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This Week on the WineGuyMike™ Radio Show© Champagne and Sparkling Wines, “All You Need To Know”

December 30th, 2013

This week WineGuyMike™ writes all about all things bubbly for your New Year Celebration and understanding the differences between Champagne, Sparkling Wine, Cava, Prosecco, and Spumante.  In this post I am also suggesting sparkling wines in a variety of price ranges that offer the consumer value. 

What is the difference between Champagne and Sparkling wine?  Sparkling wines and champagne are still wines that have been infused with carbonation. True Champagne is made in France will be noted by the capital letter “C”on the label.  Other sparkling wines called Champagne will by designated as “champagne”, notice no capitalization. Three grapes are used in Champagne, Pinot MeunierPinot Noir, and Chardonnay.  It’s white because only the juice of the grapes is used.

The four methods of Sparkling wine production:

1. Carbon Dioxide Injection – soft drinks and inexpensive sparkling wines are produced using this method.  It produces large bubbles that dissipate quickly.

2. Charmat Process – wine undergoes a second fermentation in large bulk tanks and is bottled under pressure.  Prosecco and Asti are produced utilizing this method, smaller longer lasting bubbles result from this method.  Many Sparkling wines are made using this method.

3. Méthode Champenoise – this process takes place in the bottle and requires hands on attention.  During the second fermentation the carbon dioxide stays in the bottle and this is where the bubbles come from.

4. Transfer Method – the cuvee is bottled for the second fermentation which adds complexity.  But the wine is then removed and stored in large tanks after it has spent the appropriate amount of time on yeast.

Champagne:

The Champagne region of France not only produces some of the finest sparkling wines in the world, but some of the finest wines in the world too.  Typically there are three grapes used in the blend for sparkling wines; ChardonnayPinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.  Different vintages are used to create the blend or better known as the “Cuvee”.

Champagne is expensive due to the traditional method of how it is made, Methode Champenoise and techniques known as second fermentation.  This process takes place in the bottle and requires hands on attention.

Pink Champagne or sparkling Rose is strained through the Pinot Noir grape skins, truly a delight.  Methode Champenoise is the true French fermentation process.  The wine is fermented twice, once in an oak barrel, and the second time the wine developes carbonation in the bottle while aging a minimum of one year.

Blanc de Blancs is true French Champagne, it is produced entirely from the Chardonnay grape.  Blanc de Blancs fermented using the Methode Champenoise process, producing white Champagne.

Designations of quality:

Prestige cuvee

This Champagne is the highest priced and is available only in small quantities.  It is designated “Prestige” because the grapes come from the best grapes from the highest rated villages, it is made from the first pressing of the grapes, produced only as a vintage, and will have been aged longer than vintage and non-vintage Champagnes.

Vintage Champagne                                         

Some select years produce an outstanding grape harvest.  The Vintage Champagnes are aged for at least three years.  Here are an example of a few companies who produce these Vintage Champagnes; Veuve Clicquot, Perrier-Jouet, Moet & Chandon, and Taittinger.

Remember a Vintage Champagne will be identified by an actual year marked on the label, but expect to pay a premium for this.

Non-Vintage Champagne

The majority of Sparkling wine on the shelf of a store is non-vintage.  These are a blend of wines aged for two years.

How to Select your Champagne:

■Brut is Dry

■Extra Dry is Semidry

■Sec is Semisweet

■Demi-sec is Sweet

Quality Champagne Cellars:

Ayala, Billecart-Salmon, J. Bollinger, Canard-Duchene, Deutz, Charles Heidsieck, Heid sieck Monopole, Henriot, Krug, Lanson, Lauret Perrier, Mercier, Moet & Chandon, Mumm Perrier-Jouet, Joseph Perrier, Piper Heidsieck, Pol Roger, Pommery, Louis Roederer, Ruinart, Salmon, Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot

All things are not at equal when it comes to sparkling wines and Champagne.  So what makes all of these types of sparkling wines different?  The answer is how they are made, the type of grapes, and the yeasts that are used in fermentation and left behind in the bottle to age with the sparkling wines.

There are 2-3 elements of wine that create aroma and flavor.  The first element is the fruit, and the second is the yeast used to ferment the wine.  Fruit and yeast combine during fermentation to produce aroma and flavor or sense of taste.  The third influence upon the wine in your glass may be from an oak influence during the wines aging process.

Other sparkling Wine Regions:

Loire Valley of France produces Crémant, while the Asti region of Italy produces Asti Spumanti, and Prosecco comes from the Veneto region.  The Catalonia region of Spain produces the world’s most popular sparkling wine, Cava.  Quality sparkling wines made in Italy are made by the Metodo Classico process or what the French refer to as Methode Champenoise.

Prosecco is an Italian wine, generally a dry sparkling wine, usually made from grape varietyGlera, which is also known as Prosecco.  The Veneto region of Italy is where Glera/ Prosecco is grown and produced.

Prosecco is mainly produced as a sparkling wine in either the fully sparkling (spumante) or lightly sparkling (frizzantegentile) styles.  Prosecco spumante, which has undergone a full secondary fermentation, is the more expensive style.  The various sparkling wines may contain some Pinot Bianco or Pinot Grigio wine.  Depending on their sweetness, Proseccos are labeled “brut”, “extra dry”, or “dry”, with the brut being the driest.

Unlike Champagne, Prosecco does not ferment in the bottle consequently the wine goes off or gets old quickly and should be drunk as young as possible, preferably within one year.

Prosecco is Italy’s answer to refreshing, well-made, sparkling wine that is low in alcohol, about 11 to 12 percent by volume.  Created from predominately Prosecco grapes in the northern Veneto region of Italy in the foothills of the Alps.  Prosecco is light, affordable, and fun.  This Sparkling wine is aromatic and crisp, with nuances of yellow apple, citrus, pear, white peach, and apricot.  Today’s Proseccos tend to be  dry and very bubbly and typically will present itself as light, fresh, with an initial intense bouquet/aroma, but simple and straight forward compared to Champagne.

Prosecco is made using the Charmat method rather than the Champagne method, the French method of making sparkling wine.  The Charmat method is a second fermentation in pressurized tanks rather than in individual bottles.  The shorter, tank fermentation is preferable for Prosecco because it preserves the freshness and the flavor of the grapes.

Asti Spumante is a sweet sparkling wine.  It is produced in the province of Asti and made from the Moscato grape.  Spumante is a fruit forward sparkling wine that is grapy, and has a low alcohol content usually around 8%.  Moscato d’Asti is a sparkling wine that is frizzante in style and for my palette I find these wines to be more refined than the Asti Spumante.

Cava originated in the Catalonia region at the in the late 19th century.  Originally the wine was known as Champaña until Spanish producers officially adopted the term “Cava” (cellar) in 1970.  Cava wines are fermented and aged in the bottle in underground cellars.   Today 95% of Spain’s total Cava production is from Catalonia.

Cava is produced in different styles ranging from dry to sweet; Brut NatureBrut (extra dry),Seco (dry), Semiseco (medium) and Dulce (sweet).  Under Spanish Denominación de Origen laws, Cava can be produced in six wine regions and must be made according to the Traditional Method with second fermentation in the bottle.  The grapes used to produce Cava are Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel·lo, Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Malvasia.  The Chardonnay grape is a late comer to the scene despite being a traditional grape used to produce Champagne.  It was not introduced in the production of Cava until the 1980s.

In order for the wines to be called ‘Cava’, they must be made in the traditional Méthode Champenoise.  Wines made via the low-cost Charmat process may only be called ‘Spanish sparkling wine’.   A rosé style of Cava is also produced by adding in small amounts of red wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha or Monastrell to the wine.

Cava made by the Champagne method, is a very acceptable alternative to French champagne.  Cava is usually made by the Coupage method, whereby must, a.k.a.(grape juice) from different grape varieties is subjected to the first fermentation which is blended until it  is consistent with the wine that the winemaker wants to produce .  After the Coupage, the wine is put into bottles and yeast and sugar added.  It is then cellared for the second fermentation and aging.

Crémant is produced in the Loire Valley of France and is the largest producer of sparkling wines outside of the Champagne region.  Crémant has to be aged for at least one year and it is handpicked.  The producers are also limited as to how much can be harvested, this all according to the French A.O.C.

There are seven French appellations that carry the Crémant designation in their name:

1.Crémant d’Alsace

2.Crémant de Bordeaux

3.Crémant de Bourgogne

4.Crémant de Die

5.Crémant du Jura

6.Crémant de Limoux

7.Crémant de Loire

Crémant de Loire’s are a blend of the Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc.  In Burgundy, Crémant de Bourgogne, must be composed of at least thirty percent Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris while Aligoté is often used to complement the blend.  The Languedoc region in the south of France produces Crémant de Limoux.  This Sparkling wine is produced from the indigenous grape Mauzac, with Chenin blanc, and Chardonnay rounding out the wine in small amounts.

The Crémant Sparkling Wines are pressurized less than Champagne and therefore have a larger looser bubble as a result.

California Sparkling Wines:

Sparkling wines from California use a few grape varietals such as Berger and Chenin Blanc to blend with the traditional Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.

Producers to look for in California; Hacienda, Domain Lauier, Roederer Estate, Domaine Carneros, Domaine Chandon, Codorniu-Napa, Iron Horse, Jordan, Mumm-Cuvee Napa, and Schramsberg.

Remember the name “Champagne” can only be used in Europe on bottles that actually are produced in the Champagne region of France.

As a consumer you now are empowered by the information WineGuyMike™ has shared with you in this week’s blog post.  I would like to wish you a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year.

From my table to yours,


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