“Bonne Année!” “Feliz Año Nuevo! “Godt Nyttår!” No matter what language you say it in, “Happy New Year” sounds even sweeter with the distinct “POP” of bubbly being opened in the background. For eons, humans have naturally associated sparkling wines with celebration, and you only need try one to understand why –nothing captures the joy of good company and good food quite like a sparkling wine. Their bright effervescence lends a bubbling airiness that’s impossible to replicate and is infectious in its joviality. We associate sparkling wines like Champagne and Prosecco with holidays and other happy occasions because that is how they make us feel: happy!
The most easily recognized genres of sparkling wine are French Champagne and Italian Prosecco, but those are actually region-specific wines and technically (with a few exceptions) can’t be made outside those regions. It’s how they’re made, as well as how they taste, that really distinguishes one bottle of bubbly from another. There are three primary methods used to produce sparkling wine: champenoise a.k.a traditionelle, ancestrale, and Charmat. All three methods start with high-acid, still base wine, and all three involve the addition of yeast and sugar to jumpstart fermentation and the formation of bubbles. From there, they diverge in three directions. Wines made using méthode traditionelle or champenoise will continue to age in their bottle until the yeasts fermenting them die off completely; at this point, they are kept at a sharp angle and regularly turned (called riddling) to move the dead yeast into the neck of the bottle. Finally, the yeast is disgorged (read: fired out of the bottle like a tiny cannon ball) and a small amount of sugar is added to the bottle before it’s corked, known as dosage. At the same time, méthode ancestrale sees the wine being fermented first in barrels and then in bottles, requiring very specific timing on the part of the winemaker. The goal is to preserve enough sugar and live yeasts that the wine is able to finish fermenting in the bottle but not so much that the bottle actually explodes; this method is the oldest of the three, and only a handful of sparkling wines are still produced this way today. Finally, Charmet is the newest of the three methods – wines are aged in a steel tank with sugars and yeast, which are eventually filtered out of the final product. This allows for large scale production of fresh-tasting, fruit-forward wines like Prosecco.
These methods are used to produce a range of different sparkling wines, each with their own unique character and flavor profiles. Because sparkling wines are usually made using a mixture of different grape varietals, they’re not categorized using the same standards as still wine; instead, they’re categorized based on where they come from, the style they were made in, and how they taste. From dry to sweet, the categories are as follows:
- Brut Nature – The driest of the categories, 3 grams of sugar or less per liter of wine.
- Extra Brut – Slightly more added sugar than Brut Nature, but still quite dry. 6 grams of sugar per liter.
- Brut – Edging towards the middle, still dry but more added sugar than Brut Nature or Extra Brut. 12 grams of sugar per liter.
- Extra Dry – True middle. Off-dry, but not sweet. 17 grams of sugar per liter.
- Dry – Also off-dry. 32 grams of sugar per liter.
- Demi-Sec – Sweet, with a decent amount of added sugar. 50 grams of sugar per liter.
- Doux – Very sweet. 100 grams of sugar per liter.
Remember the dosage we mentioned earlier? Sparkling wine is naturally very acidic, and as a result, the flavor can be quite tart and sour. To combat this, a small amount of sugar is added to mellow the flavors of the wine. How much or how little is added results in the final classification of the wine. These categories aren’t restricted to just French bubbly as well – American, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese wineries all use these categories to differentiate between their sparkling wines.
Knowing even a little bit about how your wine is made and categorized can go a really long way towards picking out the right sparkling wine for you. Which of our featured wines will you choose?
Luca Ricci “Le Fade” Prosecco
Nestled in the heart of the Prosecco hills in Italy, Luca Ricci is in the perfect location to produce world-class Proseccos. “Le Fade”, meaning “the fairies” in the local dialect, is a Prosecco that captures the essence of the land and the intention behind it. Pale yellow in color, with a luxurious froth and fine, persistent perlage. The bouquet is intense and fruity, featuring notes of Golden apple and white acacia, while the flavor is fresh and mellow. Excellently balanced depth.
Casali Amabile Pra Di Bosso Lambrusco
For over 100 years, Casali Viticultori have producing wines following one, basic guiding principle: “A fine wine is conceived on the vine and grows in the cellar.” To that end, they strive to produce wines that utilize modern technology in conjunction with ancient techniques to produce superior quality and flavor. Their Pra Di Bosso Lambrusco is no exception – the color is a glittering ruby red with a dense, purple froth, and the bouquet is floral and bold, with notes of violets and blackberries. The flavor is dry and gently tannic, will a lingering aromatic taste and full-bodied finish.
Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs
The original Sonoma Carneros sparkling wine house, Gloria Ferrer has been producing their famous sparkling wines since the 1980’s and have shown no signs of slowing down. The Ferrer legacy can be traced all the way back to Spain, where the family had been growing grapes and producing wines for centuries, and you can taste the tradition in every bottle. Their Blanc de Noir is made from predominantly their signature, hand-harvested Pinot Noir grapes, which impart a brilliant flush of pink to the wine as well as mild rosé characteristics. The aroma is bright with strawberries and black cherries as well as more subtle notes of vanilla. The cherries continue onto the palate, with complimentary notes of lemon and cola followed by a lush, persistent finish and lively bubbles.
G. H. Mumm Grand Cordon
For nearly two centuries, Maison Mumm has been making premium French Champagnes with a strong commitment to terroir and their 218-hectare, Grand Crus-status vineyards. Their Grand Cordon Champagne is signature of their house style – a terroir focused, Pinot Noir grape-driven Champagne. The Grand Cordon features exuberant bubbles and a brilliant, golden color. The aroma is redolent of stone fruit and pineapple, rounded out with warm tones of vanilla, caramel, and honey. The flavor is intense, starting with a rush of fresh fruit and caramel that mellows into a lasting, nuanced finish.
Mumm Brut Rosé
Made by G.H. Mumm’s Napa Valley estate, the Mumm Brut Rosé features a classic, eye-catching shade of coral pink with equally vivid aromas of black cherries, red berries, and citrus. They introduce soft red fruit flavors with a rich mouthfeel, all while retaining Mumm’s signature elegance and refinement. Try it in the classic Champagne Bowler.
Founded by the Korbel brothers in the 1800’s, Korbel was first a sawmill, then an orchard and farm, and then a dairy ranch before finally planting their first grapes. The resulting wine was such a hit that they abandoned their other enterprises entirely, choosing instead to focus solely on producing high-quality wines. By the 1890’s, they had produced their first California champagnes, and by the 1900’s, they had cemented the name “Korbel” into American history. The Korbel Brut is their quintessential Californian champagne – aromas of citrus and cinnamon lead into crisp flavors of orange, lime, vanilla, and subtle strawberry with a medium-dry finish. Refined and balanced, perfect for a funky Elderflower and Ginger Champagne Punch.
Louis Roederer Brut Premier
One of the last great independent Champagne houses, Maison de Louis Roederer is still going strong after almost 200 years. The Roederers anchor their wines firmly in the soil, believing that growing practices tailored to the land are key in producing great wines. Over the years, Roederer’s champagnes have graced the glasses of European royalty and heads of state all over the world, and they continue to encapsulate the essence of French champagne. Their Brut Premier features a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier for an elegant and lively wine. The flavor is fresh and youthful, with a smooth palate and complimentary vinous qualities.
Roederer Estate Brut
Produced by the California limb of Roederer’s operation, their Estate Brut is made following the same over-arching principles and dedication to perfection as any of their French wines. The flavor is crisp and elegant with complex notes of pear, spice, and hazelnut. Fresh and lightly fruity with great depth of flavor.
La Vieille Ferme Brut Rose
Established in France in the 1970’s, La Vielle Ferme was originally A France-only, mail-order wine service that shipped inexpensive, straightforward Rhone wines to French wine-lovers. In fact, their now-legendary sparkling wines weren’t actually introduced until 2018, but boy did they take off like a champagne cork! Their Brut Rosé is peak La Vielle Ferme excellence. A delicate peach core unfurls into seductive red berry characteristics with fine, exquisite bubbles.
J Cuvée 20
Located in the heart if the Russian River Valley, J wines have been creating masterful wines for over 25 years, using time-tested techniques and world-class winemaking expertise. Their Cuvée 20 opens with aromas of toasted almond, followed by Braeburn apple, dried cranberry, and ginger snaps. Delicate bubbles lead into forward notes of creamy lemon meringue pie and rounded out by a lively finish.
Santa Margherita Prosecco
Santa Margherita may have made their name with their Pinot Grigio, but there’s so much more to them than that. Named for its founder’s beloved wife, Santa Margherita is a part of Venetian revitalization project started over 80 years ago. Since then, their vineyards have expanded from Veneto to Tuscany, always producing distinctive wines with a dedication to social responsibility and environmental sustainability. Their Prosecco is made with Glera grapes in the hills of Valdobbiadene, a town synonymous with the finest Prosecco available. Delicate bubbles wind through a bright, straw yellow wine, playing off the undertones of grass green in the color. The aroma is floral with hints of peaches, while the flavor contains subtle notes of pineapple and Rennet apples. We love it in a traditional Aperol Spritz.
Located a stones-throw from Venice, Torresella has always sought to embody the notion that “excellence stems from attention to detail”. They express this in every facet of their winemaking operation, from the way they do business in their local communities to the very steps of their winemaking process. They are always seeking to innovate and push their wines into the future, all while staying grounded to the land. Their Prosecco is exemplary of their minute attention to detail – the aroma is floral and nuanced with pear and apple qualities, while the palate is soft and creamy with hints of almond. Mix it with fresh juice and fruit for an amazing Clementine Fizz.
Piper Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage
With a list of celebrity clientele that includes the one and only Marie Antoinette of France and an actual Chinese emperor, it’s no wonder that Piper Heidsieck has an international reputation for champagne excellence. For over 230 years, they’ve been pioneers in the art of champagne, producing wines built on a dedication to tradition and local community while still looking towards the future. Piper Heidsick also celebrates it’s long history in the glasses of Hollywood by regularly supporting the arts and entertainment – they’re the official champagne of the internationally renowned Cannes Film Festival and have been featured in films and even fashion campaigns since the 1930’s. Their Rosé Sauvage is one of the newest additions to their line, but it speaks to the generations of champagne that came before it. A shocking shade of deep scarlet from its predominantly Pinot Noir blend, the aroma hits you with dark berries, hints of mandarin orange, and a whiff of saffron. The flavor is deeply intense, with juicy berries easing into notes of spice and smoke on the finish.
J.P. Chenet Sparkling Brut
Known for their distinctive bottle shape, J.P. Chenet have dedicated themselves to producing wines that inspire fun and whimsy in whomever drinks them. Their signature sparkling Brut maintains a fruit aroma rich with elements of stone fruit which plays beautifully off the elegant golden color and fine bubbles. The flavor is dry and crisp, making it the perfect aperitif.
Chateau St. Jean Brut Rosé
Like a slice of France in the Sonoma County countryside, Chateau St. Jean started as a family estate and has since transformed into one of the finest wineries in California’s famous wine country. Their vineyard-designated wines are created in the firm belief that growing practices work best when the land and the vines are in harmony; as a result, their wines exemplify the true character of each varietal, and their blends highlight the diverse regionality of Sonoma County. Their Brut Rosé is a stunning shade of pale pink, with aromas of fresh berries and tart cherries. Complex flavors of tropical fruit and Meyer lemon lead the palate, with a definite acidity and minerality easing into a lingering finish.