Dom Perignon, a Benedictine monk frequently credited with the invention of Champagne, said “Come quickly, I am tasting stars,” after his first taste of champagne. This famous quote has become the experience that one expects from good champagnes and sparkling wines.
Champagne is a sparkling wine that is typically derived from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier grapes. While Champagne originally came from the Champagne region of France, many sparkling wines from Spain, Italy, Australia, New Zealand and the United States have gained in prominence and are considered just as good as those coming out of Champagne, France. Champagne is a sparkling wine because it has lots of bubbles, which are formed during a second fermentation process. In the first fermentation the carbon dioxide bubbles are released out of the fermentation tanks. This second fermentation takes still wine and seals in the carbon dioxide that is formed when yeast converts sugar into alcohol. The process makes millions of bubbles inside the bottle with no place to go.
Champagnes and Sparkling Wines are categorized by their sugar levels. The categories are Extra Brut, Brut, Extra dry, Sec and Demi-sec. An extra Brut Champagne will be very dry, while a demi-sec is the sweetest option, with Brut (dry), extra dry and sec lying somewhere in the middle with an off-dry to semi-sweet offering.
Now that you know a little about how it is made and the different taste levels, here’s some useful info that will help you select great sparkling wine at reasonable prices.
- Anything labelled Champagne is produced in the Champagne region of France and conforms to the appellation standard.
- The terms Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs indicate wines made solely from white grapes (Chardonnay) and black grapes (Pinot Noir and Meunier) respectively.
- Rosé Champagnes are made by allowing the wine to stay in contact with the red grape skins or by adding red wine to the sparkling wine.
- Crémant is the generic French name for sparkling wine that is made outside the Champagne region of France.
- Cava is sparkling wine that is produced in the Penedès region of Spain. It is made in the same manner as champagne but does not come from that region in France, so it known as Cava.
- Cava is categorized based on its level of dryness, and the levels are: Brut nature, Brut (extra dry), seco (dry), semiseco (medium) and Dulce (sweet).
- Cap Classique is a sparkling wine made that is made in South Africa using the traditional Champagne method.
- Asti is sparkling wine produced in the Asti region of Italy.
- Spumante is Italian sparkling wine.
- Sekt is German sparkling wine and Germany is the world’s largest per-capita consumer of sparkling wine.
Regardless of the name used or where it is made, a great sparkling wine will have you tasting stars.
My newest best friend in the sparkling area is the Louis de Sacy “Cuveé Nue” Champagne. It obviously comes from the Champagne region of France but unlike any other from that area, it is totally natural and all the fermentations are in the bottle. That’s why this pure Champagne it is called Nue, the french word for nude. The Sacy Family settled in Verzy, France in 1633. Since then, they have remained on the same property, growing prized grapes. After twelve generations of proud wine growers and wine makers, they lead the Champagne region by being the first to produce a pure sparkling wine from their select Grand Cru grapes. The bottle is elegantly nude and the taste will have you tasting shinning stars.