This post would probably have been better before Christmas and New Year’s, since sparkling wines have their peak sales then, but I’m on board the all-year-bubbly train, so I’m writing it now. There isn’t a whole lot of sparkling wine in Walla Walla, because most wineries don’t own the equipment needed to make sparkling wines. Castillo de Feliciana and Isenhower Cellars are the two local wineries that make a limited release sparkling wine, and Treveri Cellars in Yakima, WA is a well-known sparkling wine house in the state. Maybe I can blame it on the lack of local bubbly, but for the longest time, I was a part of the champagne-at-NYE-only crowd; champagne labels confused me (“sec”, “demi-sec”, “brut”- mystifying!), and most of the people I knew were drinking bottom-shelf Andre’s, which was clearly not quality sparkling material, even to my untrained palate. But slowly, I’ve been coming out of my still-wine shell and discovering lots of great and inexpensive bubbly wines!
The very first thing I want to clear up is all the terminology that comes along with sparkling wine. When I learned myself a little bit about the terms, I found it a lot easier to pick out a sparkling wine from the many choices. Here’s a little glossary of words I’m glad I know:
methode champenoise/methode traditionelle: If one of these phrases appears on the label, this wine was made in the style traditionally used in the Champagne region of France; the wine goes through a secondary fermentation in the bottle, creating bubbles. This is the most expensive method of making sparkling wine. Champagne (sparkling wine made in the Champagne region) and Cava (sparkling wine made in Spain) are fermented with this method.
charmat: This is a different method of creating sparkling wine; the wine goes through secondary fermentation in a tank, creating bubbles, and is then transferred into bottles. This method is less expensive, but can produce some really great value sparkling wines. Many proseccos are done in this method, as well as a lot of the value priced sparkling wines all over the world.
Champagne: Sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France, typically out of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.
Cava: Sparkling wine made in Spain, typically out of Xarello, Macabeo, and Parellada.
Prosecco: Sparkling wine made from the prosecco grape in Italy.
Cremant: A sparkling wine from a specific region and specific grapes in France; for instance, “Cremant de Limoux”, which is made with Mauzac grapes in the Limoux region, or “Cremant de la Loire” , which is mainly Cab Franc or Chenin Blanc from the Loire region. These wines are highly regulated: only 7 Cremants are recognized in France.
The next most confusing thing about sparkling wine is, for me, the sweetness level. From driest to sweetest, it goes:
Extra Brut/Brut Nature
I personally prefer Brut sparkling wines; I like a little bit of sweetness to round it out, but not enough to be a sweet wine. Many people will say they like only the driest, but I’m willing to bet that Extra Brut/Brut Nature, with no sugar at all, is a little too tart for many palates.
What to eat with sparkling wines? Depends on the sugar levels! The driest sparkling wines will be light and lean, with great acidity: perfect with spicy foods or creamy sauces. Seafood fettucine alfredo, coconut milk curry, or brie would be great with these sparklers. Brut or Sec would be great with some cheeses as an aperitif, or some light finger foods like crostini with an olive tapenade. The sweet sparkling wines go really well with dessert; sweet foods will make dry wines taste sour, so pour some demi-sec bubbly to go with cake or strawberries and cream!
Now we can all go peruse our local sparkling wine shelf at the grocery store and come back with a better idea of what we’re getting ourselves into!