Sparkling Wine Guide

The Battle of the Bubblies


(Que Bruce Buffer’s voice:)

It’s Time! For the main event!

New Years Eve 2009!

Are you prepared to bring it?

Prepared for the Champ(agne)?

Well if you’re not, prepare yourself with everything you need to know about sparkling wine with this handy buyer’s guide. Where to begin? At the beginning -- or in this case, at the top, with Crème de Tete. Follow along as I break down the styles of sparkling wine, how to tell if it’s sweet or not, if it’s farmer fizz (and what farmer fizz is), and how to chill your bottle quickly.

Chilling Champagne Quickly

Caught out with a warm bottle? Here's what you do to get it chilled quickly: Grab a bucket and plant your bottle in the center, add a layer of ice around the base of the bottle and cover the ice with a few tablespoons of salt; keep repeating, alternating layers of ice and salt until the bucket is full. Now fill the bucket with cold water. The salt will drop the temperature of the water well below freezing, providing you with the rapid cooling you need. Give the bottle a few gentle spins every few minutes to help even out the cooling effects. Your bubbly should be ready to pop in 15 minutes.

Decoding Champagne and other sparkling wines

Find Champagne
So we’re starting at the top, I guess that means the finest Champagne, also know as Crème de Tete (AKA cuvée de prestige). These are wines that define a house’s style and go by proprietary names; like Cristal, Dom Perignon, and Cuvee Winston Churchill (one of my faves). Click here for more about Champagne.

Find Sparkling Wines
With so many sparkling wines available it’s not surprising that there’s a lot of confusion about the what, where, and who. If you're browsing the aisle and come upon a bottle that’s not familiar, learn more qbout it with our mini-guide to sparkling wine.

So we’re starting at the top, which means the finest Champagnes, also know as Crème de Tete, or cuvée de prestige. These are wines that define a house’s style and go by proprietary names like Cristal, Dom Perignon, and Cuvee Winston Churchill (one of my faves). These represent the pinnacle of the Champagne blender’s art and are wines that frequently benefit from -- and many times demand -- cellaring to release their potential. Right off the shelf the current release of these wines can be somewhat disappointing.

More common is a house’s non-vintage style. This is, not surprisingly, a blend of several vintages that allows a blender to combine the freshness of younger sparkling wines with the complexity contributed by older, more mature sparkling wines. The goal in making a non-vintage wine is to offer a consistent style from vintage to vintage. I am a big fan of non-vintage Champagne, but prefer to age it for several years so that it softens up and gains more depth and complexity. 3 to 5 years in the cellar is perfect for my palate.

In certain vintages the Champagne is so good, and has such a distinctive character, that it may be bottled as a vintage wine. In general these wines are a step up in quality from the basic non-vintage bottling, though there can be exceptions. As with the Crème de Tete, a vintage sparkling wine may require several years in the bottle to offer the drinkability of a non-vintage. You also have to be familiar with the style of the vintage. Great vintages come in different styles, from opulent and ripe to chiseled and structured. It’s easy to love one vintage and hate another so ask a trusted retailer if you have any questions.

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Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: gigi36
    162138 10

    I happen to like Thornton Winery's (Temecula Valley) Cuvee Rouge. It has a very smooth taste and is not too sweet.

    Dec 31, 2009 at 1:14 PM

  • Snooth User: WinePleasures
    Hand of Snooth
    210936 729

    We are ready to celebrate with Cava which is made exactly the same way as Champagne at a fraction of the cost and in our opinion best for New Year's celebration - you can easily drink a whole bottle per person if you so wish and you'll not have a hangover from added sweetened wine as we'll be celebrating with Brut Nature and not with heavy French Bruts.

    Happy New Year!

    Dec 31, 2009 at 1:19 PM

  • Snooth User: bzubee
    240848 3

    I have a report on a compnay that provides really poor service in the wine business.
    Warning ! does not deliver the products they promise or when they promise.

    I placed an order with on November 25th 2009 for 3 bottles for a christmas present for my sister and her husband delivery was set up for Decmber 23rd, 2009 Package never showed contacted them via e-mail asked what was going on no reply I called after the holiday and after being on hold for half an hour finally got a human being he apoligized and stated the company had a major problem and he had no way to tell when if ever my order would be shipped and if I wanted he could cancel my order. No offer of substitution or extra discount nothing to compensate for the lack of service from I let them know I wanted my e-mail removed from their mailing listing and I would never order anything from and I woulds also let everyone know not to order anything from

    John Zuber

    Dec 31, 2009 at 2:19 PM

  • Snooth User: thomi
    279153 11

    You forgot Franciacorta in Italy. It's a bubbly akin to many of the great Champagnes around (most of them beat the whole Moet-Chandon stuff hands down - except maybe Dom Pérignon). That's because they are produced in the same way and use mostly Chardonnay in their wines. It's easy to miss this wine though. It's only produced around Brescia (northern Italy) and as for the price, well, let's just say they are moving up to the Champagnes. But it's definitely worth a try.

    Dec 31, 2009 at 4:33 PM

  • Snooth User: wyno9
    307323 14

    You forgot Andre Extra Dry.

    Dec 31, 2009 at 4:39 PM

  • How could you speak of Italian sparkling wine without even mentioning Lambrusco!!!??? This is the most amazing and best selling sparkling red in Northern Italy. Unfortunately, It has gotten a bad rap here in the states but there are some remarkable and dry Lambrusco's that just never stop pleasing. Its a little known varietal and I'm hoping it stays that way because right now you can buy it for around $13-$15 a bottle. If you've never tried it, you should. Its the grape used in making Balsamico.

    Dec 31, 2009 at 9:09 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,944

    Lots of great, good (and lesser) sparkling wines from the New World. Check out the first two categories here:

    And nice one about the Andre, wyno9. Used to drink their Cold Duck when I was a teen... ;-)

    Dec 31, 2009 at 9:39 PM

  • Snooth User: Piccolo161
    199543 37


    Thanks for another excellent article. The content is great and I love the layout and appearance too.

    Just a couple of things that I hope will add to the discussion:

    As you said, there a growing ( sorry for the pun ) interest in ‘Grower champagnes’ these days. I think this is terrific because there are some fabulous champagnes to be found amongst these smaller producers if you know where to look and if you’re prepared to venture away from the big brands.

    The quality of these smaller producers can be so good that I think it’s a shame to call them Farmer’s Fizz - it doesn’t do them justice.

    As far as the code on the label is concerned, whilst it’s usually the case that RM identifies the smaller producers and NM means a big champagne house, there are some very small producers who are also négociants ( i.e. they buy grapes on the open market as well as growing some of their own ) and therefore they have NM, not RM on the label. These guys too sometimes make some outstanding champagnes and certainly shouldn’t be ruled out or overlooked just because they are not RM.
    For more on this take a look at

    Last but not least, I understand your comments about cellaring your champagne for a few years before you drink it, but it’s worth adding, I think, that this is only a good idea IF you have a good cellar that gives the conditions that any wine needs to age properly.

    If you don’t have a good cellar and keep your champagne in the garage, in the kitchen or under the stairs, then my advice is drink it sooner rather than later. After all, champagne has already been aged in France before being sold so it can still be enjoyed right after you buy it.

    Have a great 2010

    Jan 01, 2010 at 8:19 AM

  • Snooth User: Piccolo161
    199543 37

    Hello Gregory and all other champagne-lovers

    I've decided to move back to live in Champagne - going in a few weeks.

    If, by being on-the-spot, I can help anyone with news, views, information, tips, or just gossip from Champagne, please let me know and do come and visit me.


    Jan 03, 2010 at 11:22 AM

  • Snooth User: meyzi
    276512 1

    I love Krug grand cru, Cristal Roederer and Comte de Champagne ( I think its Tattinger)

    Jan 03, 2010 at 3:04 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,944

    Some discussion of aging champagne here:

    Jan 05, 2010 at 9:35 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,750


    Thanks for the additional information. It's much appreciated.

    Maybe we can call on you to be our resident, pun intended, expert?

    Jan 08, 2010 at 12:24 PM

  • nice

    Aug 20, 2013 at 4:30 AM

  • Snooth User: EmmaJansen
    1339600 34

    excellent one

    Sep 07, 2013 at 1:00 AM

  • outstanding

    Sep 08, 2013 at 4:17 PM

  • Snooth User: cglaw2013
    1341096 33


    Sep 11, 2013 at 4:12 AM

  • Snooth User: Avri
    1444069 22

    dont forget Varichon & Clerck from the Savoie.
    It isnt champagne but it is the next best thing

    Dec 30, 2013 at 11:16 AM

  • Snooth User: graubear
    1302791 43

    I got one bottle as present from a European friend - newer heard before about that wine. It is Montenegrin Val - natural sparkling wine, made by classical method of later fermentation in the bottle, aged at the yeast for at least one year. Well balanced, of harmonious taste and discreetly rounded smell, originating from the white grapes of the autochthonous grape varieties. Its portability and freshness will satisfy all of your senses. Montenegrin Val is produced in two categories: as extra dry and semi dry sparkling

    Jan 03, 2014 at 5:04 AM

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