But all that sparkles isn’t necessarily Champagne
As we reach the end of the year and the leaves begin to change and the days become shorter and cooler, it’s time to pause and reflect on how fast time does fly.
This is the time of year for resolutions and celebrations. And, this is the time of year when what was once only set aside for the royals is now available to the masses. Yes, Champagne and all of its cousins.
Once only a product of France in the Champagne region, the méthode champenoise has spread around the world. But the only wines allowed to use the term Champagne are those produced in this region of France. All others must be called sparkling wines or by a new name coined based on the regions where they’re produced.
Sparkling wine is made with significant levels of carbon dioxide, making it fizzy — it tickles your nose. The carbon dioxide may result from natural fermentation, either in a bottle, as with the méthode champenoise, or in a large tank designed to withstand the pressures involved, known as the Charmat process. Or, it results from carbon dioxide injection.
The classic example of a sparkling wine is Champagne, but many other examples are produced in other countries and regions, such as Espumante in Portugal, cava in Spain, Asti in Italy (the generic Italian term for sparkling wine being spumante) and Cap Classique in South Africa. In some parts of the world, the words “Champagne” or “spumante” are used as a synonym for sparkling wine, although laws in Europe and other countries reserve the word Champagne for a specific type from the Champagne region of France.
The French terms “mousseux” or “crémant” are used to refer to sparkling wines not made in the Champagne region. German and Austrian sparkling wines are called sekt. The United States is a significant producer of sparkling wine. California, in particular, has seen French Champagne houses open wineries in the state to make American sparkling wine according to the Champagne method.
Recently, the United Kingdom, which produced some of the earliest examples of sparkling wine, has started making Champagne-style wines again. Sparkling wine is usually white or rosé, but there are many examples of red sparkling wines such as Italian brachetto and Australian sparkling shiraz. The sweetness of sparkling wine can range from very dry “brut” styles to sweeter “doux” varieties.
The primary grapes used to make sparkling wines are chardonnay and pinot noir, although some regions of the world also use chenin blanc and pinot grigio and even some forms of moscato, or muscat.
The varietals work well because they’re light and are easily matched to the second fermentation stage of the wine using sugar or other methods to cause the carbonization in the wine.
Most blanc de blanc sparkling wines are made from white grapes producing white wine. The preferred varietal for this method is chardonnay, as it will produce a sweet but dry wine. Pink sparkling wine is made from pinot noir or a combination of pinot noir and another white varietal such as chenin blanc or moscato depending on how sweet, or dolce, the winemaker wants it to be. The Italian version of sparkling wines is made primarily with moscato, giving the wine a very sweet and spicy finish.
Whatever your choice, all sparkling wines make a wonderful aperitif for hors d’oeuvres and just for plain enjoyment. Then there are Champagne cocktails. But that’s for another time. It also goes without saying to please be careful as you open those bottles. Remember twist and pull the bottle as you hold the cork with a cloth.
Have a joyous and prosperous New Year!
The Cork Guy
The Cork Guy is a local connoisseur of all things wine whose taste buds are especially adept at unraveling the mysteries of the vino world. We hope you will enjoy his visits to Coast Monthly. You can reach the Cork Guy at firstname.lastname@example.org.