Sparkling Wines: Celebrating The Differences

Jamie ArkingDecember 21, 2016
The name Champagne is so branded that it has become a catch-all for all sparkling wine, much to the great chagrin of France. They do have a point...Champagne is a place. If it's not made in that place it's not Champagne. Now there are a lot of "sparkling wines", and some are very good, but the process of making real Champagne differs from them. Without going into the entire process, it involves a secondary fermentation that happens in the bottle. The main thing to know is that it's a blend. The three main grape varietals used are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunière. If it says Blanc de Blanc it's 100% Chardonnay, and if it says Blanc de Noir it's 100% Pinot Noir.
Most Champagne is "Non-vintage", meaning the grapes came from multiple years. If the conditions are perfect, they will make a "Vintage" Champagne.  That has to have at least 85% of the grapes from that year. Lastly, there are sweetness levels. This amount of sugar added after that second fermentation (called the Dosage) determines the sweetness.
Here they are from dry to sweet:
  • Extra Brut (less than 6 grams of sugar)
  • Brut (less than 12 grams)
  • Extra Dry (between 12 and 17 grams)
  • Sec (between 17 and 32 grams)
  • Demi-sec (between 32 and 50 grams)
  • Doux (50 grams).

Sparkling Wine Around The World


Sparkling Wine (United States)

In the U.S. any grape can be used. Some are made using the Champagne method and some are not.

Prosecco (Italy)

Made from the Glera grape using what's called the Charmat method, where secondary fermentation takes place in a stainless steel tank. It is America's top selling bubbly.

Cava (Spain)

Canvas are made using "Methode Champenoise" but uses the grapes Xarello, Macabeo and Parellada. They are a great alternative to Champagne.

Asti Spumante (Italy)

Made using Muscat Canelli grapes and named after the town that supplies the grapes. "Spuma" means foam.

Moscato d'Asti (Italy)

Made from the Moscato grape and available in white, pink and red versions. It ranges from sweet to very sweet!

Crémant  (France)

A Crémant is a French sparkling wine made in the Champagne method but in a region other than Champagne.
Bollinger Special Cuvée Champagne
J Cuvée 20
Gustave Lorentz Crémant D'Alsace Brut Rosé
Nina Franco Rustico Prosecco Superiore
Anna De Cordorniu Brut Cava

How to open a bottle of Champagne

Take off the foil cap and immediately put your thumb on the top. Don't take it off!! Unscrew the cage (it's ALWAYS 6 turns). Wrap your hand around the top, cage and all, and turn the bottle NOT the cork. Push back when you feel the pressure. There should be a slight hiss not a pop...unless you're in a locker room and just won the World Series.
Jimmy Quaile
Certified Sommelier