The ultimate guide to finding your favourite fizz
“Many people tend to think of sparkling wines or champagne as just one type of wine, but there are many differences between not just sparkling wines such as Prosecco and Cava, but even differences between Champagnes,” said Christine Ricketts, Cellar Director at direct to consumer online retailer Cellarmasters.
“Champagne has a pedigree of glamour and luxury, but Australian sparkling is becoming more renowned around the world for being a great and affordable alternative to champagne,” she said.
Here, Christine breaks down the different varieties of champagne and sparkling wines so you know what you’re asking for next time you order a glass of sparkling!
Non-Vintage (NV) Champagnes are a blend of different years’ harvest, and are required to be aged at least 15 months on lees (which means in the bottle). As NV Champers tends to be cheaper than other styles, a budget hack is to buy the best NV Champagne you can afford and store it for a year or longer. You can age NV Champagne – it will gain some toasty, honeyed complexity as it ages – but it is generally recommended to drink on release.
This is as fine as bubbles get – Vintage Champagne has to be 100% made from grapes of a specific year, and then spend a minimum of three years on lees. Vintages contain only grapes harvested during a quality year, which means Vintage Champagnes are not always produced each year. This variety represents less than 5 percent of total Champagne production, so expect to see it in the price!
Brut Nature and Brut Champagne
Brut Nature is Champagne in one of its purest forms, as no sugars have been added but there may be some residual, which is ‘natural’. When it comes to dry champagnes, Extra Brut, Brut and Extra-sec all have very little sugar added, less than 15 grams. Brut Champagne is the most popular champagne variety.
Demi-Sec Champagne and Doux
A demi-sec Champagne will contain between 33 and 50 grams of sugar. As this is on the more sugary scale, it is normally enjoyed with dessert. If you’d like it even sweeter, Doux Champagnes has a dosage level that yields more than 50 grams of residual sugar.
Rosé Champagne (non-vintage and vintage)
Rosé Champagne has had red wine juice bled back into the base wine to add colour, flavour and structure. Often priced higher in the market due to lower production and difficulty of production.
If it’s not Champagne, it’s Cremant – the other sparkling wine of France, most famously known from the Loire region. French appellation laws stipulate the same traditional production process applies to Cremant wines as to Champagne using the local varieties particular to that region. These wines tend to be dry and intense, often made in a fantastic, fresh aperitif style.
Australian Sparkling Wine
While techniques of production may vary or stray outside of the Methode Champenoise of Champagne, Australia is creating exceptional sparkling wines in both blended and single variety formats. The majority of sparkling wine in Australia is made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes from cooler climate regions. Tasmania is fast becoming the most recognised place for premium Australian sparkling wines, mainly due to the fact it has a super cool climate that is so important for premium sparkling wine.
Asti is Italy’s most well-known sweet sparkling style and is made from the Moscato grape in the region called Asti. The wine is frizzante, or lightly sparkling, rather than full blown bubbly and carries an alcohol level of 5.5% along with higher levels of sweetness. The wines often have a pink hue and are a popular desert style or aperitif. Australian winemakers are gaining ground in making this style with production across a broad range of wine regions.
Prosecco is the national Sparkling of Italy and is made from the grape of the same name (also known as Glera) – generally, lighter and slightly fruitier than Champagne. Prosecco is mostly produced by the Charmat method which results in Italy’s famed Spumante (fully sparkling) style. A sharp rise in quality in recent years has seen Prosecco gain popularity in Australia, and some exceptional Aussie Proseccos come from King Valley in Victoria.
Cava is normally drier than Prosecco – on a par with Champagne – but is arguably less complex. Cava is the name of Spanish sparkling wines produced across the country from varied grapes and in varied styles. Cava can only be produced in Spain.
Sparkling Red Wine
Sparkling red wine is one of the most unique sparkling styles in the world, originally a French invention but now championed by Australian winemakers. Shiraz is by far the most widely made sparkling red variety, and its soft tannins and forward fruit notes are ideally suited to be enjoyed with food. The style is often made from current vintage grapes and older base wine, sometimes even including fortified base stock or decades’ old wine.