Remember playing with bubbles as a kid? Bubble bath, bubble gum, blowing bubbles? We thought nothing of enjoying those bubbles on a daily basis, so why do we save sparkling wine bubbles for “special occasions?” Sparkling wine, the generic term for wines that have fizz in them, can make any day as fun as a kid’s bubble bath, but for some reason they have been banned from the every day.
Perhaps it’s the formal French-ness of the wine. A French monk named Dom Pérignon perfected the Champagne process hundreds of years ago, and France has been controlling the name ever since. The designation “Champagne” can only grace wine hailing from its namesake region in France. You’ll notice very few American sparkling wines refer to Champagne on the label — preferring to list the sweetness levels instead: Brut, Extra Dry or Demi Sec. Avoiding the issue altogether are Italy and Spain, who use their own names, Spumante and Cava.
The main difference between sparkling wines and Champagne begins with how the carbon dioxide bubbles occur. All sparkling wines experience two fermentations: one to create wine and another to create bubbles. The price of the wine is often determined by the second fermentation. France uses Méthode Champenoise (“made in the method of Champagne”) which involves bottling regular wine and adding yeast and sugar to each bottle to create carbon dioxide. Time-consuming and expensive, these wines will be slightly pricier. By law, all French Champagnes and Spanish Cava are required to use this traditional method. Another approach, called “charmat,” or tank method, involves adding yeast and sugar to a tank of “still” wine and covering it tightly, thus mimicking the traditional environment for the second fermentation.
Take a look at the bubbles next time you pour a glass of sparkling wine. Méthode Champenoise will produce tinier bubbles, whereas the tank method’s bubbles will be larger and also feel less fizzy on the tongue. But there is an easier way to know the difference. The label will read Méthode Champenoise or “Fermented in the Bottle” if the winemaker used the traditional process. Keep in mind, however, that both methods can produce excellent sparkling wine.
Bottom line: Sparkling wines are just plain fun. Yes, there does seem to be something special about the sound of the popping cork, the carbon dioxide gas that streams from the open bottle, and the cute bubbles that flutter in the glass.
But there are more inexpensive and versatile sparklers out there now, so there’s no excuse to save for a special occasion. If your boss just got fired, why not “celebrate” that? Or maybe you didn’t hit a single red light on the way home. That’s worth celebrating with a chilled glass of bubbly.
Recommended Sparkling Wines:
Segura Viudas Aria Cava Extraordinarily good value with nice tartness, like smelling and tasting a tangerine. Impressive Spanish sparkling wine for cheap, cheap. $9. 3 1/2 stars
Seaview Brut A favorite of mine for a couple of years, this Australian sparkler remains a great choice. Slightly sweet, yet citrus-y and refreshing. $10 3 stars
Canella Prosécco di Canegliano A refreshing Italian Spumante from a region near Venice. It smells oddly of dim sum in the glass, but the flavor of pink Sweet Tarts hits you. $12. 3 stars
Roederer Estate Brut Crisp with a hint of lemons. Straightforward, simple and elegant like a strand of pearls. One of the better values out there. $20. 4 stars
Champagne Deutz Brut Like smelling a warm caramel apple tart baking on a winter’s day. You can taste the bread and green apples in this very graceful French Champagne. $30. 4 stars
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Vintage Reserve 1995 Brut A near perfect Champagne experience; I can’t gush enough. Raspberries dance on the tongue, yet the sip finishes clean with no lingering aftertaste. Worth absolutely every penny. $60. 5 stars.