10 things to know about sparkling wines outside France’s Champagne region. Wines Inform Assessors comment
To be called Champagne, the grapes used to produce it must be grown in a relatively small area of northeastern France. Making matter worse, there are only certain places within the Champagne region that will support quality vineyards, so supply is an issue.
On the other side of the equation, prestige and marketing help bolster the notion that Champagne is the beverage for celebrations, but besides that, Champagne is just a wonderful, quality wine. It’s fun. It’s refreshing. It’s delicious.
Although the Champagne region’s combination of climate and soil conditions give the wine it produces unique and desirable characteristics, there are plenty of other wine regions that produce sparkling wines delivering much of which Champagne offers, but at half the price or less. They may not be Champagne, but they’re darn good bubbles.
Here are 10 things to know about some of the other more prominent sparkling wine producing regions:
Sparkling wine is made in all of France’s major wine regions, with Loire, Alsace, Burgundy and the Languedoc area of Limoux producing the best.
French sparkling wines made using the same “Méthode Traditionnelle” of secondary bottle fermentation used in Champagne often have the designation “Crémant,” which translates to “creamy” in French.
Crémant sparkling wines can use different grapes than the standard Chardonnay/Pinot Noir/Pinot Meunier used to make Champagne.
Chenin Blanc is the key grape in white Crémant de Loire sparkling wines, and Chardonnay is also used. Cabernet Franc is the key grape in the region’s rosé sparkling wines.
Only Pinot Noir is used to make rosé Crémant d’Alsace sparkling wines, but many different grapes – including Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris – are used to make white sparkling wines in the region.
Crémant de Bourgogne is made in Burgundy’s Côte Chalonnaise and uses two of Champagne’s mainstay grapes – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – to make its sparkling wines.
The “Ancestrale” method of producing sparkling wines – a precursor to “Méthode Traditionnelle” – was first used in the Limoux area of Languedoc in 1531, more than a century before sparkling wine was made in Champagne.
Crémant Limoux is made using Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and an indigenous regional grape called Mauzac.
Crémant sparkling wines generally cost anywhere from a quarter to half the price of Champagnes, but bulk sparkling wines made using the “Charmat” or closed tank method are even less expensive and some are quite good.
French sparkling wines tend to be fruitier and softer in the mouth than Champagnes, but still have the fresh acidity that allows them to pair well with foods.
Before Prosecco became king of Italian exported sparkling wines, Asti Spumante – the sweet, low-alcohol sparkling wine from the Piedmont region of Italy – was very popular.
Spumante signifies a wine is fully sparkling as opposed to “frizzante,” which means it’s only effervescent or fizzy.
Asti sparkling wines have dumped the “spumante” part of their name, mainly to differentiate it from the low-quality bulk Asti Spumante produced decades ago. Some Asti wines are frizzante while others are fully sparkling.
Asti sparkling wines are made 100 percent from Moscato Bianco grapes, the same grapes used to make Moscato d’Asti, the increasingly popular semi-sweet frizzante wine that is even lower in alcohol.
Italy produces several semi-sweet red wines that are either always frizzante or sometimes frizzante, including Brachetto, Roscato and Lambrusco.
In 2010, the Prosecco grape was renamed “Glera” and now any wine called Prosecco must contain at least 85 percent Glera, with the balance made from other grapes that grow in northeast Italy, namely Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Bianchetta Trevogiana, Perera, Pinot Noir or Chardonnay.
Most Prosecco is at least slightly sweet, but some producers do make a brut – or dry – Prosecco.
Most Italian sparkling wines are made with the Charmat method in tanks, but some of the best Italian sparkling wines are made with “metodo classico,” the same in-bottle secondary fermentation method used in Champagne.
The 149-year-old Contratto winery in Piedmont’s Alta Langa wine region was the first to make single vintage sparkling wines using “metodo classico” and still does, using only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.
The Franciacorta wine region in Lombardy and the Trento wine region also both produce high-quality sparkling wines using the “metodo classico” process.
Spain, the U.S. and the rest of the world
Virtually every wine region in the world produces sparkling wines, but many aren’t exported in large volumes, if at all.
Spanish sparkling wines called “Cava” use the same in-bottle secondary fermentation method used in Champagne and the exported brands are typically very dry and acidic.
Cava is generally made with indigenous Spanish grapes, with Macebeu being most prominent, but the classic Champagne grapes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are also used.
Because of the high acidity, Cava ages well and vintage Cava is similar to vintage Champagne in taste.
Germany is a major producer of sparkling wines called “Sekt,” most of which are made with the Charmat method. Much of Germany’s sparkling wine is made with still wine from other countries, but some producers make a better quality sparkling wine using domestic Riesling grapes.
Sparkling wine is produced in many American states, with California leading the way. Many French Champagne houses, including Moët & Chandon, Louis Roederer, Taittinger, Mumm and Piper Heidsieck have invested in California wineries that produce quality sparkling wines.
Valdivieso has been producing sparkling wines in Chile since 1879 and is the country’s leading producer. Most of its production is made with the Charmat method using Chardonnay, Semillon and Pinot Noir grapes, but its extra brut is made using the traditional in-bottle second fermentation with only Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Argentina has ramped up its sparkling wine production in recent years, and Moët Hennessey has established a Chandon winery there. Several Argentina wineries are now using the traditional method to produce high quality sparkling wines using the traditional method and selling it for prices that reflect great value.
South Africa produces many sparkling wines using a variety of grapes, but few reach the export market. One that does, Graham Beck Brut, was chosen by Michelle Obama to celebrate Barack Obama’s election as U.S. president in 2008 and was also the celebratory beverage served at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration as South African president in 1994.
South East England is a rising star in sparkling wine production where its chalky soil and climate mimic Champagne’s terroir. Using the same grapes and production methods as in Champagne, English sparkling wines have won many international awards in recent years.
Wines Inform Assessors comments:
An excellent information on the world of sparkling wine!!!!
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