Sparkling Wine 101

It’s that time again…counting down the days/hours to a new year! And how to celebrate? With bubbly, of course! We’ve broken down some bubbly basics to help you understand what makes wines that sparkle so special.

What makes it sparkle?
All sparkling wine undergoes two separate fermentations (versus the singular fermentation for non-bubbly wine). During the second fermentation, additional yeast and sugar (tirage) is added into the juice. This combo results in the formation of carbon dioxide inside the bottle which creates the bubbles. The science behind how much sugar and yeast to add is just that…a science. The wrong measurements could result in a literal wine bomb! Luckily, winemakers have already done the science for you, so you don’t have to worry about any explosions.

The Main Methods
Traditional Method: Frequently referred to as “Champagne Method” or “methode champenoise,” the traditional method means that the second fermentation takes place inside the bottle.

Charmat Method: The Charmat-Martinotti method (or Charmat Method) means the second fermentation takes place in pressurized, glass-lined, stainless steel tanks. The resulting wine is then transferred to bottles.

Both methods are ultimately achieving the same goal (i.e. make the wine sparkle), although wines made using Charmat tend to be fruitier and fresher while Champagne-method wines commonly have rich aromas/flavors of toast and yeast.

The Sweet Scale
One of the most confusing things about sparkling wine is the sweetness scale. Look for these words on the label to tell you how much sweetness/residual sugar (RS) you can expect:

Brut Nature (as dry as it gets!): 0-3 g/l RS

Extra Brut: 0-6 g/l RS

Brut (Dry): 0-12 g/l RS (most common)

Extra Dry (slightly sweet or off-dry): 12-17 g/l RS

Sec/Dry (sweet) : 17-32 g/l RS

Demi-Sec: 32-50 g/l RS

Doux (super sweet): 50+ g/l RS

The Top Types
Champagne: Rich sparkling wine from the Champagne region in France. The only grapes that can be used are Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. Can be blanc or rosé. All grapes must be hand harvested. This is the only sparkling wine that can be labeled “Champagne.” Generally speaking, Champagne is the most expensive type of bubbly starting at around $30 and going upwards from there. (Champagne method…obviously)

Prosecco: Light, fruity and floral Italian sparkling wine made from the Glera grape in Veneto. This is one of the top sparklers for most brunch-goers, because the fruitiness and softness of the bubbles make it easy to mix with fruit juices for breakfast cocktails. (Charmat method)

Cava: Clean and dry sparkling wine from Spain made from Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parelleda grapes. All cava comes from the Catalonia region. Can be blanc or rosé (using the Trepat grape). They are amazing by themselves but tend to be so clean and dry that they are also a great base for cocktails. Sharper and more crisp than Prosecco. (Champagne Method)

Lambrusco: Red sparkling wine from Emilia-Romagna, Italy. Can range from super dry to sweet. Lambrusco is also the name of the grape. (Charmat method)

Crémant: French Sparkling wine that’s not from the Champagne region. Much like its French brother, Crémants are creamy, nutty, and rich. A cost effective alternative to traditional Champagne. Commonly from Alsace and the Loire Valley. (Champagne method)

Sekt: Sparkling wine from Germany. Most are Brut. Common grapes used are Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Riesling. (Champagne method)

Sparkling Rosé: Any sparkling wine that has seen some skin contact from the grapes, creating a pink tint to the juice. Can range from Brut to Sec and can be Champagne, Cava, or any of the above types. Common grapes used are Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Trepat. (Champagne or Charmat method)

Other sparkling wine from America, South Africa, Australia, etc: All have their own take on bubbles, and all fall under the blanket term “sparkling wine.” Can range from Brut to Sec. (Champagne or Charmat method)


And there you have it. The beauty of bubbly. So let the corks pop, and let’s cheers to the new year!