Wiens on Wine - Sparkling Wine (Part 5 – Wrapping Up)
Posted on October 6, 2023
This post originally appeared in our Wine Line email newsletter. Stan was kind enough to let us post it on our blog as well. Thanks, Stan!
Learn alongside Stan as he completes WSET Level 4.
Days to Final Exam: 314
This week’s focus: Sparkling Wine (Part 5 – Wrapping Up)
Let me start with my conclusion, wax eloquent and then prepare for the next series which will be on fortified wines (Port, Sherry, etc.).
The bottom line is being able to purchase sparkling wine confidently for any occasion. I think this category of wine, even though it is the fastest-growing category worldwide, could and should be growing faster! Why? Being a lover of red wine, I have expanded my appreciation for how well sparkling wine pairs with food, refreshes the palate and has an incredible variety of styles to fit any and every occasion. Therefore, sparkling wine IS for special occasions AND for any occasion! So let’s tie up some loose ends.
This five-part series on sparkling wine provides a glimpse into how fascinating and detailed this beautiful category can be. Key foundations to your understanding: methods used to make sparkling wine; comfort with reading the label; and navigating some of the key regions for sparkling wine around the world. With this knowledge, you are well on your way to being able to choose and enjoy sparkling wine for the patio, dinner, and special occasions.
We have covered Champagne and Italy in detail but it would be helpful to know that every wine region produces some form of sparkling wine. I will briefly comment on Crémant and Cava but be aware of key sparkling wine regions of Germany (called Sekt, Deutscher Sekt etc.), England, the USA and South Africa (called Cap Classique for traditional method wines).
Crémant is a term used to identify traditional method sparkling wine from France, outside of the specific region of Champagne. In France, there are eight key regions of which three completely dominate: Crémant de Alsace, Crémant de Bourgogne (Burgundy), and Crémant de Loire. Crémant typically is: whole bunch pressed; hand-harvested; nine months lees aging (the extended time the wine spends aging on the yeast cells which have died during fermentation, giving a brioche, biscuit aroma); 13% ABV maximum; typically uses the grape variety the region is known for; and a minimum four atmospheres of pressure (remember the difference between frizzante and spumante?). So if you love Chenin Blanc as a still white wine variety, try a Crémant de Loire, as it will likely use this same variety.
Cava is a term used to identify traditional method sparkling wine from the northeast region of Spain, known as Cataluña (Rioja and Valencia also produce some Cava). Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada are the common local grape varieties but many other white and black (for Rosado) grape varieties are used. Cava de Guarda is a term used for “young Cava”, aged 9 months on the lees and therefore less expensive and fruity. Cava de Guarda Superior includes several categories with lees aging ranging from 15 – 30 months or more and therefore more expensive with more brioche characteristics.
A few examples to use in making a good purchase (all Italian and vastly different):
You see a bottle of Prosecco DOC, you know that this has been made by the tank method, has minimal aging and will have big, bold carbonation, with a simple, yet refreshing taste to the palate. These wines are typically inexpensive.
Next to this bottle, you see a Prosecco DOCG Valdobbiadene Superiore, Rive di Colbertaldo. Because you can read the label, you know two things: it is from a high-quality region, and more specifically, the vineyard is labelled on the bottle. Both indicate quality. These wines are typically mid-priced and worth it!
You see a bottle of Franciacorta, you know that this has been made by the traditional method and has many similarities to Champagne. This is going to be mid to premium priced.
A final note on sparkling wine. There is far more information that I have omitted than included in this series. Explore, experiment and discover why this has become a regular part of my wine-drinking experience. Lean into your wine professional at your store to help with your navigation and selection.
Homework: I often chat with customers who have never (yet) explored sparkling wine. My suggestion is to discover the beauty of this wine category by trying at least these 5 wines in a brief time span:
- Prosecco DOC
- Prosecco DOCG Valdobbiadene
- Cava Rosado aged more than 9 months
- NV (non-vintage) Champagne
Stan Wiens can be found working at our shop sporadically in between lengthy bouts of drinking wine ("studying") in order to complete Level 4 of the WSET program.
You can also find Stan on Instagram: @wiensonwine
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