On the blogby Alfred
January 15 2019

Sparkling wines for any occasion!

by Pascale Lemieux

It is well known that the Holiday season is the part of the year where rules are forgotten and where many pleasures and sometimes impulsive buys occur. If you are like me, January is characterized by the return of the daily routine and of a stricter budget planning for the New Year. My blog this week is a love letter to the sparkling wine enthusiasts, those of you that always keep a sparkling wine bottle ready for any occasion. How can you select the best value sparkling wines? First and foremost, I will detail the different winemaking techniques that are the most notable. Then, we will navigate through a few appellation and mentions to look for on the sparkling wine labels to choose the correct product. Following this, we will explore another way to select products that match your tastes by knowing the different styles of sparkling wines and the varietals used. In conclusion, I will suggest a few products for those with more sugary palates. You will see that there are many excellent sparkling wines available for less than 30$.

Various techniques that can be used to product sparkling wine

The most known technique is the “méthode champenoise”. It is a wine to which is added, after the first fermentation in a bottle, liquor composed of sugars and yeast. After this, a second fermentation occurs in the bottle which allows the creation of foam. This results in carbonic gas and with the formation of sediments of dead yeast in the bottle that will be used for its aging on lees. Following this, additional liquor is added before the definitive bottling of the wine; this liquor serves to define the sugar levels of the sparkling wine. This technique is the longest and most expensive one, but it produces the highest quality of sparkling wines. It is important to note that if a wine is produced in the same way somewhere else than in the Champagne region, this technique is called “méthode traditionnelle”. Maturation on lies (a maturation period that brings forth complex aromas of aging to the wine) is variable and is ruled for a minimum of 12 months for the non-vintage Champagnes and for three years for vintage Champagnes. This doesn’t prevent certain winemakers from aging their sparkling wine on lees for a longer period than most of the Champagnes. It is the case, as an example, of the Domaine la Seigneurie de Liret on l’Île d’Orléans for their Nuage d’effervescence cuvee that is matured for 30 months on lees and is made with the main grape varieties of Champagne (Pinot noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier). There is also the fermentation method in closed vats known as the “méthode Charmat” which is mainly used for the wine types such as Prosecco, Spumante and Lambrusco. In contrary to the “méthode traditionnelle”, the foam creation process occurs in the sealed vat which allows the filtration/clarification of the final product. The fermentation goes on for a minimum of three weeks. This method usually produces wines that are definitely fruitier than the “méthode traditionnelle” wines and are less expensive to elaborate.

Appellations and mentions to look for

The “Prosecco” appellation is a sparkling wine produced from the Glera varietal. It is common to find Prosecco DOC, while the Prosecco DOCG Superiore is often followed by a mention of the emblematic zones of the Trevise province, which are Conegliano Valdobbiadene and Asolo.  These last mentions indicate that the grape originates from best terroirs of the region. The “Cava” appellation, is used to describe the Spanish sparkling wines elaborated with the “méthode traditionnelle”. The main grape varieties used are Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel-lo. Three main qualifications are to be remembered for this appellation depending on the aging period in the bottle: Cava (minimum 9 months), Cava Reserva (minimum 15 months) and Cava Gran Reserva (minimum 30 months). The Cavas are generally elaborated in a brut style, if you enjoy very dry wines. A mention to look for on French sparkling wines is “Crémant” before the original region of the product. This indicates a minimum of 9 months of aging and that the sparkling wine is elaborated with the “méthode traditionnelle”. There exists Crémant of Burgundy, Alsace, Limoux, Jura, Loire, etc. The Crémant of Alsace is the uncontested leader of French sparkling wines, elaborated mainly with Pinot blanc but can also include Pinot noir, Pinot gris, Riesling, Auxerrois and Chardonnay. If you like Chardonnay for its roundness, its grilled bread, butter and brioche aromas, choose the products with the “Blanc de blancs” mention. These wines are only produced with white grapes, generally the Chardonnay. If you are looking for more of a fruity experience, opt for the sparkling wines with the mention “Blanc de noirs”. The wines are produced from the white juice of black grapes, so they are generally elaborated from Pinot noir, Pinot meunier and Gamay. My favorite “Crémant de Bourgogne”, in my opinion, is the Perle d’Aurore cuvee of Louis Bouillot.

The most popular mentions used are for the residual sugar of the sparkling wines. Brut Nature (“dosage zero”, sugar levels inferior to 3g/L), Extra Brut (sugar levels from 0 to 6g/L), Brut (sugar levels inferior to 12g/L) and Demi-sec (sugar levels from 32 to 50g/L). If you are looking for naturally sweet sparkling wines, select a product within these French or Italian appellations: Clairette de Die, Bugey Cerdon (sparkling rosé wine), Prosecco, Moscato d’Asti and Lambrusco (sparkling red wine).

One of my favorite products in the category of sparkling wines at a price point below 30$; I predict that it will mystify your colleagues in your next happy hour event!

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