10 Essential Facts on Sparkling Wine

They use it to christen the bows of ships before a maiden voyage. It’s the first thing a newlywed couple will sip, as they toast and lock arms. Its corks fly as the ball drops to ring in each New Year. What are we talking about? Sparkling wine – and sometimes a glass of its bubbly goodness is cause for celebration enough. From the iconic vineyards of Champagne to Prosecco , Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul to Australia’s Tasmania , German Sekt to Spanish Cava to California sparklers, nearly every corner of the wine world has its own take on this vinous fizz. Test your knowledge of all things sparkling with these ten essential facts. 1. While Champagne has become synonymized with sparkling wine in today’s vernacular, in actuality Champagne is a place. Only sparkling wines cultivated from the chalk soils of this cool northerly French region, just east of Paris, can call themselves true Champagne. 2. There are a lot of ways to get bubbles inside a bottle of wine – the most basic examples are injected with carbon, just like Coca Cola. But, the most prestigious form of production is the “Champagne Method,” also referred to as the “Méthode Champenoise” or the “Traditional Method.” After being vinified like a normal still wine, Champagne undergoes a secondary fermentation in bottle. Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of fermentation, and in a sealed bottle it has nowhere to go – giving rise to bubbles. In fact, the pressure from dissolved carbon dioxide inside a bottle of Champagne is said to be roughly three times as powerful as the pressure in a car tire. 3. Just like the carbon dioxide, the yeasts that make the bubbles possible are also trapped in the bottle. How do wineries get rid of them? They use a method called riddling, first pioneered by Veuve Clicquot in the early nineteenth century. To riddle a wine, bottles are inserted neck down into an A-framed riddling rack, or “pupitre.” Each day the rack is widened and a riddler rotates the bottle a quarter-turn. This process is repeated for several weeks until all the sediment reaches the neck of the bottle, at which time it is frozen and “disgorged.” While select Champagnes are still riddled by hand, a number of producers use the mechanized “gyropalette” which can complete the process in as quickly as three days. 4. Brut Nature? Demi-Sec? Extra Dry? Sparkling wines come on a broad spectrum of sweetness, the most common being Brut – meaning “crude” or “brutish” in French for its intense perceived dryness. The sweetness of a Champagne is actually determined as the very last step in the traditional sparkling winemaking process. After a wine is disgorged, the “liqueur d’expédition” or “dosage,” a mixture of sugar and wine, is used to fill up the bottle. The amount of sugar in the dosage decides the final sweetness of the sparkling wine. 5. While bubbles have been born from almost every grape variety, the three classic sparkling wine grapes, those used in Champagne, are Pinot Noir , Pinot Meunier , and Chardonnay . While Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are both red, they can be vinified into a white wine if provided no further skin contact once pressed. The three varieties are often blended together, but a sparkling wine made exclusively from white grapes is referred to as a “Blanc de Blancs.” Conversely, a “Blanc de Noirs” is a sparkling wine derived exclusively from red varieties. 6. “Champagne! In victory one deserves it; in defeat one needs it,” Napoléon Bonaparte supposedly once said. During his reign, the Napoleonic army would visit several of the top Champagne houses and using their weapon of choice, the saber, they’d slice open the bottles. From this practice, the showmanly tradition of sabering Champagne was popularized. 7. Italians offer two classifications for the bubbliness of their sparkling wines: “frizzante” and “spumante.” Wines labeled “spumante” are fully sparkling in the traditional sense, while bottles categorized as “frizzante” are only gently fizzy. Franciacorta and top-shelf Prosecco are typically “spumante,” whereas Moscato d’Asti and Lambrusco are more often “frizzante.” 8. People often turn to the Italian sparkler Prosecco as an affordable alternative to Champagne. Since 2014, Prosecco has outsold Champagne by volume in the United Kingdom, historically Champagne’s most important export market. Prosecco, however, bares little resemblance to Champagne beyond the bubbles. While still delicious, Prosecco is produced from a different grape (Glera), with a different production method, and is often made a bit sweeter, complementing the wine’s floral aromas. 9. A better bargain analog to Champagne would be Cava, Spain’s signature sparkling wine. Cava is also crafted from the Champagne Method, and while Pinot Noir and Chardonnay can both be used, top producers have focused their attention to three indigenous Spanish varieties - Macabeu, Parellada, and Xarel·lo. Cava can be made in pockets across Spain, but the best examples come from the town of San Sadurní d’Anoia in Penedès, Catalonia . 10. Champagne has been poured into many different drinking vessels over the years – from the short, wide-lipped coupe (which legend, likely falsely, tells to be molded from Marie Antoinette’s breast) to the ever-popular tall, lean flute. But the wine world finds itself mid-revolution regarding the proper stemware for sparkling wines. Several attest that a standard white wine glass better presents a sparkling wine’s aroma, even if it loses the visual effect of bubbles creeping up the side of a flute. For older or more full-bodied bubbly, some even suggest the larger, more bulbous Burgundy glass. — Bryce Wiatrak Have you popped open any delicious bubbly? We’d love to see your favorite sparklers. Scan the bottle or search by name to add your tasting notes on Delectable!

Pierre Péters

Cuvée de Réserve Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Champagne Chardonnay

Rodolphe Péters took over the reins of this venerable estate in the southern Côte des Blancs in 2008, becoming the fourth generation to lead since the estate was founded in 1919, under the name Camille Péters. 100% Chardonnay, Crisp, fine mousse with steady flow of bubbles. Citrus, herb and biscuit aromas. Fresh fruit flavors of peach, apples and lemons, smooth and dry. Lingering mineral finish ending with elegance. Nice! — 6 years ago

James, David and 4 others liked this


Grande Cuvée Brut Champagne Blend

Gary Westby

An old half bottle- among the first with a government warning and before even the days of Remy importing the Champagne. @Garth Hodgdon and I are both guessing released around 1989 and perhaps based on a late 70's harvest. This still had a touch of pressure and almond like complexity to spare. Big acid on the back end will keep it going for a long time! — 8 years ago

Tom, David and 26 others liked this


Crede Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore

Beautiful, refreshing and serious Prosecco that flourishes with an assortment of precise green and red apple, pear and citrus flavors and lively depth to its performance. — 8 years ago


Clos des Goisses Brut Champagne Blend 2000

Very open and expansive. A touch of biscuit. Very fresh and long. Really approachable right now — 7 years ago

Naoko Dalla ValleLarry Frierson
with Naoko and Larry
Ceccherini, Ron and 3 others liked this


Cavendish Brut Chardonnay Blend

Tasty blend of Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay from England's South Downs. Masterfully made, showcasing tart red fruits and mandarin acidity with a ripe red complexion balanced by and edgy structure and ample savor. Delicious and engaging -a wine well worth the price of entry level Grower Champagne. If only this family owned endeavor were accessible here at home. — 7 years ago

Nikki liked this


Special Cuvée Brut Champagne Blend

Very creamy delicate mousse with an brioche baked apple, pear, white flower aromas. With flavors that follow. Wonderful balance. Long finish. — 8 years ago

David, Sbragia Family and 2 others liked this

Agrapart & Fils (Pascal Agrapart)

Terroirs Grand Cru Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne

Jörgen Lindström Carlvik

Fresh as a daisy bringing white flowers and freshly squeezed grapefruit juice to the centre palate. Great lift, lively mousse and a steely finish. Always a winner. — 8 years ago

Carla, Roel and 10 others liked this


Brut Rosé Champagne Blend

David T

Nice black cherries, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, citrus, nice nuttiness, touch of dulce de membrillo, slightly tart mid palate, biscuits, beautiful soft florals, grippy chalkiness, volcanic minerals, small bubbles, bright acidity. It has nice complexity, structure, balance, length and lean fruit finish with minerality that grips your tongue 👅 and doesn't let go. Beautiful & delicious! — 7 years ago

Sofia, Trixie and 14 others liked this

Le Rocher des Violettes (Xavier Weisskopf)

Pétillant Originel Montlouis-sur-Loire Chenin Blanc 2013

Pale yellow gold color with chalk, yeast, under ripe white peach, and lemon peel aromas. On the palate it's fresh, and dry with a soft creamy mousse with bruised apple, chalk and lemon peel flavors. 2013 Vintage #enofylzwineblog #loire #touraine #wineophiles — 8 years ago

Chris, Riddley and 3 others liked this


Gran Reserva III Lustros Brut Nature Cava Xarello Macabeo 2007

Delicate aromas of apple and bread dough, with hints of ginger and white pepper. Bright and fresh on the palate, with citrus and green apple flavors, great acidity and a minerally finish. A real treat! — 8 years ago

MICHAEL, Veronica and 3 others liked this