Most champagne is blended, coming from several vineyards, and varying vintages. Champagnes are generally made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and/or Pinot Meunier. In my previous post, I described the types of champagne, and the names used to describe the relative sweetness/dryness of them. In general, champagnes can smell and taste of apple, pear, citrus, strawberry, cream and vanilla (typically on the finish). The limestone/chalk soil produces grapes that have a certain balance of acidity and richness that you don’t find in most other sparklers from other parts of the world. One of the main flavors that differentiate champagne (and other sparklers that utilize “methode champenoise”-secondary fermentation in bottle) is yeast and nutty flavors.
Essentially Champagne, these sparkling wines were named (cremant, or creamy) because they originally had a more creamy texture when compared to Champagnes. Cremants are made outside of the Champagne region, mainly in France, and must be aged for at least a year. Several more grapes are allowed (the French have their rules!) to be used in the production of Cremant, among them Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Cremant wines are made using the “methode champenoise”.
Cava is a white or pink sparkling wine from Spain and is made according to the “methode champenoise. Cava is typically made from a variety of grapes, some French (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir), some indigenous to Spain (Macabeu, Parellada). They also vary in sweetness from brut (extra dry) to seco (dry) to dulce (sweet).
The Portuguese version of sparkling wine is produced throughout Portugal, the best coming from Bairrada, just south of Vinho Verde one of Portugal’s best known wine producing regions. Spain has one regulating body (rules again!)- DOC Cava. Look for wine labeled “VEQPRD” if you’re looking for a quality Espumante (and you should be, you’re purchasing it for a celebration, right?) from Bairrada. These are made in the traditional method used in the Champagne region of France and will indicate the vintage.
Asti, Lambrusco, Prosecco
These are three different sparkling wines, all from different regions in Italy. Asti is typically slightly sweet and made from the Moscato grape, near the town of Asti. Lambrusco is a slightly sparkling red wine usually from north/central Italy between Florence and Milan. It varies in sweetness from secco (very dry) to amabile (off dry/sweet) to dolce (sweet). The wine is acidic and often tastes of berries and is usually made in the Charmat method, where the 2nd fermentation takes place in a pressurized tank. Prosecco is typically dry or extra-dry, and is made from the Glera grape, usually in northern Italy around Venice, and in the Friuli region. It’s often served up alone, or used as a less expensive option to champagne in spritzers and the like.
American sparkling wines
Sparklers made in the US can be made using either of the traditional French methods (method champenoise, or charmat). The first sparklers in the US came from Korbel, out of Sonoma Valley in the late 1800’s. Subsequently, some of Champagnes most noted wine makers have come to produce Champagne from California: Moet et Chandon Domaine Chandon, Louis Roederer’s, and Taittinger. US wine laws don’t regulate sugar levels/ sweetness of wines (not as many rules in the states!) but most producers follow European standards, with Brut wine being dry, and Doux, sweet. There are also no laws governing aging length, which can be as little as 8 months. A few interesting sparkling wine makers in the U.S: Winemakers in the Finger Lakes region (New York) are making interesting sparkling wine from Riesling, and Gruet (New Mexico) makes several nice sparkling wines (Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Noir, Brut, Extra Dry, Rose).