The Story Behind your Sparklers

December 30, 2019

 

There is nothing more fitting than a glass of bubbles to celebrate a special occasion or holiday. And sometimes just making it through the day is like winning the jackpot! Why not enjoy these moments with a celebratory sparkler? For sure we are not alone in our penchant for petillánt.  Because according to recent data, the Americas are the fastest growing segment of the global sparkling wine market. Yet another reason to celebrate! 

 

So, fellow fizz fans, as our membership increases, let’s spend a moment learning about the different style categories of sparkling wines.  Because not all bubbly is made--or tastes--the same.

 

Traditional Method

 

All sparkling wines are effervescent due to the absorption of carbon dioxide into the wine itself during fermentation. However, sparkling wines made in the Traditional Method are the most famous, highly-regarded, and labor intensive to craft.  The process involves creating a base wine, adding a specific amount of sugar and yeast, and initiating a second fermentation in the sealed bottle. Wines made in this fashion generally have more finesse, structure, and complexity than sparkling wines made in other methods. In addition, all traditional method sparklers require some aging of the wine on dead yeast cells called “lees,” which will impart aromas and flavors reminiscent of freshly baked bread.

 

Also known as the Classic Method, this technique was developed in the Champagne region of France, where it’s referred to as the “Méthode Champenoise.”  Considered the standard by which all other sparkling wines are based, most champagnes are blends of varietals--Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier--as well as vintages.  Champagne is located at the Northern-most limit of vine growing latitude where climate is marginal at best, so winemakers must blend vintages to allow for consistency in quality and taste. 

 

Try the 100% Chardonnay Pierre Peters “Cuvee de Reserve” Blanc de Blancs Brut for a balanced example of the mineral, acidity, and bready characteristics for which champagne is known.  Next, sample a Crémant--the name given to all other sparkling wines from France made in the Traditional Method.  Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace, made from a blend of Chardonnay and Pint Meunier, displays freshness and character consistent with its varietal blend and method of production. Both wines are available from local FineWine.com in Gaithersbug. Finally, for a dry, crisp, and distinctly Napa expression, try Schramberg's Blanc de Blanc from America's flagship sparkling wine producer available at Calvert Woodley in the District.

 

Cava from Spain, Franciacorta from Italy, and Cap Classique from South Africa are other examples of traditional method sparkling wines from around the world.  Cava is mainly made from indigenous varieties of grapes, while Franciacorta and Cap Classique tend to rely on more traditional, champagne varietals.

 

Tank Method

 

The key difference between Tank Method and the Traditional Method is that the second fermentation in the former takes place in a pressurized tank rather than a bottle.  It is a shorter, less expensive, and more suitable option for aromatic and more fruity grape varieties with which yeast-y characteristics from Traditional Method lees aging would not be as desirable.  Also known as the Charmat Method or Martinotti Method, it is the most popular production method worldwide and results in wines that showcase youthful, floral, and fruity aromas. 

 

The ubiquitous Prosecco, hailing from the Veneto region of Italy and made from the Glera grape, is the most common example.  Lambrusco, made from red grapes by the same name and from Italy’s Emiglia Romana region, is another, if more limited example of this process. Italian sparkling wine made in this method from all other regions and/or varietals is simply called “spumante.” For a festive, food-friendly, and elegant example of a rosé spumante, try Peramo Anniversario available at Rodman’s Bradley Food and Wine, Cleveland Park, and Via Umbria.  Explore Belle Jardin for a lightly floral, toasty, and delightfully-textured alternative to Prosecco. This wine is available at Calvert Woodly and Finewine.com. 

 

The Ancestral Method

 

Considered the earliest—and easiest—form of sparkling winemaking, this technique uses icy temperatures to pause the fermentation for a period of months, then reinitiates fermentation after the wines are bottled.  Carbon dioxide is trapped in the bottle and no extra sugar is added. Many winemakers also choose to leave the resulting sediment in the bottle, which can sometimes lead to a cloudy appearance in the wine.  For many winemakers focused on making non-interventionalist or “natural” wine, this is preferred method to make sparkling wine.  Also called pétillant naturel, it is so basic that sometimes the fermentation happens by accident! For a New World—but deliberate—take on this ancient wine production style sample Broc Cellars’ Pétillant Chenin Blanc.  Available locally through special order at Pearson’s Wine and Spirits, this Central Coast California wine is refreshing, floral, and mineral.

 

Starting a Champagne campaign? Hosting a sparkling soirée? Need a bubbly buddy? Contact me at erlinda@thevinicola.com and let’s plan your next fizzy festivity!

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erlinda@thevinicola.com  |  202.247.1268

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