Sparkling Wine 101

December 29, 2019

sipping bubblyThe holidays, or other times of celebration, are usually when we turn our eyes to Champagne. But the truth is, sipping some bubbly isn’t an activity reserved only for anniversaries and engagements. And Champagne isn’t the only bubby that can fit your celebration.

Sparkling wines are a great way to feel festive, sure, but they can also be a wonderful opener to your next casual dinner party or friends gathering.

What stops people from picking up a bottle of bubbles can be that it seems ‘too fancy’ and that there are rules to be followed when drinking it. To that we say, Bah!

If you like Prosecco, Cava, or Champagne, drink up. And if you have questions about sparkling wine like, Am I drinking this from the right glass?, How am I supposed to serve Prosecco?, or, What if we don’t finish the whole bottle? Can I save it without it going flat?, we’re here to help.

First things first…

What are the Different Types of Sparkling Wine?
First of all, it’s worth noting that there are many ways to classify sparkling wines: by region, type of grape, and dryness. Most wine experts tend to classify them by region. 

To use this article as a quick guide, below we’ve described the differences and similarities between different common types of sparkling wine as you’d see them in your local Co-op Wine Spirits Beer store. 

mumm champagneChampagne
Without a doubt, champagne is the most famous type of sparkling wine. People will often dub any sparkling wine Champagne, but in fact, only sparking wine produced in the region of Champagne, France, can be called champagne. 

Champagne is usually made from three grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. 

In terms of taste, Champagne tends to be crisper than other sparkling wine varieties, and it is available in many sweetness levels, from Extra Brut (least sweet) to Doux (most sweet). Champagne is also usually aged and the wine is fermented right in the bottle, creating those delicate bubbles. That in-bottle fermentation also creates delicate flavours of toasted bread, and yeast that are pure magic

Care for a quick recommendation? Try Lanson Champagne, or Mumm Carte Classique Champagne, both available at Co-op Wine Spirits Beer.

Prosecco
Prosecco originated in Italy (in the village of Prosecco, naturally), and much of Prosecco production still takes place close to the region. Prosecco DOC is made in 9 provinces around the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions in Italy, and Prosecco DOCG comes from two specific regions in Italy.  Any other sparkling wine made in Italy cannot be called Prosecco.

lamarcaWhat defines Prosecco is the type of grape used to make it. Prosecco is made up of 85% Glera grapes, and up to a maximum of 15% of certain other grape varieties can also be used.

Prosecco is fermented twice and the secondary fermentation usually takes place in tanks, and this is known as the Charmat Method. 

Prosecco is known to have a lighter, fruitier flavor; think melon, peach, pear, apple or apricot. It isn’t aged, like Champagne is, so it usually doesn’t have secondary notes. It is often dry and slightly sweeter than Brut Champagne.  

At your local Co-op Wine Spirits Beer store, look for La Marca Prosecco this holiday season, or give the Co-op Private Reserve Prosecco a try. These are two great selections that taste like they’re much more expensive, but in truth they won’t break the bank if you want to enjoy them mid-week.

Cava
Cava originates from the Penedes Region of Cataluña in Spain. It is made of three main grape varieties: Macabeu, Paradella, and Xarel-lo. 

True Cava can only be called Cava if it is made in the traditional method—that’s the same method used to make Champagne. Cava makers make wine the same way Champagne is made. After the grapes are picked and sorted they are fermented in large tanks. Following fermentation the base wine is bottled and a mixture of white wine, sugar and yeast is added, and this ferments for about 6 weeks. This process is what produces carbon dioxide in the bottle and the resulting bubbles.

There are a variety of different Cava tastes and profiles. Most Cava is made in the Brut style (less sweet), and those labelled Cava Reserva have been aged for at least 15 months and will generally have a more complex taste profile. 

champagne partyHow Should I Serve Sparkling Wine?

Here are three pro tips for serving sparkling wine:

To open, hold the bottle at an angle to minimize fizzing. 

Try to resist popping the cork with a flourish. Even though it’s fun, it is best to release the cork gently by holding it and twisting the bottle, rather than popping it off. 

Use tulip-shaped glasses or flutes. Even though classic James Bond movies show everyone enjoying champagne with saucer-style glasses called coupes, the best way to fully enjoy the taste of sparkling wine is with the flute-shaped, or even better, the tulip-shaped glasses. This amplifies the bubbles and their size (which is actually a way to distinguish good wine from bad) allows the bubbles to form columns for an elegant look, and you can fully enjoy its color. Unlike the flute, the tulip allows you to fully enjoy the aroma of the sparkling wine, in addition to the color and effervescence. 

Really, though, unless you are out for the “connoisseur” experience, you are free to enjoy sparkling wine as you wish. Pop a bottle for a celebration, or drink it on a Wednesday if you like. Use those tulip glasses if you have them, but good champagne tastes just as great from a juice glass, in a pinch. 

The beauty of sparkling wines is their ability to turn any meal or event into a celebration. 

How Should I Store Sparkling Wine? 

Here are a few tips for storing your wine:

  • Don’t store Champagne in the fridge, and don’t store other types of sparkling wine in the fridge for more than a few days. 
  • Champagne should be kept on its side. Keeping the cork moist will keep carbonation from releasing and preserve its flavors. 
  • Other sparkling wines should be stored upright. In this case, keeping the cork moist will result in over-carbonation. 
  • They should be kept in dark and cool places. 
  • Were you not able to finish off the bottle? Get a special sparkling wine stopper for preserving already-opened sparkling wines. These locking stoppers keep the gasses inside from re-releasing the cork.

After reading this article, you may not be able to call yourself a sparkling wine connoisseur, but at least now you’ll know the difference between Prosecco and Champagne. Heck, you may even be on your way to knowing which you prefer, and what it is about that particular type that you like. 

If you need guidance or recommendations—or even want to attend one of Co-op Wine Spirits Beer’s tasting events—ask the sommelier at your local store for their preferred pick.

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