Betty's Wine Musings
Sparkling Wine
Sparkling Wine

In honor of the holidays, here is a Q&A about sparkling wine. I hope the information helps your holidays sparkle!

Q: What is the difference between sparkling wine and champagne?

A: Location! The only sparkling wines that can be called Champagne are the ones that come from the French region of Champagne.

Q: What does methode champenoise mean?

A: It is a fancy way of saying that a sparkling wine is made in the exact same way that it is made in the French region of Champagne. While the French don’t let us use the term Champagne, they do let us use this term.

Q: What are Proseco and Cava?

A: Proseco is sparkling wine made in Italy. Cava is sparkling wine made in Spain.

Q: How is sparkling wine made?

A: The simplest way to think about it is to say that wine is fermented grape juice, and sparkling wine is fermented wine. Here is a quick explanation. To make wine, you throw yeast into your vat of grape juice. The yeast converts the grape juice’s sugar into alcohol. The end result is wine.

To make sparkling wine, you put your wine into a wine bottle. Before closing the bottle, you add a mixture of yeast and sugar. When you close the bottle, a secondary fermentation starts. The resulting carbon dioxide produces the bubbles. The end result is sparkling wine.

Q: Typical smells and tastes?

A: Yeast (think baked bread!), peach, apricot, apple, pear, citrus and nutty flavors.

Q: What are good food pairings?

A: Sparkling wine pairs beautifully with fried foods, sushi, spicy Asian dishes (if the sparkling wine is slightly sweet), brie and pecorino cheese, pears, and many desserts. Try sparkling wine as your main wine for a large holiday meal. You will be very pleased with the experience.

Q: Is sparkling wine age worthy?

A: Most sparkling wines should be consumed within two years.

Q: What does nonvintage mean, and why are most sparkling wines nonvintage?

A: Most sparkling wines are nonvintage, meaning that less than 95 percent of the juice comes from a single year. Sparkling wine producers have a tradition of consistency and house style. So they blend multiple vintages to achieve their desired result.

Q: Should sparkling wine be chilled?

A: Yes. The ideal serving temperature is right around 45 degrees. Be sure not to leave the wine in the refrigerator for more than a few hours. Sparkling wine is very sensitive to cold temperatures. Sadly, the beautiful tastes will diminish if the wine is refrigerated for too long.

Q: What is the driest sparkling wine?

A: Brut is the driest. Demi sec and extra dry are sweeter.

Q: Which varietals are most commonly used in sparkling wine?

A: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Q: What do you look for in a high quality sparkling wine?

A: When looking for signs of quality, look for smaller bubbles and bubbles that climb all the way to the top of your champagne flute.

Q: How do you open a sparkling wine?

A: Remove enough foil from the top of the bottle to reveal the cork, which is covered by a wire cage with a handle. Pull the cage’s handle away from the side of the cage and turn it six times. Carefully remove the cage, while keeping your thumb firmly on the top of the cork and lodging the bottom of the bottle into your rib cage area. Point the bottle away from people and breakable objects. Slowly twist the bottle (not the cork), and get ready for the cork to emerge with a small sigh. The louder the pop, the fewer bubbles you will enjoy.

Q: How do you pour sparkling wine?

A: Place your thumb into the dimple at the bottom of the bottle (known as the punt) and splay your fingers across the bottom sides of the bottle. Grasping the bottle, take a napkin and wipe the rim of the bottle, removing any natural dirt. Pour a small splash into the bottom of each glass. Then return to each glass, filling it three quarters full with sparkling wine.

I hope you have many occasions during the holidays to enjoy sparkling wine with friends and family. I encourage you to do everything in your power this holiday season to not have to repeat the famous line of John Maynard Keynes, “My only regret in life is that I did not drink more Champagne.”

Cheers to a Sparkling Holiday Season!

As an independent wine consultant with WineShop At Home, I absolutely enjoy bringing a taste of the Napa wine country home to you one sip at a time. Whether you simply love to drink wine, seek a special personalized wine gift, or are in search of a new wine jobs opportunity as a wine consultant, feel free to contact me for a truly unique wine tasting experience!

Cheers, Betty Kaufman
WineShop At Home

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  1. Thanks Betty, these are great tips for anyone looking to celebrate the holiday season with a little bubbly! I especially enjoyed your tasting of the latest offering from Wine Shop at Home; I loved the floral bouquet, and the addition of a few non-traditional varietals (Muscat, for example!) made for a surprising and very enjoyable interpretation compared to the usual sparkling wines. It was a real treat!

    I would agree with Keynes that one cannot possibly drink enough Champagne, as it truly goes witheverything!

  2. Excellent summary and distinction between Champagne and Sparkling wines. Really liked the wine you shared in our group the other day. Yummy. I had no idea the Wine Shop @ Home had become a winery. This was cool to know, too!

  3. Really enjoyed this, Betty! very educational; I learned some things I didn’t know before and will put them to use for our company party this Sunday; never did understand the difference between champagne and sparkling wine or the differences between the types of champagne. Thank you for the timely lesson!

    1. I’m so glad. You are going to wow everybody at your company party 🙂 The most important thing, though, is to have fun with sparkling wine. It is so festive and celebratory, and I think we all could use a little bit of that right now.

  4. Julianne and I love fresh Dungeness Crab with a sparkler. Off-dry even better than brut style, in my opinion. Picnic, formal dinner or anything in between – it’s fun and it works! Of course, Dungeness matches well with a zillion different wines. But by automatically “thinking of” this match we actually DO drink more sparkling wines with meals. Otherwise, it just never seems like the right time.

    One tip I have given people on opening sparklers – if you aren’t feeling confident (or if the cork is really tight), just put a towel over the whole bottle/cork and pull off the cork through the towel. Then, if it shoots out unexpectedly, it gets harmlessly trapped by the towel.

    Happy Holidays, everyone.

    1. Rob, the towel tip is a great one. Thanks.

      Have you tried sparkling wine with sushi? I haven’t yet, but I plan to the next time I go out for sushi. I keep hearing great things about the combo. I love sake, but I’m willing to try something new 🙂

  5. Betty,

    I am looking forward to a nice glass of sparkling wine at my party tonight! I really enjoyed your presentation the other day. I loved the WSAH sparkling wine.

    I also enjoyed our recent tasting. You were so much fun and vert knowledgeable.


  6. Thanks for all the information Betty. I don’t normally drink Sparkling Wines. Never have liked them much BUT the one you shared the other day was great! Everyone noticed I drank all of mine without any trouble.

    1. I think you will be liking sparkling wine in no time. It’s a matter of finding the style of sparkling wine that you like and really putting yourself in a celebratory mood as you drink it.

  7. I have not been a Sparkling Wine person, mainly because I could not find one I enjoyed. The Wine Shop at Home Sparkling Wine was really really tasty! I am really happy with all the great options Wine Shop at Home offers all wine drinkers! Thanks for sharing.

  8. Thanks so much for these tips, Betty, and I really enjoyed the tasting last week! There’s nothing that makes an occasion more festive than bubbly. We attended an open house yesterday, and I’ll admit that though I normally only enjoy one glass, then move onto wine, I really enjoyed sipping the sparkling wine, and though I expected it to pair nicely with the cheeses, was surprised at how well it complimented the beef too! Happy Holidays!!!

  9. Becky,
    Wow! What timing! I was just wondering what “brut” meant and there you were with an explanation.

    I do hope we connect in 2011 and do business together.

    Until then…

    Enjoy the holidays.

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