4 Tips on Finding Awesome Sparkling Wine
Most sparkling wine isn’t Champagne and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Champagne is great but it’s far from affordable. A decent entry-level bottle will run you approximately $40. While two twenties may seem reasonable for a tasty bottle of wine, it’s not exactly what most of us have in mind for our weekly Taco Tuesday wine. Fortunately, there are solutions that won’t break your bank.
Yes, you can drink fine bubbly all the time.
The solution is to look outside the small region of Champagne (a region in France), for good, decently-priced bubbles at a fraction of the cost. Many of these wines are produced with the same method as Champagne and use many of the same grape varieties. So, other than the price tag, what exactly is the difference? Here are some tips for finding a great bottle of sparkling wine with all the pizazz of Champagne.
Remember, Champagne is just one type of sparkling wine. There are lots of other high quality sparkling wines being produced all over France and the rest of the world. Here is a short list of regional names for non-French wines that are made in the traditional Champagne style:
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- Italy: Metodo Classico (not Prosecco or Lambrusco: see why)
- Spain: Cava and Espumoso
- Germany and Austria: Sekt
- South Africa: Cap Classique
- Portugal and Argentina: Espumante
- USA, Australia, Chile, etc: Traditional Method and “Méthode Champenoise”
Outside of Champagne, France has 23 other sparkling wine regions produce fantastic bubbly, so you should definitely get familiar with a few of the 23 French sparkling regional names and styles.
In Northern Spain, sparkling wine is called “Cava.” This style of Spanish bubbly offers several tiers of quality that mimic the same classification system used in Champagne. That’s particularly exciting because most Cava are available for less than $20, which is an outrageously awesome deal high quality sparklers.
- Cava: Entry-level non-vintage (NV) Cava with 9 months of aging.
- Reserva: NV Cava with 15 months of aging (identical aging to basic NV Champagne).
- Gran Reserva: A vintage dated Cava with no less than 30 months of “tirage”/aging.
Most sparkling wines improve with extended aging during Tirage (“Tear-ahj”). Tirage occurs after the second fermentation (which is when sparkling wines get bubbly) and involves resting the wine on the dead yeast particles naturally remain after fermentation has run its course. These little particles are called “lees” and they give wine a fuller body, creamier texture and subtle nutty flavors. Winemakers may extend or shorten the tirage period in order to tweak how these unique characteristics contribute to the finished wine.
- 9 month tirage: This should be a minimum and doesn’t really add a great deal of new characteristics.
- 15 month–2 year tirage: During this period, sparkling wines start to develop richer flavors.
- 3-8 year tirage The very best sparkling wines in the world use this length of extended tirage.