“People usually think of sparkling wine as one variety, but in reality, there are many differences between sparkling wines and even between Champagnes,” said Christine Ricketts, Cellar Director at Cellarmasters.
Here, she breaks down the bubbles.
Champagne – vintage & bruts
Champagne is famously called so because of the French region in which it’s made, and the method of making Champagne, ‘Methode Champenoise’, has strict regulations. However, as the Champagne region is home to close to 20,000 growers, there are many differences between styles.
The biggest differences are Vintage versus Non-Vintage (NV) and Brut and Demi-Sec. Vintage means the year the grapes were harvested. Vintage Champagne means the grapes come from a specific year, and only quality years make it to vintage, so this makes up for a very small percentage of champagne. Non-vintage champagne contain grapes are from different years’ harvest, and is the most common type of Champagne. NV champagne is kept on lees (that is, fermented in the same bottle it is sold in) for at least 15 months, whereas Vintage Champagne has to be kept on lees for at least three years.
The taste of champagne ranges from dry to sweet – the Bruts (Brut Nature, Extra Brut and Brut) all have very little sugar added, less than 15 grams, whereas a Demi-Sec has up to 50 grams of sugar, and a Doux is on the sugary side with over 50 grams.
Try: Lanson Black Label Brut Champagne NV
Australian Sparkling Wine
The majority of sparkling wine in Australia is made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes – which are also used in Champagne making. Tasmania is fast becoming the most recognised place for premium Australian sparkling wines, mainly due to the fact it has a super cool climate (the Champagne region is one of the world’s most Northern wine regions). The flavours of good sparkling is a combination of production method and acid balance, with cool climates providing the perfect climate for retaining acid in the grapes. Top notch Tasmanian sparkling has the layered complexities of Champagne, but more underlying fruit flavours. It’s still dry and has biscuity notes, so Tassie sparkling is a great, affordable alternative to Champagne.
Try: Riversdale Estate Crux Sparkling NV
Prosecco is the national sparkling of Italy and is made from the grape of the same name –Prosecco is lighter and slightly more fruit driven than Champagne. Prosecco is mostly produced by using the Charmat method – which forces the second fermentation to happen in a large stainless steel tank prior to bottling, rather than in the bottle like the traditional méthode champenoise. A sharp rise in quality in recent years has seen Prosecco gain popularity in Australia, and some exceptional Aussie Proseccos come from Northern Victoria.
Try: Wordsmith Bed of Roses Alpine Valley Prosecco NV
Cava is the name of Spanish sparkling wines produced across the country from varied grapes and in varied styles. Cava can only be made in Spain, and only wines produced in the champenoise traditional method may be labelled Cava. Cava is normally drier than Prosecco – on a par with Champagne – but is arguably less complex. The vast majority of this Spanish sparkling is made in Catalonia.
Try: Freixenet Vintage Cava 2014
Sparkling Red Wine
Sparkling red wine is one of the most unique sparkling styles in the world, originally a French invention but now championed by Australian winemakers. Shiraz is by far the most widely made sparkling red variety, and its soft tannins are ideally suited to be enjoyed with food. The style is often made from current vintage grapes and older base wine, sometimes even including fortified base stock or decades’ old wine.
Try: Bleasdale Sparkling Shiraz