10 Feb

So Many Bubbles

Sparkling wine choices have never looked as good. Cava, Prosecco, NZ Methode, Champagne, Asti; there’s a myriad of gems to select from. So how do you tell them apart? What to expect inside? A big subject, not one that you can really do justice to in a short piece, though always up for a challenge, here goes.

Sparkling wine is traditionally made the way they do in Champagne; the very basic version – the grapes are picked and then pressed, the juice is fermented into wine. The wine is then put into bottles where a secondary fermentation occurs – as this occurs, the bubbles released during the process are trapped in the bottle.

The bottles are then turned and slowly the dead yeast cells from the second fermentation collect in the neck of the bottle. The temporary closure that is used during the secondary fermentation is then removed, a little ‘dosage’ added (a liquor to top the bottle up that, depending on the amount added, affects the final sweetness of the wine) and a cork closure is applied to hold the bubbles in the bottle.

This process is referred to as Methode Traditionelle. Champagne is produced this way and can only be called Champagne as long as it’s from the Champagne Appellation (78,000 acres of vine in Champagne, France), bottle aged for 15 months minimum for NV or 3 years for Vintage and made from permitted grape varieties. There are wines made the same way in other parts of the world, including Champagne, but unless they meet these requirements, they can’t be called Champagne, but they can be called Methode Traditionelle. So this rather lengthy description covers off Champagne, New World Methode and Cava. Yes, Cava is included in this set; made in the traditional method, just from different grape varieties to Champagne and, naturally, grapes grown in Spain. This group of wines generally have have a broad texture and flavour profile with yeasty, toasty notes. The secondary fermentation in bottle and quality production method is key here.

Another method of production is the Charmat method; invented in 1907 by a Frenchman, Eugene Charmat. In this process the second fermentation happens in large tanks and is then pumped under pressure into bottles and sealed. Examples of sparkling wine crafted through this process include Prosecco and Asti. Prosecco is made from the Glera grape variety; as a style Prosecco is clean, crisp, often appley and very refreshing. Asti is probably the most underrated of all sparkling wines; low in alcohol, sweet in style, it makes a great midday wine, aperitif and matches beautifully with dessert.

Covering both of these methods you then get Non Vintage and Vintages varieties;

When a wine is labelled Non-Vintage, it means that it is a blend of different base wines from a number of years. The blending occurs before the secondary fermentation. In Champagne, Non-Vintage champagne is considered the house style, it’s the wine that the house stands or falls on. Non-Vintage wines are best purchased for drinking; as a general rule they don’t age.

A wine labelled with a Vintage must contain wine from that particular vintage; vintage Sparkling Wines differ in style from year to year, as they reflect the particular vintage they are from. Like good wines, Vintage Champagne ages very well.