The main difference between sparkling wines and Champagne begins with how the carbon dioxide bubbles occur. All sparkling wines experience two fermentations: one to create wine and another to create bubbles. The price of the wine is often determined by the second fermentation. France uses Methode Champenoise (translation: "made in the method of Champagne"), which involves bottling regular wine and adding yeast and sugar to each bottle to create carbon dioxide. Time consuming and expensive, these wines will be slightly pricier. By law, all French Champagnes and Spanish Cava are required to use this traditional method. The "charmat," or tank, method involves adding yeast and sugar to a tank of "still" wine, covering it tightly, thus mimicking the traditional environment for the second fermentation.
Take a look at the bubbles next time you pour a glass of sparkling wine. Methode Champenoise will produce tinier bubbles; whereas the tank method's bubbles will be larger and also feel less fizzy on the tongue. But there is an easier way to know the difference. The label will read Methode Champenoise or "Fermented in the Bottle" if the winemaker used the traditional method. Keep in mind, however, that both methods can produce excellent sparkling wine.
Essentially, sparkling wines are just plain fun. Yes, there does seem to be something celebratory about the sound of the popping cork, the carbon dioxide gas that streams from the open bottle, and the cute bubbles that flutter in the glass. But there are more inexpensive and versatile sparklers out there now, so there's no excuse to save for a special occasion. If your boss just got fired, why not "celebrate" that? Or maybe you didn't hit a single red light on the way home. That's worth celebrating with a chilled glass of bubbly.
Seaview Brut A favorite of mine for a
couple of years, this Australian sparkler remains a great choice. Slightly sweet, yet citrusy and refreshing. $10
Roederer Estate Brut Crisp with a hint of lemons. Straightforward, simple and elegant like a strand of pearls. One of the better values out there. $20
Champagne Deutz Brut Like smelling a warm caramel apple tart baking on a winter's day. You can taste the bread and green apples in this very graceful French Champagne. $30
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Vintage Reserve 1995 Brut A near perfect Champagne experience. I can't gush enough. Raspberries dance on the tongue, yet the sip finishes clean with no lingering aftertaste. Worth absolutely every penny. $60
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