Types of Sparkling Wines and Champagne
While Champagne has gained worldwide recognition as the most famous sparkling wine, not all sparkling wine is Champagne. Winemakers around the world produce an array of sparkling wine types, all with a common characteristic: bubbles.
Sparkling Wine Type Varies by Production Method
One way to classify sparkling wines is by the method used to make it. There are a number of different winemaking styles that produce different types of bubbles.
The most common methods for producing sparkling wines include:
- Méthode champenoise (traditional method), such as in Champagne, Crémant, and Cava
- Charmant method (tank method, metodo Italiano, or metodo martinotti), such as Lambrusco, Prosecco, Moscato d'Asti, or Sekt
Méthode ancestrale (pétillant-naturel, pét-nat, pétillant originel), often found in sparkling dessert wines and apéritifs
Dioise method (original dioise process) used in production of Asti Spumante
Continuous method (Russian method) used in Soviet sparkling wines
Carbonation method (soda method) used in aerated sparkling wines
Champagne is only produced in France's Champagne region in the traditional méthode champenoise. In order for a bottle to be labeled as Champagne, it must meet these two criteria. True Champagne is made only from specific grapes with the top three being the most common:
- Pinot Noir
- Pinot Meunier
- Pinot Blanc
You'll find various types of Champagne.
- Vintage Champagne is made with grapes from a single vintage.
- Non-vintage Champagne is a blend of grape vintages.
- There are various levels of how dry a Champagne is. From driest to sweetest, these are Brut, Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Extra Dry, Dry, Demi Sec, Doux.
- Champagne can also be white or rosé.
- Along with traditional Champagne blends, a Champagne may be a blanc de blancs (all Chardonnay) or blanc de noirs (all red wine grapes).
- Prestige cuvée Champagnes are a winemaker's finest Champagne.
In France, any sparkling wine made outside of the Champagne region using the méthode champenoise is called Crémant. Although the wines use the same method as Champagne, they may include different grapes. You'll find Crémant from eight different regions in France:
Crémant de Bourgogne comes from the Burgundy region. Grapes used include primarily Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, although they may also contain other grapes grown in the region, such as Gamay.
Crémant d'Alsace comes from the Alsace region near France's German border. Grapes include Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and others such as Riesling or Pinot Gris.
Crémant de Loire comes from the Loire region and includes Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc, and other grapes.
Other regions and wines include Crémant de Limoux, Crémant de Bordeaux, Crémant de Savoie, Crémant di Jura, and Crémant de Die. Grapes used will be those grown within the wine region.
Other French regions produce sparkling wines with methods other than méthode champenoise. These wines are referred to as Mousseux. You'll find these wines made from a variety of grapes from many regions throughout France.
While true Champagne comes only from France, some California winemakers are able to label their sparkling wines California Champagne due to a loophole in international wine laws that allowed wineries already using the name "Champagne" in 2006 to be grandfathered-in and still be allowed to use the term in perpetuity. Because of this, you will find some sparkling wines from California called "California Champagne."
American Sparkling Wine
You'll find many American sparkling wines that aren't labeled California Champagne. Most are called the more generic "sparkling wine." Many use the méthode champenoise, although some use different methods for their sparkling wines, such as carbonation. You can usually discover the method they use by checking the winery's website.
American sparkling wines come in virtually every style you can imagine, so you'll find similarity in labeling between vintage and non-vintage, the different levels of dryness, the types of grapes used, and the various wine styles. Outside of California, many winemakers in Oregon produce extremely good Champagne-style sparkling wines.
Spanish winemakers produce Cava, a traditional Spanish sparkling wine made using the méthode champenoise. All Cava must be produced in Catalonia. Wines produced that don't meet these criteria must be labeled "sparkling wine." Rosé cavas must be made using the saignée; they can't be made from blending. Grapes used in Cava include:
- Pinot Noir
In Germany and Austria, sparkling wines are made using different methods into the traditional sparkling wine, Sekt. Riesling is the primary grape used in German Sekt, but you may also find it with other German varietals. In Austrian Sekt, the primary grape is Grüner Veltliner with other Austrian grapes blended.
Prosecco from Italy's Valdobbiadene region is made using the Charmant method. At least 85 percent of the grapes used in Prosecco must be the white Glera grape. Prosecco tends to be much more affordable than Champagne, so it's a favorite alternative for celebrations. It ranges in dryness from Brut (<12 grams/liter residual sugar) to Dry (17-32 grams/liter of residual sugar).
Upon drinking Lambrusco for the first time, many people are surprised to discover it has bubbles. Lambrusco is a lightly sweet, sparkling red wine from Italy made using the Charmant method. The wine is fruity, fizzy, and fun.
Metodo Classico wines are Italy's sparkling wines made using the méthode champenoise. The wines are very similar to Champagne, including the grapes used and styles of production.
Moscato d'Asti is a sweet white frizzante wine made using the Charmant method. It has tiny, fizzy bubbles instead of the big bubbles you'll see in Champagne or Prosecco. It comes from the Asti region of Piedmont in Italy. It is made from the Moscato bianco grape, and it is consumed as a dessert wine.
Spumante is the Italian word for sparkling wine. Asti Spumante is a sparkling Italian wine made from Moscato grapes, which are naturally sweet. It is created using the Dioise method, and it has full bubbles like Prosecco instead of small fizzy bubbles like Moscato d'Asti. It's also higher in alcohol and not as sweet as Moscato d'Asti.
Other Types of Sparkling Wine
Many other countries produce their own versions of sparkling wine made using various methods. Some countries that produce a number of different sparkling wines include:
- New Zealand
- Portugal (Espumante)
- Hungary (Pezsgő)
- Former Soviet states (Sovetskoye Shampanskoye)
- South Africa (Méthode Cap Classique or MCC)
Raise Your Glass
Regardless of what it's called, how it's made, or where it's from, sparkling wines are the world's most popular celebratory beverage crossing countries, continents, and cultures. So go ahead and raise your glass in a toast to sparkling wine and Champagne.