It’s that time of the year again when people’s thoughts turn to bubbles and by bubbles, I mean sparkling wine. As the sparkling wine market is on a seemingly unquenchable climb, the choice on offer makes choosing your favourite festive fizz even more difficult.
Every year end has people feeling more celebratory, and looking for special gifts. At the same time, restaurants and shops are expanding their sparking offerings. As a result, there appears to be more confusion as to the difference between them.It’s the bubbliest time of the year - read this post to find out the background to choosing your favourite bubbles this Festive Season #discoverbubbles #greenacresirl Click To Tweet
The festive season sees overall sales of sparkling wine soar so in this post I want to address some differences between the sparklers. I will explain how wine becomes sparkling, the different styles from around the world, tackle some misconceptions and I’ll finish with some of my personal recommendations for your table this Christmas.
How does your Festive Fizz get its Sparkle?
First and foremost if asked about sparkling wine most people would refer to Champagne. However, more and more people are taking to Prosecco, which is making big inroads into the sparkling market as a year-round drink experience. Cava is also getting its quality-act together. I will mention some others below but first, let’s look at the difference between all of them.
To start the sparkling process, a mixture of yeast, sugar, and wine (called the liqueur de tirage) is added to an already fermented wine. When this mixture is added in a closed environment, the carbon dioxide has nowhere to go except into the wine, making it bubbly. This is what’s called secondary fermentation.
What distinguishes the finished product is where the secondary fermentation takes place and how long the wine is left to age on the dead yeast cells (the lees). I’ll briefly explain six ways of making sparkling wine which may help you show-off to your guests over the Christmas.
- Champagne Method (traditional method) – This is the classic process that most people will have heard about. The secondary fermentation takes place inside the bottle in which it will be sold. Initially, the dead yeast cells are left in the bottle (for various lengths of time) and removed eventually by a process of riddling. Without getting too technical, when removed, a final mixture of sugar and wine (a dosage) is added and the bottle gets its final cork.
- Charmat Method (tank method) – It’s a less intensive way of producing the fizz. The secondary fermentation is done in a tank rather than the bottle. Simply – the liqueur de tirage is added to the tank rather than each individual bottle. There is no extended lees contact and the wine is filtered and bottled from the tank. This is how Prosecco is made.
- Transfer Method – This is simply a hybrid of the above methods. The secondary fermentation does take place inside the bottle but, when ready, they are emptied into a pressurised tank, their sediment filtered and then bottled into new bottles.
- Continuous Method – I won’t get into the technicality here as it is slightly more complicated than the tank method. Suffice to say, the liqueur de tirage is continuously added to the base wine which is added through a series of tanks. Bulk German sekt production is done in this way.
- Ancestral Method – As the name implies – this is the oldest method of them all. Secondary fermentation does not occur at all! A fermenting wine is transferred from tank to bottle before first fermentation is complete. The result can be a cloudy, earthy wine which is called pétillant-natural (pé-nat). Personally, I think this wine is an acquired taste and probably not one for the masses although it appears to be growing in popularity.
- Carbonation – It is what it says on the tin – this method involves injecting CO2 into a still wine. It is generally considered to be an inferior method as the bubbles will dissipate quickly.
Different Styles of your Festive Fizz from Around the World
Champagne – made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes. Styles range from lean and crisp with flavours of lemon, green apple, and stony minerality, to rich and full with aromas of brioche, toffee, and baked apples.
Cremant de Loire/Burgundy/Jura /Alsace etc. – In each region, the wines will be made from different grapes. Champagne can only be called that when it is made in the Champagne region of France. All others (made in the traditional method) in France are called ‘Cremant’ (means creamy in French).
Prosecco – Made from the Glera grape in Italy and as mentioned above is not aged on the lees. As a result, the flavours of prosecco are simpler and less complex to those of Champagne, such as flowers, apple, and pear. Cheaper versions are sometimes sweet.
Cava – Made from Xarello, Macabeo and Parellada grapes, Spain’s version of sparkling wine is also made using the traditional method. The spectrum of aromas and flavours is unique, Mediterranean in inspiration and allusion, and quite different from those of Champagne. The acid profile is gentler than for Champagne.
Franciacorta – made from the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir (Nero) and Pinot Blanc (Bianco) grapes from the Lombardy region of Italy. It is made in the traditional method but the wines tend to be fuller and more ripe. They might lack the acidity and minerality of Champagne.
Sekt – as referred to above, this wine is basically any sparkling wine made in Germany.
Others – I will give a mention to USA sparkling wines, and Moscato d’Asti (Piedmont, Italy) and Lambrusco (Emilia Romagna, Italy).
Almost every wine producing country in the world produces sparkling wines but it really is best to stick to those that have strict rules and high production values. While I always recommend experimentation, in this instance I would suggest having a chat with us or any good wine retailer if you want to venture outside of those sparkling wines mentioned above.
Misconceptions surrounding your Festive Fizz
– only the best sparkling wines come from Champagne: as highlighted above there are plenty of great alternatives, mainly from Italy and Spain.
– sparkling wines are hard to pair with food: the acid in sparkling wines makes them great food partners as it cuts through the richness, cleanses the palate and balances the sweetness.
– flutes are the only style of glass from which to drink bubbles: this really depends on your personal preference. If you like to smell the wine use a traditional wine glass, if you want to keep the bubbles longer use a flute.
– sparkling wine is not really a wine: as outlined above all sparkling wine starts out as a still wine.
– sparkling wine is just for celebrating: there are marvellous examples of sparkling wines from all over the world that can be drunk all year round and not just on occasions.
Festive Fizz Recommendations
For many people, Christmas and New Year celebrations are only complete in an environment of cork popping and bubble pouring. I hope this article has highlighted the fact that there are many options out there. Find one this Christmas that suits your taste and your pocket. Here are my Festival Fizz recommendations:
AR Lenoble Blanc de Blancs Vintage 2008 (€80)
A small proportion of the blend was vinified in oak, adding a hint of vanilla to support the fresh pear and apple flavors. There’s also a springtime scent of orange blossoms carried on the mineral acidity. This vintage (2008) is an elegant and complex champagne with yellow apples, honey melon, toast, and brioche. A rich mouthfeel, tiny persistent mouse with a smooth and long finish.
Sant Ambroeus, Prosecco (€24)
This is a very yummy prosecco- bubbles are plentiful, small, round, and hard. Nose shows light cream, strong green apple, and grapefruit. Taste is very apple forward, with some ripe Meyer lemon and a mineral finish.
Le Cantorie, Franciacorta (€39)
A Chardonnay (80%) and Pinot Noir (Nero – 20%) blend. It stays on the lees for a minimum of 24/30 months before disgorgement. Alcohol content is 12.5% vol and gives a fresh and fragrant product, with fine fruity aromas, is elegant and refined on the palate. Excellent as an aperitif that can also accompany the whole meal in an excellent way Serve at 8 – 10 ° C
Bründlemayer Brut Rosé (€45)
This sparkling wine (Sekt) is made from red grape varieties Pinot Noir, Zweigelt, and St Laurent. It has a fine persistent mousse, delicate but very animated. The fruit and spice aroma gives undertones of cherries and wild strawberries, a bit of citrus and caramel and yeast notes.
“Christmas should be burning wood in the fireplace, pine scent and wine, good talk, good memories, and friendships renewed. But … if all this is missing, just love will do.” -Jesse O’Neill,
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As usual, you can contact me if you would like to discuss anything about individual wines or those in our hampers. Also, if you’d like to receive future blog posts from us, directly to your email, just ‘click’ here.
We look forward to engaging with you again soon – Cheers, James.