‘Tis the season for sparkling wine, and I don’t hear anyone complaining. Ok, so I do hear some complaints: I’m hearing that there are just too many great sparkling wine choices, and people want help sorting through the billions of available bubbles. (With 49 million bubbles per bottle, I think I may be understating the situation here.)
Any discussion of sparkling wine should begin at the beginning, in Champagne. The only wines that can truly be called Champagne come from grapes grown in the chalky soil of the region of the same name in northeastern France. These are the granddaddies of the sparkling wine world, and range in price from the affordable to the unfathomable, but the savvy shopper can pick their way through the shelves and emerge with a winner that suits their budget.
Of course Champagne is not the only source of sparkling wine out there. In fact, virtually every wine-producing region has their own sparkling wines, from Peru (yes, it’s true) to Austria.
What to Expect: Champagne BlendsChampagne is usually, but not always, a blended sparkling wine that generally includes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and occasionally Pinot Muenier. In the blend each component contributes certain characteristics: Chardonnay adds finesse and a bright elegance, Pinot Noir adds richness and depth of fruit, while small additions of Pinot Muenier add earthy complexities.
Sparkling wine from around the worldFind Great Sparkling Wine
California has made great strides towards improving the overall level of sparkling wines produced in the state since Schramsberg bottled theirs -- the state's first Methode Champenoise Chardonnay Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine way back in 1965.
Prosecco, Cava or Cremant
If you are looking for value there are several European options worth perusing from Italy, Spain, and France. All of these regions have long histories producing sparkling wines that are distinctive and delicious.
California has made great strides towards improving the overall level of sparkling wines produced in the state since Schramsberg bottled theirs -- the states first Methode Champenoise Chardonnay Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine way back in 1965.
While I still rank Schramsberg as the best domestic producer, they face increasing competition from many of their neighbors as the industry as a whole recognizes the vineyards that are best suited for the production of sparkling wines. While there are many great wines being produced in California, one producer vies for the tile of “greatest domestic sparkling wine producer” each year, and they hail from New Mexico!
Yup, that’s right. New Mexico. The mountains of New Mexico, to be precise. During a visit to the States in the early 1980’s, Chapagne producer Gilbert Gruet found the mountains of New Mexico, and felt they offered great promise from the production of Sparkling wine. In 1982 Gruet planted vineyards of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at his 4300 ft high vineyard and thus began one of America’s greatest wine success stories.
The sparkling wines of Gruet are both affordable (delightfully so) and delicious, with real class and elegance. They might not yet reach the heights of the best bottlings from producers like Schramsberg, but they do consistently best many producers' products, and at half the price. No easy feat.
If you are looking for value, there are several European options worth perusing from Italy, Spain, and France. Look to Cava from Spain for an inexpensive sparkling wine made in a fresh style. The grapes used in Cava, typically Xarello, Macabeo and Parellada (instead of the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier typically used for Method Champenoise wines) so the flavor profile of Cava is distinct from that of Champagne; the wines are zippy and fruity, if a bit sweeter than your typical Champagne.
Italy is one of the world's largest sources of sparkling wines and many are quite well known, though some are lurking just on the edge of fame. Prosecco from the Veneto is much like Cava in that the more common bottlings tend to be sweet, though Prosecco’s flavors are generally more orchard-fruit driven and perhaps ultimately simpler than Cava. I’ll be taking a more in-depth look at Prosecco and the other sparkling wines of Italy in a later article, so look for more details then.
That leaves us where we started -- in France -- though now with our eye on value. We’re looking at Cremant, as opposed to Cramant, which is a great vineyard, ironically in Champagne. Cremant sparkling wines are wines made with the Method Chapenoise process, but that come from regions outside of Champagne. Thus there are Cremant d’Alsace, Cremant de Bourgogne, and, the greatest in terms of production, Cremant du Loire. These are wines that rely on the grapes most well-suited to each region, but are always produced in the traditional style. They are a very varied and unique set of wines that need to be explored in-depth to be fully understood. In light of the limited space here let me just say that the sparkling wines from the greatest Loire producers have consistently impressed me.
So that’s a not-so-brief rundown. Actually. it’s much longer than I had intended it to be so without further ado: Here are the many sparkling wines I tasted this past month.