Dry sparkling wines are some of the most versatile beverages to drink with food: their crisp acidity and carbonated nature cuts through rich, fatty dishes; their delicate flavors sing alongside mild-flavored white fish yet these wines are still complex enough to sip with steak.
The most common dry sparkling wines you’re likely to encounter are French Champagne, Italian Prosecco, Spanish Cava or American sparkling wine. And, in more recent times, an effervescent, rustic type of wine called pét-nat, an abbreviation for the French words pétillant-naturel. Chances are, you’ve probably confused these fizzy friends at some point.
Champagne, the pricey king of sparklers, is named after a region in northeastern France. For a bubbly wine to be considered a true Champagne, is must be produced in its namesake area following specific regulations. In addition to being the fi st sparkling wine-producing region in the world to perfect the craft, Champagne is also renowned for its mineral-rich terroir (a word that encompasses all elements which impact a wine’s flavor, from soil to climate to elevation) that’s lauded for fostering sparkling wines with a unique depth of flavor.
In the beginning...
The process of making bubbly begins in the same way, no matter the desired outcome. Grapes are pressed, juice is transferred to wood or stainless steel, yeast is added, and the juice ferments into a still wine; then each individual winemaker proceeds with one of three distinct methods: Champenoise, Charmont, or Ancestral.
The most revered, and also the most timely and costly way to make bubbly wine, is the process championed by those in Champagne known as méthode Champenoise, or the traditional method. The basic idea behind naturally turning a still wine sparkling is that the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in which sugar and yeast are added. The yeast eat the sugar, popping out more alcohol and carbon dioxide. If this process takes place in a closed container, the carbon dioxide gets trapped and a bubbly wine is born. In the case of méthode Champenoise, what makes this process distinct is that the wine’s secondary fermentation takes place inside a bottle. Cava, a type of sparkling wine mostly made in northeastern Spain’s Catalonia region, follows France’s traditional method.
Prosecco, hailing from Italy's northern Veneto region and the country's most popular bubbly
wine, adheres to Charmat method. Charmat method differs from méthode Champenoise in that the wine’s secondary fermentation takes place in large, closed tanks instead of bottles. Fun fact: Proseccos tend to taste crisp, and slightly sweeter as compared to Champagnes, while cavas are drier but display less complex flavors.
And then there’s ancestral method, a bubbly winemaking practice that predates that of the Champagne region and produces those pét-nats. Ancestral method differs from méthode Champenoise in that a wine’s entire fermentation happens inside a bottle without any added yeast or sugar, and only ends once the wild yeast finish off the sugar naturally present in the grape juice, capturing carbon dioxide, which turns into bubbles. Pét-nats are often cloudy, with a funkier or earthier flavor than the creamy, rich Champagnes.