Drink up | Demystifying sparkling wine
By Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman, Wine Press Northwest
Between the bubbles, the way the bottle is opened and the special glasses, sparkling wine seems much more difficult and complicated than it really is. And what’s with calling it sparkling wine instead of Champagne? Let’s find out.
Champagne vs. sparkling wine
Champagne is a region in France where the monk Dom Perignon allegedly discovered sparkling wine. Thus, wine from that region — and no other — should be referred to as Champagne. Other regions have different names for sparkling wine. In the United States, we call it as sparkling wine.
How is it made?
There are many ways to make sparkling wine. The most famous is called “methode champenoise,” or made like those from Champagne. This means a wine is fermented twice, with the second time in the bottle. When sugar is converted to alcohol, it produces carbon dioxide, and when carbon dioxide is trapped in a bottle, it creates bubbles. We’ve really simplified this because crafting a sparkling wine the traditional way is rather complex.
Another common method is “charmat,” in which the second fermentation takes place in a tank, rather than a bottle. Most Italian sparkling wines are made this way. A third way is to inject carbon dioxide into wine. That’s how Coke and Pepsi are made.
How do you open it?
Opening a bottle of sparkling wine can be a bit tricky. If you literally pop the cork, you risk injury and, just as importantly, spilling good wine.
So first, chill the bottle well. Leaving it in the fridge for a few hours will do the trick. Before you open the wine, have a kitchen towel handy. Remove the foil covering the cork. You’ll find a wire cage that secures the cork in the bottle. Keeping a thumb on top of the cork as much as possible, remove the cage. Put the towel over the top of the bottle and put one hand on top to grip the cork through the towel. Place the other hand on the bottom of the bottle. Slowly twist the bottle while holding the cork tight. You’ll feel the cork gently coming loose before finally releasing with a whisper rather than an explosive pop.
If you want to be more adventurous, buy a machete and safety glasses at the hardware store and look up “sabrage” on the Internet.
What kind of wine glass do I need?
You can pour sparkling wine into any glass. In fact, if you use a standard white wine glass, you’ll enjoy the aromas most. Traditionally, sparkling wine is poured into a tall, thin glass called a flute. Its primary purpose is to allow the wine’s bubbles to appear more dramatic (and take longer to dissipate).
Avoid the “champagne coupe,” a bowl-shaped glass often used at weddings. You can’t swirl the wine, and the bubbles quickly vanish.
What do the labels mean?
There is a great deal of history behind how sparkling wine is made. Traditionally, it is produced from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes, but it can be made with any grape. Want a real visual treat? Try a red sparkling wine.
Here’s a quick primer for deciphering sparkling wine labels:
Blanc de blancs: This means it’s a white wine made from white grapes, such as Chardonnay.Blanc de noirs: It’s a white wine made from red (literally “black”) grapes, such as Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Often, this is a pink wine.Brut: This is a dry wine.
Extra dry: Defying reason, this actually is a sweeter sparkling wine. It’s a long story.
Spumante: This is an Italian sparkling wine.
We’ve packed a lot of info into a small space, so go put your new-found knowledge to work this holiday season and enjoy a nice glass of bubbly. Its dry approach, low alcohol and nice acidity also make it a versatile food wine.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest. For more information, go to www.winepressnw.com.