Nats have a light and fizzy mouthfeel and are generally low in alcohol. They are usually slightly sweet, but you can
certainly find dry styles as well. No need to be alarmed if your
wine is slightly cloudy, this is merely because the wines are rarely filtered. The goal isn’t typically to make a refined and elegant wine, but rather one that’s slightly rustic and lively.
Considering that this isn’t your typical “refined sparkling,” use the opportunity to pair with complex flavors and textures, and with dishes we don’t typically associate with wine pairings.
- Asian foods, especially Burmese or Indian
- Southern food, especially fried chicken - Your funkiest, creamiest cheeses
- An afternoon in Dolores Park