With names like Cremant, Cava, Asti and Trento Doc, it can be hard to get your head around sparkling wines if you’re not a bubbly fan. So with that in mind, we decided to put together a comprehensive 101 on sparkling wine! If you have a look through below, you’ll discover how these party-fun wines are made, where they originate from and what the differences are between Sparkling Wine and Champagne (hint: not an awful lot).
First of all, best to set the record straight. Champagne is a wine region in France that produces sparkling wine and due to regional protection laws, the rest of the world cannot call their sparkling wines Champagne. Champagne is from Champagne. This is the same for many forms of produce, from cheese to meats and back to wine again. Sorry people. That’s just how it is.
There is no other wine region that comes with similar prestige and expectation. Champagne is intrinsically linked to finer times, celebration, luxury, excitement and hip-hop performers pushing around trolleys of the stuff in their film clips. And of course, it’s often the thrill of the pop of a Champagne cork that can do more for the drinker than the wine itself.
Australian sparkling wine takes many cues from Champagne – like the famed French wine region, Australia also uses the prescribed grapes of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and to a lesser extent, Pinot Meunier to blend in their winemaking. It’s also true that early forays by Champagne companies into Australian wine regions have resulted in some of Australia’s best known sparkling wine brands – if it wasn’t for Moet & Chandon coming to the Yarra Valley, for example, there’d have been none ofChandon’s smart range of wines for us to enjoy here.
While Champagne might be the number one touchstone for sparkling wine, one of the biggest increases in sparkling wine drinking has come from the often simple but refreshing Prosecco wines that originate from north west Italy. Production in Australia has also kicked off and increased – now Prosecco not only can be enjoyed from its traditional Veneto-region homeland, but from places like the King Valley in Victoria. It’s also a pretty bloody refreshing drink with a good splash of Campari or Aperol tossed into it…
Meanwhile, when we’re talking sparkling wine we’re talking four distinct methods of production. For simple wines, usually found in the every day drinking repertoires of most people sparkling wines are produced using carbonation techniques. Carbonation is simply the addition of carbon dioxide to a dry table wine to make it get bubbly. This has recently been championed by the Australian wine industry as recent experimentation and innovation has allowed for a refining of the process. Making adult soft drinks has never been better…
The Tank Method sounds pretty unromantic, and the process usually produces wines of slightly less complexity too. Tank Method sparkling wine production is more automated, with fermentation taking place in tanks under high pressure. Tank production is fairly common throughout the world, particularly in Prosecco, and involves a secondary fermentation to produce the sparkling wines.
The Transfer System sees wines second fermentation takes place under crown seals in single bottles. When fermentation is complete the seals are pierced under pressure and the wine is transferred to tanks or finished bottles. It’s a common kind of way of making medium to higher quality wines, and popular in many wine producing countries.
The most highly regarded way of producing sparkling wines is Methode Champenoise (Methode Traditional) – this is the process of making quality sparkling wine and proper Champagnes. A base wine is made from grapes that are high in acid and with delicate fruit flavours, in the same manner as for a dry white table wine. This base wine is then bottled with an addition of yeast and sugar to initiate a secondary fermentation. After the second fermentation is completed the sediment that is left is subsequently removed. Some wines stay on their lees to gain further complexity; this is often referred to as yeast autolysis, and can lend great complexity to sparkling wines.
When all is said and done, sparkling wine and Champagne can bring a lot of pleasure to the drinker, and though one of the most brutal on the palate for wine writers to work through for Best Of lists, does come with some reward when a ripper fizz busts out of a line-up. Fine examples standout for complexity, freshness and vitality thought not all best sparkling wines wines are about being complex and fancy; some sparkling wines are celebrated for being pure and utter refreshment. With that in mind, here follows the WineFront Best Of sparkling wines and Champagne:
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© The Wine Front 2014.