12 Feb

 Champagne is seen by many as the premium sparkling wine. However, there are many other alternatives available from most wine producing countries throughout the world. 

Champagne is often used to describe any sparkling wine, however, Champagne can only be produced from the specific region in northern France. It is wine produced with a second fermentation in-bottle, a very hands-on technique which is one of the reasons it is usually so expensive.

The Traditional Method

It starts with a still wine with the first fermentation in stainless steel tanks. After the first fermentation is complete, the wine is then bottled and a little yeast and sugar added. The bottle is sealed with a crown cap (the kind of top you might find on a beer bottle) and laid on its side – sur latte. The bottle will then be left for for several months to mature before the wine is disgorged and topped up with a little wine and often some sugar known as the liqueur d’expedition. 

Finally, the wine is corked, capped and the wire cage Champagne is so well know for added. It is this second fermentation which produces the sparkle – CO2 – plus a little extra alcohol. 

This method of production is often known as the Champagne Method but now more correctly known as the Traditional Method. Many other countries and regions of France use a similar method of production but only those sparkling wines produced in the the Champagne region can bear the name. 

France produces other Traditional Method sparkling wines, generally at lower prices, often as good quality. These sparkling wines are known as Crémant and include Crémant d’Alsace, Crémant de Loire, Crémant de Bourgogne (Burgundy), Crémant de Bordeaux and Crémant de Limoux (Languedoc).

English and Welsh sparkling wine is now produced using the traditional method. the chalk soils in the South of England are the same as those in the Champagne region. Although some argue that English wines are very expensive we find that the quality levels are every bit as good whilst production is much lower than the larger Champagne houses, providing a more exclusive product with similar if not lower prices than well known Champange brands such as Möet & Chandon or Veuve Clicquot. 

Franciacorta in northwest Italy also produces excellent Traditional Method wines using the Champagne trilogy of grapes and are a very good alternative. Another much underrated sparkling wine is Cava in Spain.In fact a Cava in 2023 won the Drinks Business – Sparkling Masters - best sparkling wine in the world – judged by several Masters of Wine and other wine experts and professionals. Not cheap at £75 per bottle but is up there with the best premium Champagnes which can often top £250 per bottle. 

Most other countries of the world will produce good quality traditional sparkling wines including California, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. 

The Tank Method

The other main method of sparkling wine production is known as the  Charmat or Tank method – best known for production of Prosecco in the Veneto region of north east Italy around the town of Treviso near Venice. The Charmat method produces the bubbles – the second fermentation - in large tanks resulting in slightly softer bubbles than Champagne or other traditional sparklers and generally with a little more residual sugar. This sparkling wine is a little easier to drink on its own but also cheaper to produce without the need to disgorge individual bottles and recork, thus it’s huge increase in popularity in recent years. Two main styles of Prosecco are produced – DOC and the slightly more expensive and higher quality DOCG Prosecco from the mountainous central region between the villages of Valdobbiadene and Conegliano. You can find out more here.

So whatever your choice of sparkling wine, remember two things. Firstly, fizz is wine – and not just for celebration – although celebrations are always a good excuse to open a bottle – but sparkling wine can be drunk at any time. Many will go very well with food, especially drier Traditional Method samples. 

And secondly, you don’t need a flute to drink fizz – a tulip-shaped wine glass works well too. 

So Cheers – Santé, Cin Cin, Salud, Skål, Prost, Saúde, Kia Ora, Yamas, Şerefe, Gānbēi, Kanpai, Na Zdrowie, Fenékig, Na Zdorov’ya, Gesondheid, Noroc, L’chaim, Kenadz, Pro, Lechyd Da, Slàinte/Sláinte – Bottoms-Up and enjoy!

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