Sparkling Festive Wine

Posted On December 2, 2006

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There are great alternatives to Champagne. Almost every country that produces wine creates their own sparkling wine. It may not be made from grapes, it will range in quality, flavor, and price. Some of these wines are spectacular. Some are not worthy to enter your home. One thing is absolute. If it was not produced in the Champagne region of France, it is not Champagne.

Sparkling wines are distinguishable by the bubbles. This is the same carbon dioxide that causes soda to fizz. To be considered a sparkling wine these bubbles must occur as a natural result of fermentation.

Let’s examine some alternatives to Champagne. You will sometimes see the word “champagne” listed on a bottle. The small “c” indicates that it is not true Champagne. Within Europe it is illeagal to use the word Champagne to describe a sparkling wine not from the Champagne region. Wine producers use this term to make their wine more sellable. Many people do not realize that Champagne is wine. At other times the label will state that the wine was created using the méthode champenoise.

All sparkling wines have bubbles. For a long period non-wine drinkers equated sparkling wine with the words “pink” and “sweet.” Some sparkling wines are (fortunately the pink type has fallen out of favor) and some aren’t. Some are dry enough to leave dust in your glass, but the majority fall in the middle. The flavors and characters of these wines are as varied as the countries from which they come.

Most sparkling wines can be placed in one of two categories >

  • Those that express the character of thier grapes. Think sweet and fruity.
  • Those that are complex and flavorful. Much like any good wine they are the products of quality wine making.

There are sparkling wines available in France other than Champagne. One is the Crémant de Crémant from the Cote des Blancs. This wine has a less aggresive sparkle than Champagne. Alsace, Loire, and Burgundy all have their own Crémant wines.

United States
California has long held dominion over sparkling wine production. One well known name is Korbel, which produces a respectable brut champagne style wine for about $10. It is one of the few that is actually fermented in the bottle. California sparking wines often taste fruitier than their French cousins.

The Spanish Cava is a wonderful choice for sparkling wines. It is usually from Penedés made in accordance with the méthode champenoise and aged at least nine months. Because it is made with Spanish grapes the flavor is unique. Cava can be purchased for about $10 a bottle.

The German Sekt is mostly consumed in Germany. The annual per capita consumption of about five liters is the highest in the world for sparkling wines. Sekt tends to be clean with no harshness.

The Italian Asti Spumante has become almost as confused as Champagne vs. champagne. Spumante is the Italian word for “sparkling.” It has been co-opted to indicate sweet, fruity wines. Asti is the name of a town in the Piedmont region of Italy. The wine makers there create a lovely sparkling wine that is perfect to serve with desserts. Martini & Rossi create a very good sparkling wine from the Moscato Bianco grapes of the region. It is low in alcohol and acidity. If you do not want a sweet wine look for a secco or prosecco spumante. Secco is the Italian word for “dry.” Prosecco is dryer yet. This is the sparkling wine to serve with a special dinner.