Sparkling Wine or Champagne? Methode Madness!
Don’t know what sparkling wine to choose? Maybe you tried your local store and found that real Champagne is $35 for the entry level bottles. Then you saw some Prosecco for $12 a bottle – but is that considered champagne? Is Cava from Spain any good? Is there American Champagne?
What is Sparkling Wine?
First, sparkling wine is Wine. Its wine with bubbles of carbon dioxide like seltzer. Only the bubbles form in the bottle (usually) during the fermentation process – often called methode champenoise – which is the traditional and most expensive way of making sparkling wine (Champagne & Cava & most American Sparkling wines). Some sparkling wine is fermented in a tank and then bottled which can be very good (Prosecco). And a few have the bubbles injected at bottling – and usually are not so good (No sense discussing bad wines…)
The wines can be white, rosé, or near red. Taste profiles can be brutally dry, dry, semi-dry and sweet. The major ‘sparkling wine’ regions to consider are Cava, Prosecco, Champagne and California. To be technically called a sparkling wine in Europe, it must have a minimum pressure. If it’s below, the wine is called ‘semi-sparkling.’ Examples of wines that the EU considers ‘sparkling’ include Champagne, Cava, Prosecco and a few others not usually found in your local liquor store (aka Sekt). Semi-sparkling wines include Moscato.
Want to know more about how Sparkling Wine is made? Click Here!
Then what is Champagne?
To be called Champagne, the Sparkling Wine must be from the Champagne region in France and made according to their rules using only approved grapes. The region is East of Paris, about 45 minutes by high-speed train. It looks like any other wine region, with beautiful vineyards and the gamut of majestic wineries. What’s different is that you can go into any of the many wine stores in town (Reims) and have maybe the best selection of Champagnes anywhere. Unfortunately, there are no bargains, but the choices often make a local purchase worthwhile.
If you have a crowd that appreciates good bubbly and your budget is $35-$75+++ … you should consider ‘Champagne’. BTW – if your budget works in this price range, but the crowd is unlikely to appreciate the good stuff – you may still want to consider other Sparkling Wine regions.
Should I buy Brut, Dry or Extra Dry Sparkling Wine? Methode Madness!
The industry uses a rather bizarre nomenclature to describe the relative dryness of the wine. No – methode madness is not a technical industry term – it just fits – as follows:
- Brut – the driest – consider for really spicy appetizers or a shellfish extravaganza with lots of Cocktail & butter sauces. To further confuse us, there is extra brut and natural brut Natural Brut is the driest of the dry. In general, unless you understand wine pairings and have the appropriate appetizers; brut style no matter how expensive is often underappreciated by a crowd. At least go with a Rose to soften the dryness.
- Extra Dry or Extra Sec – Less dry than brut styles, but not sweet. Don’t be put off by the ‘residual sugar level’ – this is still a dry wine. Extra Dry is far more approachable and works with a wider range of foods. Fish, shellfish, salads with cheese or nuts, vegetables & dip. With sparkling wines in the $20-$75 range – this is a good place to be for groups with some wine sophistication.
- Dry or Sec | Less dry, more sweetness | More palatable for casual wine drinkers. This is the go-to place for under $20 bottles and larger parties. There are many fine $20-$35 sparkling wines that will please most palates. For many holiday meals and parties, ‘Dry’ Sparkling wines have the broadest appeal.
- Demi-Sec | An air of sweetness – possibly a sparkling wine infused with dessert wines. These can be very enjoyable after dinner or to sip on their own as an aperitif. Demi-sec frankly works well for a late-night toast when palates are shredded with desserts and other liquor.
- Doux | Sweetest – It’s really sweet – think flavored margarita sweet. Fun to try some by pairing with desserts and chocolates.
How to match Sparkling Wine with your budget and party:
- Low Budget – under $12 | Buy whatever the store has – you’re on your own. It’s difficult to find well-made sparkling wines I can recommend that are widely available. However, do consider Moscato (Italy – semi-sparkling low bubbles) as your best choice.
- Value Buys – $12-$20 | This is Prosecco & Asti Spumante range. You can find good to very good choices that pair well with appetizers and don’t break the bank for midnight toast – yet still enjoyable to drink. And if you have some left over the next morning, you will enjoy your mimosas that much more. For a sampling of Prosecco – click here
- Smart Buys – $20-$35 | Many excellent choices in this range. Cava from Spain and American Sparkling Wines stand out. Consider your party – and if it’s a crowd expect that many folks want something easy to drink that goes with most anything. They will not be thinking what pairs best with mini-quiches. So unless you have a sommelier pouring the wine, look for Dry Sparkling Rosés. They are often softer, pair well with most anything and don’t have that puckering dryness. Don’t get me wrong – puckering dryness has its place – just not at a party where folks are pouring their own. Consider:
- Classical Champagne Buys – $35-$75 | Again, consider having an abundance of ‘Dry’ Rosés for the less wine savvy folks. Most of the top Champagne houses have choices in this range. Look for: Veuve Clicquot, Ruinart, Moet & Chandon, Roederer, Bollinger
- High end Buys >$75 | Have at it – probably can’t go wrong. Again, consider your crowd, but if it doesn’t matter – choose from:
- Champagne – Dom Perignon, Roederer, Krug, Bollinger
- High-end Cava – Gramona
- High-end USA Sparkling – Schramsberg
Have fun with the search for the right Sparkling wines for your event. Here are some helpful links:
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