Champagne, with its lean, racy, high-acid character, is the obvious choice for special occasions and celebrations. But it’s by no means the only choice.
Champagne has a lot of laws that govern its production, starting with the grapes used to produce it. They are grown in the 49th parallel in France, the country’s northernmost growing region. Grapes grown, fermented and bottled in this region are legally allowed to be called champagne.
The process by which champagne achieves its sparkle is called “méthode champenoise,” a technique that introduces a labor-intensive, second fermentation in the bottle.
Winemakers throughout Europe embrace the same fermentation process to create high-caliber sparkling wines, without the privileged label. Here are some of my favorites:
French Crémants are sparkling wines produced outside of Champagne but made with the same technique. One of my favorites in this category is Crémant de Loire, made most often from Chenin Blanc grapes that grow in the Loire Valley.
Italy has lots to offer in the sparkling wine category. Most notable (and recognizable) is Prosecco, made from Glera grape. Prosecco is to Italy what Champagne is to France. The biggest difference is in the second fermentation, which occurs in the Tank (Charmat) Method, as opposed to the bottle.
Franciacorta is another high-quality Italian sparkling wine that is made similar to Champagne—in this case with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Bianco grapes. Asti is made in the tank method, like prosecco, from Mascato Bianco grapes.
Finally, Lambrusco is a red sparkling wine made from the Lambrusco grape. Each of these Italian varieties can serve as a delicious alternative to the traditional bottle of bubbly.
Spain also offers a great variety of sparkling wines from the D.O. Cava region. They are produced mostly from Macabeo, Xarel-lo, Parellada, and Chardonnay grapes. This region provides awesome alternatives to Champagne.
Germany offers Sekt, which is typically lower in alcohol and also can vary from dry to sweet, and is produced in the Tank Method like Prosecco.
There are also New World sparkling wines from the U.S.A., Australia and New Zealand. These regions offer a range of quality tiers to choose from, but without all the legal mumbo-jumbo of Champagne.
And don’t discount South Africa and the Méthode Cap Classique, or Portugal’s Espumante, particularly from the Bairrada region.
Now that you’re familiar with the wealth of sparkling wines the world has to offer, you can pass this knowledge along to your membership and use it as you update the sparkling-wine section of your wine lists.
You never know…your members just might find their new favorite sparkling wine lurking in the hillsides of Franciacorta, the riverbanks of Tasmania, or the cool climate of New Zealand.