Sparkling wine consumption has been increasing appreciably in the past few years. While long ago champagne was the most famous and the most expensive sparkling wine, today there are many that cost only a fraction of that of authentic champagne.
Champagne is a sparkling wine that comes from a specific region in France, that is the most northerly quality wine producing “department” in France. The methode champenoise was invented (according to legend), and manufacturers were astute enough marketers to spend significant amount to promote their wines all over the world.
Today, many countries produce sparkling wines, including Spain, Germany, Italy, the U.S.A., the United Kingdom, Austria, Canada, Argentina, Chile, Ukraine, Brazil, Hungary, Russia, just to name a few. Some use the methode champenoise, others less expensive and faster techniques.
No country ore region in France is legally allowed to call its sparkling wines champagne. The association of champagne manufacturers has successfully sued many countries contravening the law.
It is important to know enough about sparkling wine to make correct buying decisions.
In Spain, CAVA is the name used for sparkling wines produced using the “methode champenoise”. In Germany sparkling wines must be called SEKT. In other countries the label may contain the words methode classique or methode traditionelle.
There are six ways to produce sparkling wine; the most expensive and time-consuming version is methode champenoise.
labels contain sufficient information to lead you to a satisfactory experience.
First, look where (country and region) the wine was produced, check whether it has a vintage date (generally vintage dated wines tend to be of superior quality, and more expensive) then determine what method was employed.
The term blanc de blancs means the wine contains only white grapes. Similarly, if the label says blanc de noirs, the wine was produced using red grapes exclusively.
The look for terms lie brut sauvage or brut nature (no sugar added, meaning very very dry); extra brut (contains .5 – 1 per cent residual sugar); demi-sec (4 – 6), and doux (7 – 10).
Remember, in sparkling beverages, sweetness is perceived less acutely.
On champagne labels you will notice a few letters that give you sufficient information to make a buying decision –
R.M (recoltant – manipulant) means grower and producer. There are approximately 2000 small recultant-manipulant operations in Champagne. Some produce very fine wines and sell privately to Parisians who visit during weekends or before Christmas. The prices are considerably less than grand marques that ship all over the world.
R.C (recultant –co-operative) are large operations that use the fruit of their members. Quality varies from good to fine with low prices.
N.M (negociant – manipulant) buy grapes and/or juice to make their wines.
R.D. (recement degorge) recently disgorged which means that the wine will taste fresh and be slightly yeasty in flavour.
Observe the alcohol, content too.
You can always ask salesclerks for their recommendations, but make sure to give them price parameters. Usually, they will recommend champagne, which happens to be not only the most expensive of all sparking wines, but also the most refined and light in texture.
The United Kingdom produces now some fine sparkling wines using chardonnay and pinot. Some have been able to win prestigious international awards in “blind” competitions with champagnes. They are rarely seen in export markets. Internal demand is high enough to sell all the production.
Hungary produces fine sparkling wines the methode traditionelle, as do Spain, and Germany.
Australian sparkling wines from Tasmania show fine acidity, refinement and textures, as do those from New Zealand.
California produces significant quantities of sparkling wines including some by French companies using California-grown fruit. Moet et Chandon, Roederer are two French producers in California, Gloria-Ferrer is a Spanish-owned winery (Frexenet), but Schlumberger is fully American owned enjoying an excellent reputation.
Remember sparkling wines such Baby Duck, Cold Duck, Spumante Bambino, etc are produced using the least expensive method of production which is pumping carbon dioxide into the wine. They possess a rough taste, are generally too sweet, and lose their effervescence almost immediately.