Sparkling, Not Still: A Quick Guide to Sparkling Wine
Updated: Apr 29
The year has come and gone and no one is upset about it. The longest year in recorded history is finally closing its doors for good. We'll soon be filled with the hope of 2021 bringing us something slightly better than 2020. And for that, I think we should all make a toast to new beginnings, and saying goodbye to *Chris Harrison voice* the most dramatic year yet.
In honor of New Year's Eve, and the start of a new era, I wanted to give you a quick overview of some of the world's most popular sparkling wines, and provide you with fun facts on this delicious carbonated drink. Whether you are celebrating with a few close friends or riding solo this New Year's, nothing compares to the feeling of sipping a nice glass of Champagne as Ryan Seacrest yells "HAPPY NEW YEAR!" in your face.
But really though, aren't we all a little relieved that we're not spending the holiday at an overpriced club surrounded by drunk crying strangers this year?
Just some food for thought. Anyways, as you watch Mr. Seacrest eagerly count down to the new year while you drink your wine, you can now enter 2021 slightly more knowledgeable about the sparkling beverage you're holding.
Starting with the Basics
For starters, a lot of people tend to think that words like "brut" are specific types of sparkling wine. However, these words are actually used to describe the sweetness level of the wine. In order of dryest to sweetest, the labels are as follows:
Brut nature, extra brut, brut, extra dry, dry, demi-sec, doux.
Isn't that weird that the "dry" label is actually one of the sweeter options? I always found that odd.
The Main Players
There are tons of variations of sparkling wine out there, each with its own unique flavor. But for today we'll focus on the A-Team sparkling wines: Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, and Sekt. These are the varietals that you have probably heard of, and you have most likely tried one if not all of these wines. They each originate from a different country in Europe, and the fact that they are carbonated is probably the only thing these wines have in common. Each beverage has its own original taste, which is largely attributed to either the climate it is grown in or the style it is made in.
As you may already know, Champagne is the OG of sparkling wines. It paved the way for every other sparkling variant that you see today. It's made mainly from the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, or Pinot Meunier grape, and can be produced in three different styles: blanc de blanc (made exclusively using the Chardonnay grape), blanc de noir (made from either the Pinot Noir grape, the Pinot Meunier grape, or a blend of the two), and Rose (a blend of both the white and red grapes, as you can probably guess).
Given its rich history, it would be impossible to cover everything about this delectable drink in one blog post. But it truly is one of my favorite wines to talk about because Champagne is a fascinating blend of history, science, and creativity. And of course, it tastes amazing. If you're interested in learning more about it, message me here. If I get enough requests for it, I'll dedicate an entire post to it!
Next up, we have Cava. Cava is a Spanish wine of the DO status from Spain. In general, there are six methods in which sparkling wine can be produced, and Cava can only be considered "Cava" if it is made in the traditional method. The traditional method is the most appreciated, yet most expensive method in the sparkling wine industry. It's a little complicated but put in lamens terms, the wine goes through two separate fermentations (one in the barrel, and once again in the bottle - the second fermentation is what creates the carbonation), then it is aged (for Cava, this is typically 9 months or longer). Next, winemakers flip the bottle so that the dead yeast cells can collect at the neck of the bottle. That sediment is removed through a freezing process, and a mixture of wine and sugar is added last, before being corked and labeled.
If you haven't yet tried Cava, I highly recommend doing so. You'll typically find notes of lime, apple, and almond, and its acidity is off the charts. It pairs perfectly with Spanish cuisine like paella.
If Champagne is Regina George, the reigning queen of sparkling wine, Prosecco is Kady Herron. Prosecco emerged into the sparkling wine scene with a fresh new look, taste, and means of production. Hailing from the Veneto region in Italy, Prosecco is made using the Glera grape. Its popularity has skyrocketed, becoming one of the most popular wines of our time, and is quickly starting to supersede Champagne. It is estimated that around 150 million bottles of Prosecco are produced annually.
Since Prosecco is easier and cheaper to produce, being far less finick-y than Champagne, it can afford a lower price tag on the bottle. This is likely the contributing factor to its rise in popularity, especially since us millennials love to feel like we're indulging without actually burning a hole in our pockets. Not to mention, it's an excellent choice for mimosas. And who doesn't love brunch?!
Last up, we have the underdog, Sekt. Of the four listed, this very well may be the varietal that you haven't heard of. However, that certainly doesn't mean that it can't hold a candle to its sparkling wine counterparts. Sekt is a term for sparkling wines that are produced in Germany and Austria. It is...interesting. And hard to pinpoint. Unlike Prosecco, Cava, and Champagne, Sekt is not a protected term (meaning, it does not have to be made in a certain way or region to be called Sekt).
It can be produced in a variety of ways, it can be made using several different kinds of grapes, it can be sweet or dry, and its flavor notes can run the gamut from bottle to bottle. If you're interested in trying a bottle for yourself, try starting with Rieslingsekt - Germany's signature sparkling wine. The only catch? You might have to travel quite a ways to get it. This unique wine is rarely exported outside of Germany.
What are you all drinking to round out this tumultuous year? Let me know in the comment below!