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Champagne and sparkling wine

Champagne

Champagne and sparkling

Sparkling wines are made in many countries of the world, and some examples are listed below with their grape varieties. Champagne, on the other hand, may be produced only in the Champagne region of north-eastern France. Although there are various different ways of making sparkling wines, the bubbles are all created in the same way: by trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) in the wine.

As with still wine, the quality of the grapes is crucial to the quality of the finished wine. In general, the better wines are made in the same way as champagne, i.e. by what is known as the traditional method. This involves adding yeast and sugar to the still base wines to provoke a second fermentation in the closed wine bottle. Many less expensive wines are made by what is known as the tank method, whereby the second fermentation takes place in a tank before the wine is bottled under pressure. A third method is simply to inject CO2 into the finished wine.

The bready, yeasty smell of some champagnes and sparkling wines is due to the time the wine spends on the yeast lees (the sediment created by the dead yeast cells). The length of time spent on the lees is determined by regulations which may be national, regional or specific to an individual wine. For example, basic cava spends a minimum of nine months on the lees, champagne spends a minimum of 18 months and vintage champagne at least three years.

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Sparkling rosé and red

Although the majority of sparkling wines are white, rosé champagnes and sparkling wines are becoming more popular. Most are made by leaving the juice in contact with the skins of the red grapes long enough to extract a little colour. Exceptionally, rosé champagne may be made either in this way or by adding a small amount of red wine to the blend.

Sparkling red wines are made in various parts of the world but the most famous and serious example today is sparkling Shiraz from Australia. Red champagne is not permitted, though there is no restriction on how dark a rosé can be.

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Some specific examples

These examples focus on wines from Europe because producers in the New World are subject to far fewer restrictions in terms of where the wine can be made and the grape varieties they can use. However, in general, the better New World sparkling wines are made from the traditional champagne grape varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) and by the traditional method.

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Styles of sparkling wines

Most champagnes and sparkling wines are non-vintage. This means they usually contain wine from more than one vintage and producers are therefore able to maintain a consistent style from year to year, even if the vintage conditions vary. Vintage wines tend to be made in the best years and should show characteristics of that vintage.

Champagne and sparkling wines range from dry to sweet, and some of the words used on the label to describe this aspect of style are confusing. However, the terms (in various languages) are regulated by the EU so they are at least consistent. These are the main categories from bone dry to sweet, defined by the amount of residual sugar.

  • brut nature, naturherb, bruto natural, pas dose, dosage zero or dosaggio zero
    Sugar content is no less than 3 grams per litre (these terms may be used only for produce to which no sugar has been added after the secondary fermentation)
  • extra brut, extra herb or extra bruto
    Sugar content is between 0 and 6 grams per litre
  • brut, herb or bruto
    Sugar content is less than 15 grams per litre
  • extra dry, extra trocken or extra seco
    Sugar content is 12-20 grams per litre
  • sec, trocken, secco or asciutto, dry, etc
    Sugar content is 17-35 grams per litre
  • demi-sec, halbtrocken, abboccato, medium dry, etc
    Sugar content is 33-50 grams per litre
  • doux, mild, dolce, sweet, etc
    Sugar content is greater than 50 grams per litre

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Champagne
Region of origin: Champagne, NE France
Main grape variety or varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier

Blanc de Blancs Champagne
Region of origin: Champagne                      
Main grape variety or varieties: Chardonnay

Blanc de Noirs Champagne
Region of origin: Champagne, NE France                   
Main grape variety or varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier

Saumur                           
Region of origin: Loire, central France                   
Main grape variety or varieties: Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and some red varieties including Cabernet and Pinot Noir

Crémant de Limoux
Region of origin: Central France                   
Main grape variety or varieties: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc

Crémant d'Alsace
Region of origin: Alsace, NE France                   
Main grape variety or varieties: Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Auxerois, Chardonnay

Clairette de Die
Region of origin: Rhône, France                   
Main grape variety or varieties: Muscat, Clairette

Cava                               
Region of origin: Spain, mainly Penedès                    
Main grape variety or varieties: Xarel-lo, Parellada, Macabeo, Chardonnay

Asti Spumante
Region of origin: Asti in Piemonte, NW Italy                 
Main grape variety or varieties: Moscato

Moscato d'Asti 
Region of origin: Asti in Piemonte, NW Italy                   
Main grape variety or varieties: Moscato

Prosecco                         
Region of origin: Veneto, NE Italy                   
Main grape variety or varieties: Prosecco

Franiacorta                       
Region of origin: Lombardia, N Italy                 
Main grape variety or varieties: Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Nero

Lambrusco                       
Region of origin: Emilia-Romagna, N Italy                   
Main grape variety or varieties: Lambrusco

Sekt    
Region of origin: Germany (but may be made from still wine bought in another country)       
Main grape variety or varieties: No restrictions

Deutscher Sekt
Region of origin: Germany                       
Main grape variety or varieties: Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, etc