No matter what the occasion, nothing says ‘celebration’ like a bottle of bubbles. A friend got a new job? Bubbles. Your sister moved house? Bubbles. A big birthday party? Bubbles!
In honour of #InternationalChampagneDay, I've put together a little write-up on our favourite fizzy drink and how it's made around the globe!
There are so many different styles of sparkling wine from all over the world, from fresh and fruity prosecco to stylish and sophisticated champagne. Bubbly can be white, red or rosé, and can come in many levels of sweetness with a huge range of flavours. It can be a lot of fun discovering which ones you like best.
The most famous sparkling wine in the world is champagne, made in the Champagne region of France using chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. These are considered the most premium bubblies on the market, and their prices usually reflect this. But you can definitely get decent examples of champagne that won't break the bank. Champagne is made in a variety of sweetness levels, but Brut is by far the most popular style. All champagnes will have high acidity levels, thanks to the climate, and some autolytic characters, which mean you’ll find toasty flavours of bread and brioche in the wine. Crémant is another French style of sparkling wine that isn’t made in Champagne.
Sparkling wine from Spain is called cava, and while it can be made in many different regions, the vast majority of cava comes from the Catalan vineyards. Cava is much more approachable in style than champagne, and is definitely a popular, easy-drinking style of bubbly.
Prosecco originates from north-east Italy, but many countries around the world are making their own versions of prosecco because there aren’t any regional restraints like there is with champagne. The grape for prosecco in Italy is called glera, and the wine is typically vibrant and fruity with fresh aromas of green apple and melon.
In Australia and New Zealand, we make sensational sparkling wine from many of the same grapes mentioned above. Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills, Tasmania and Marlborough are all local regions known for producing premium (and delicious!) bubblies. While sparkling red wines are not unique to Australia, here is where they’ve had the most success. These are most often made using shiraz, but there are excellent examples from cabernet & merlot too.
So how do the wines get their fizz?
There are five ways to make sparkling wine, but I'm going to focus on the main 3: the Traditional Method, the Transfer Method and the Tank Method.
Traditional Method This method is the mostly costly and time consuming, and is the technique that’s used to make the world’s premium sparkling wines. Because it’s so complicated, winemakers can demand higher prices for these wines. In very basic terms, after making the base wine and getting it to a point of satisfaction, the wine is then bottled. Here, the second fermentation happens in the bottle of these wines, and the CO2 generated by the yeast dissolves into the wine, which creates the sparkle! The yeast then dies and adds those characteristic bready, toasty flavours to the wine – this stage typically lasts 4-5 years, but has been known to continue as long as ten! The final stages involve lots of hands-on work, including riddling & disgorging, which is the process of removing the leftover sediment from the dead yeast (the lees). Then comes the addition of Liqueur d’expédition, which is a mix of wine & sugar. The amount of sugar used will determine the final level of sweetness in the wine. This stage helps to balance the acidity and develop the flavours. Then corking, and then ageing! Ageing doesn’t benefit all wines, but it may help some premium wines to develop.
This one is an adaptation of the traditional method above that avoids the expensive and time-consuming processes of riddling and disgorgement. Everything up until those stages is the same, but at this stage the entire contents of the bottles are emptied into a sealed tank under pressure. The Liqueur d’expédition is added, and the wine is then rebottled into fresh bottles. This method creates good quality sparkling wines at a cheaper price, and it can also ensure consistency with large batches. You can often tell when a wine has been made using the traditional or transfer method by looking at the label. Transfer method wines will often say ‘bottle-fermented’ whereas others will state ‘traditional method’ or méthode traditionnelle. Many consider this a sign of prestige.
Whereas the above two methods produce wines that have flavours of bread and toast, the tank method allows the production of sparkling wine that retains the flavours of the base wine (usually fruity, fresh and vibrant flavours). As you might have guessed, this is the method for making sparkling wines like prosecco. It is cheaper, faster and less labour intensive than bottle-fermenting. Some consider it to be inferior, but with high-quality grapes and care during production, winemakers can definitely make high-quality sparkling wines using the tank method. The first fermentation takes place using steel tanks, which allows the wine to retain the pure fruit and floral flavours of the grapes. There isn’t usually a period of oak ageing here. After the addition of yeast and sugar, the second fermentation takes place in a sealed tank (rather than in individual bottles like the first two methods). The wine is then filtered to remove the yeast lees before bottling. The majority of tank method sparkling wines don’t have toasty flavours because they haven’t spent time interacting with the yeast. So the result is a deliciously fresh bubbly, with lots of fruit and floral flavours.
There are many myths and legends surrounding who invented sparkling wine. Most widely accepted is French monk Dom Pérignon in 1697, who famously stated “Come quick, I am tasting the stars!” when he tried it for the first time. But others say it was the English, and others even say that Pérignon learned how to make it from other monks in Limoux who had been enjoying bubbly since 1531.
No one can say for sure where sparkling wine originated, but we do know one thing – it has cemented itself as a hallmark of fun and celebration. And the fact that there are so many styles to sip and enjoy means that the possibilities are endless! So no matter what gatherings and celebrations you’ve got coming up, you’re bound to find the perfect bottle of bubbles to help the occasion truly sparkle.
If you need any tips or have any questions, just let me know! I'm always happy to help guide you in the right direction. Or, let me know what your favourite sparkling wines & champagnes are below!
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