A sparkling wine by any other name just may taste as sweet (or dry, depending on your palate).
"Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!" may not, say historians, have been uttered by the French Benedictine monk Dom Pierre Perignon in 1693 in his abbey near lovely Epernay, the center of the Champagne region. But Dom Perignon is widely credited, and thanked, for developing Champagne-making techniques that are still carried out today.
Certainly one taste of the irresistible bubbly and it's easy to join the ranks of Napoleon, Mark Twain, Madame Pompadour, Oscar Wilde, and Dorothy Parker, who all famously adored Champagne. While nothing can quite compare to the taste of the French classic bubbly, there are plenty of sparkling wines worldwide that can be served--and satisfy--when budget or accessibility is in question.
Read on for a crib sheet of the best and brightest in sparkling wines. All are stars in the robust world of world-class bubblies, from the very dry (also called "brut") to the sweetest (or "doux") styles, and satisfy any palate.
The term Champagne officially refers to sparkling wines made in France's Champagne region, located north of Paris. Champagne is usually a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and the lesser Pinot Meunier grapes. "Méthode champenoise" is the traditional technique used to make Champagne its wonderful, sparkly self.
The best of the best, vintage Champagne is superior for a couple of reasons.
- It can only be dubbed "vintage" if it is solely produced from grapes grown and harvested during a deemed good year.
- They must be held in reserve of at least three years after the harvest to produce the telltale toasty, nutty flavor of a classic vintage Champagne.
- The prestigious house of Dom Perignon, for example, only produces vintage Champagnes.
NON-VINTAGE (OR N.V.) CHAMPAGNE
Fortunately, there are plenty of wonderful non-vintage (or N.V.) Champagnes on the market. N.V. Champagnes can be made from blends of grapes made from a variety of vintages. Moet & Chandon, for example, produces both vintage and N.V. styles.
When a sparkling wine is made in France but not from the required Champagne region, the bubbly is called Cremant. Examples of regions that produce fine sparkling outside of the area around Epernay include Cremant de Borgogne, Cremant de Bordeaux and Cremant d'Alsace.
Sparkling wines made outside of France but use the traditional méthode champenoise cannot use the term "champagne" to describe their bubbly. There are some traditional French Champagne houses that do produce California-based sparklings. In 1973, Moet & Chandon's Domaine Chandon, for example, became the first French-owned sparkling wine house in the U.S. Some American-owned top-notch sparklings include Calistoga, California's Schramsberg and Albuquerque, New Mexico's Gruet.
MÉTHODE CAP CLASSIQUE
This is the phrase to describe sparkling wines from South Africa that use the traditional method champenoise. But in South Africa, rather than using Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc make up South African bubbly.
This describes bubbly wines from Italy. There are plenty of regions that make their own styles. The most famous varieties are Asti from the Piedmont region and Prosecco from Veneto. These wines are not made in the French méthode champenoise but rather by a "Charmat method" invented in Italy. In this style, the secondary fermentation process (when the wine produces its carbonation) is done in huge stainless steel vats rather than in individual bottles.
Cava is Spain's version of sparkling wine and is made mostly in Catalonia, southwest of Barcelona, using the méthode champenoise.
This describes Germany's version of sparkling wines. The majority of Sekt is produced using the Italian Charmat method.
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