Was sparkling wine first produced in Limoux or Champagne? There is written evidence dating back to the 1500s that the monks of Saint-Hilaire Abbey near Limoux first discovered how to make sparkling wine. The English are credited with perfecting the method of second fermentation in the bottle. It’s hard to know but one this is true, the world sparkling wine.
Sparkling wine is made in a wide array of styles, from extra dry to sweet, and there are several methods of production. Additionally, there are quite a few different varietals used to make sparkling wine, however, what kind of grapes are used will be dictated by the region where the wine is produced.
How Sparkling Wine Is Made
Let’s break these key points down further.
Though there are a number of ways to create sparkling wine, the two most common methods are the traditional bottle-fermented method and the Charmat method, which takes place in a pressurized tank.
In the traditional method, a still base wine that is a blend of different vintages is created. When the first fermentation is complete a mixture of wine, sugar, and yeast is added to the bottle to create the second fermentation, called tirage. The bottle is then sealed and stored for aging. The second fermentation takes place in the bottle, creating carbon dioxide which dissolves in the wine and voilå, bubbles!
The most important facet of the traditional method is that the transformation from a still to a sparkling wine occurs entirely inside the bottle.
In the Charmat method, the base wine is fermented in a large tank. When the first fermentation is complete the sugar and yeast are added to create the second fermentation in a pressurized tank.
No matter which method is used, the yeast is removed–either by disgorging in the traditional method–or filtering, in the tank method. The sparkling wine is then topped off with a mixture called dosage which dictates the level of sugar in the wine.
A key part of the production of high-quality sparkling wines is aging on the lees, which can last anywhere from a few months to a few years. The lees are the sediment formed by the dead yeast. This is a longer and more labor-intensive process, hence, wines produced in the Méthode Champenoise are more expensive.
There are several other methods that can be used to produce sparkling wine. If you’re interested in reading about them, Wine Folly has a good article that explains them well.
So, what’s the difference between say champagne and cava, or prosecco? Are there other sparkling wine options you should know about?
Champagne, Cava, and Cremant
All three are produced in the traditional method but, only champagne can be legally labeled champagne.
Let’s begin with champagne as many important life events are often marked by opening a bottle of this delightful bubbly.
In simple terms, a wine can only be called champagne if it is produced in the Champagne AOC, and it must be made in the traditional method or Méthode Champenoise. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier are the main grapes allowed in champagne production. Champagne will usually be a blend of two or three of these grapes, but you can also find single varietal cuvée.
Laws dictate that champagne is aged a minimum of fifteen months but three years is common. The traditional method of sparkling winemaking was awarded a UNESCO heritage in Champagne in 2015.
If you love history check out Ruinart, the first recorded Champagne maker, in 1729. Ruinart is one of the top luxury brands in Champagne today. Veuve Cliquot is credited with perfecting the process of disgorgement, something they tried desperately to hide so they could keep their edge over other brands.
Cava is a Spanish sparkler made in the image of champagne. The name means cave and refers to the caves where the wine is cellared and aged. There is some question as to who to credit with the first bottles; this is often the case in the wine world. The top varietals used are Macabeo, Xarelto, Parellada, and for rosé fizz, Garnacha. Cava is primarily produced in the Catalan region of Spain although production can be found throughout the country. Cava is aged a minimum of nine months on the lees. A Cava Gran Reserva can age for up to thirty months.
Crémant is any sparkling wine made in France (except Champagne), using the traditional method. There is even Crémant d’ Luxembourg but Luxembourg is the only country (outside of France), allowed to use the term crémant on the label. Restrictions require manual harvesting, whole bunching pressing with minimal extraction, and at least nine months of lees aging.
In France crémant is made in Alsace, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Loirre, Limoux, Die, Jura, and Savoie.
My personal favorite is Crémant d’ Alsace which is usually made from Pinot Blanc but can be a blend of Auxerrois, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay, or Pinot Noir. A Crémant d’ Alsace Rosé must be 100% Pinot Noir grapes.
In spite of requiring the same intensity of labor as champagne, crémant is usually less than half the price and can be equally delicious. Over 50% of all crémant is made in Alsace.
For an excellent expression of Crémant d’ Alsace look to Dopff au Moulin in Riquewihr. Dopff is credited with being the first to produce sparkling wine in Alsace using the traditional method. Thank you very much!
Traditional Method Italian Sparkling
Trentodoc is another Italian region producing sparkling wine in the traditional method or Metodo Classico. Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Bianco are the main grapes used in this region. Aging on the lees is required for a minimum of 15 months. This region is a true under-the-radar gem and amazing value.
The artisan character of Trentodoc bubbly can be attributed to a strong winemaking tradition, strict requirements, how the fruit is picked, and the challenges posed by growing vines at up to 2952 ft in the mountains. This results in small-batch pressings and hand harvests. Moreover, vineyards only make up 2% of the Trentino land, making the volume and notoriety of Trentodoc wine all the more impressive.
Trentodoc bubbly, as we know it today was born in 1902, when Giulio Ferrari started making traditional method sparkling wine in the Italian Dolomites. In 1906, Ferrari won a gold medal at the International World’s Fair in Milan; this is often credited with putting Italian Metodo Classico, on the map.
In 1993, Trento DOC officially became Italy’s first sparkling wine DOC and 14 years later, in 2007, Trentodoc as we know it today, was established as a brand to strengthen and support the image of Trento DOC sparkling wines.
Franciacorta is a region in Northern Italy between the town of Brescia and Lake Iseo. There are several varietals allowed in the production of Franciacorta but the key grapes are Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, Pinot Blanc, and Erbamat. Aging on the lees depends on the style, but for non-vintage, a minimum of 18 months is required. Franciacorta is pricey compared to other traditional method sparkling wines, except for Champagne.
Prosecco is Italy’s best known sparkling wine and one of its most popular exports. Made in the tank method, the grapes must be grown in the Veneto and Friuli- Giulia regions. The varietal, which used to be called Prosecco, is now called Glera. Production must be 85% Glera by law. Other grape varieties that are allowed in prosecco are Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and local varietals Bianchetta, Perera, and Verdiso.
Similar to Champagne, the grapes must be grown in the Prosecco DOC to use the name Prosecco on the label. Prosecco is light and fruity in most cases and should be drunk young. For the best result, chose a dry or extra-dry style.
Lambrusco is a family of native Italian grape varietals from which Lambrusco wine is made. Typically sweet or semi-sweet, Lambrusco has suffered from a less than stellar reputation. However, that means you can get some good deals on more modern bottlings of excellent quality DRY Lambrusco. There are over 60 related varieties of Lambrusco but only a few that are used in making good quality wines. Interestingly, there are some Lambrusco producers now making it in the traditional method.
Lambrusco is produced in Emilia-Romagna, home to many popular and delicious Italian foods like Parmesan Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, and balsamic vinegar from Modena. Pair a good Lambrusco with any of these foods and you’ll discover why Lambrusco is one of the best values available in Italian wine. And your tastebuds will thank you.