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Sparkling Wine & Champagne 

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Your Guide to Buying Sparkling Wine and Champagne

What is the Difference Between Sparkling Wine and Champagne?

The distinction between sparkling wine and Champagne primarily hinges on their origin, production methods, and grapes used. Champagne exclusively originates from the Champagne region in France and adheres to specific grape varieties like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Its production follows the traditional method, involving a secondary fermentation in the bottle, which naturally creates carbonation. In contrast, sparkling wines encompass a broader category, produced globally with various grapes and methods such as the Charmat or transfer methods. Champagne's prestige and higher cost often stem from its historical significance, stringent regulations, and unique traditional production techniques, setting it apart from other sparkling wines worldwide.

Which Sparkling Wine/Champagne is Sweet?

Sparkling wines and Champagnes can range from very dry to quite sweet. Here are a few types that tend to be on the sweeter side:

  • Demi-Sec: This term, meaning "half-dry," denotes a slightly sweet style of Champagne or sparkling wine. It contains more residual sugar than the drier styles and offers a noticeable sweetness on the palate.

  • Sec: Sec Champagne or sparkling wine is slightly sweeter than Brut, but not as sweet as Demi-Sec. It's less commonly found nowadays but still exists, offering a moderate level of sweetness.

  • Asti: Asti is a sparkling wine from Italy made from Moscato grapes. It's known for its sweetness, often a semi-sweet to sweet wine with pronounced fruity flavours.

  • Brachetto d'Acqui: Another Italian sparkling wine, Brachetto d'Acqui, tends to be sweeter, with red berry flavours and a noticeable sweetness on the palate.

  • Doux: This is the sweetest style of Champagne or sparkling wine. However, it's relatively rare and less common than the drier styles.

When choosing a sweeter sparkling wine or Champagne, look for terms like Demi-Sec, Sec, or explore specific varieties like Asti or Brachetto d'Acqui. These are more likely to provide the sweetness you're seeking.

Low/No Alcohol Sparkling Wines/Champagnes

If you’re looking for a low or no-alcohol sparkling wine or Champagne, there are a few options available. Some of the most popular low/no alcohol sparkling wines include Giesen 0% Sparkling Brut, Plus & Minus Australia, Tread Softly Australia Blanc de Blanc, and NON with their alternative flavours. 

Best Occasions for Sparkling Wine/Champagne

Sparkling wines and Champagnes are often associated with celebrations and special occasions. However, their wide range of styles and flavours makes them suitable for any event. A sweet Asti or Moscato can be great for a casual brunch or picnic, while a sophisticated Brut Champagne might be the perfect choice for a formal dinner or a wedding toast.

How to Properly Store and Serve Sparkling Wine/Champagne

Storing and serving sparkling wine or Champagne is pivotal in preserving its flavour, effervescence, and overall quality. Storage conditions play a vital role: maintain a consistent, cool temperature between 45-55°F (7-13°C) in a dark place, shielding the bottles from direct sunlight and abrupt temperature shifts. Storing them horizontally helps keep the cork moist, preventing air from seeping in, while minimizing vibrations safeguards against disturbing any sediment.

When it comes to serving, chilling the bottle is important. A few hours in the refrigerator or approximately 30 minutes in an ice bucket should bring it to the ideal temperature. To open, handle the bottle at an angle and gently twist the cork while applying slight pressure, ensuring a soft release rather than a loud pop to maintain effervescence. Choosing the right glassware, such as flutes or tulip-shaped glasses, aids in preserving bubbles and concentrating aromas while pouring slowly and at an angle into the glass helps retain carbonation. Serve immediately after opening to appreciate the wine fully, or if saving some for later, reseal the bottle with a Champagne stopper and store it in the refrigerator for optimal taste within the next day. These steps ensure that each sparkling wine or Champagne pour delivers a delightful and propper experience.

Understanding Dryness in Sparkling Wine/Champagne

The term "dryness" in wine refers to the level of residual sugar present after fermentation, despite its name suggesting the absence of sweetness. In the context of sparkling wine and Champagne, various terms are used to describe the level of dryness or sweetness:

  • Brut: This is the most common style, typically denoting a dry sparkling wine or Champagne. Despite its dryness, it might still hint of sweetness due to a small amount of residual sugar (usually less than 12 grams per litre).

  • Extra Brut: Even drier than Brut, Extra Brut contains minimal residual sugar (less than 6 grams per litre), making it exceptionally dry on the palate.

  • Brut Nature/Zero Dosage: This style is bone-dry, containing no added sugar after disgorgement, resulting in a crisp, very dry taste with no perceptible sweetness.

  • Extra Dry: Contrary to its name, Extra Dry sparkling wines or Champagnes are actually slightly sweeter than Brut, with a higher residual sugar content (between 12-17 grams per litre).

  • Demi-Sec: This style is noticeably sweeter, containing a higher level of residual sugar (around 32-50 grams per litre), offering a perceptible sweetness on the palate.

Understanding these terms helps choose a sparkling wine or Champagne that aligns with personal taste preferences. For those who prefer drier wines, Brut or Extra Brut styles would be more suitable, while individuals favouring sweeter profiles might opt for Extra Dry or Demi-Sec variations.

Sparkling Wines/Champagnes with Least Sugar

Finding sparkling wines or Champagnes with the least sugar typically involves looking for styles labelled as "Brut Nature," "Brut Zero," or "Extra Brut." These styles usually contain minimal residual sugar, making them among the driest options available. Here are a few specific recommendations known for their low sugar content:

Food Pairing with Sparkling Wines/Champagnes

When it comes to food pairing, sparkling wines and Champagnes boast a wide range of compatibility. Their effervescence and acidity make them a fitting companion to a variety of dishes. For instance, Brut Champagne pairs remarkably well with seafood, particularly oysters and caviar. Sweeter sparkling wines like Moscato are an excellent match for desserts such as fruit tarts and creamy pastries. Meanwhile, drier sparkling wines like Cava or Prosecco can be paired with lighter fare like salads or chicken dishes. Enjoying these wines with food enhances the dining experience and brings out the nuanced flavours of the wine.

Understanding the Quality and Price Range of Sparkling Wines/Champagnes

When it comes to quality and price range, sparkling wines and champagnes can significantly differ. Lower-priced sparkling wines, such as Prosecco or Cava, still offer delightful flavours and effervescence. They are perfect for casual occasions or for mixing in cocktails. Mid-range champagnes, like those from smaller houses or lesser-known regions, provide an excellent balance of quality and affordability, making them suitable for both casual and special occasions. Premium champagnes, like those from renowned houses in Champagne, France, offer unparalleled complexity and depth of flavour. These are typically enjoyed on their own to fully appreciate their exquisite taste and craftsmanship. Regardless of the price, there's a sparkling wine or champagne for every palate and occasion.

How Sparkling Wine/Champagne is Made

Making sparkling wine involves a meticulous process known as the Traditional Method or méthode champenoise. It begins with fermenting grape juice into base wine and blending different batches to achieve the desired flavour profile. The blended wine is then bottled with yeast and sugar to undergo secondary fermentation inside the bottle, generating carbon dioxide bubbles. As the wine ages on its lees, it gains complexity and richness. Riddling consolidates the lees in the bottleneck, and disgorging removes the frozen lees plug, leaving clear wine. A dosage of wine and sugar is added to adjust sweetness, and the bottle is corked, preserving the effervescence until consumption. This intricate process, involving ageing, riddling, and disgorging, creates the signature bubbles and complex flavours of high-quality sparkling wines and Champagnes.

While the Traditional Method is predominant, alternative methods create sparkling wine. One such method is the Charmat Method (or tank method), where secondary fermentation occurs in large pressurized tanks instead of individual bottles. This process is quicker and less costly but might result in a different flavour profile. Another approach is the carbonation injection method, where carbon dioxide is directly injected into still wine to create bubbles, similar to how carbonated soft drinks are made. These methods offer different efficiencies and flavour characteristics, but the Traditional Method remains the hallmark of the most prestigious sparkling wines and Champagnes, prized for their complexity and effervescence achieved through careful ageing and meticulous processes.

Exploring different types of Sparkling Wine

The world of sparkling wine is incredibly diverse, offering a wide range of varieties beyond Champagne. Here are some notable types of sparkling wines from various regions:

  • Prosecco: Hailing from Italy, Prosecco is made primarily from Glera grapes. It's known for its light, fruity, and floral characteristics, often with notes of apple, pear, and citrus. Prosecco tends to be slightly sweeter compared to Champagne and is commonly used in cocktails like Bellinis.

  • Cava: Originating from Spain, Cava is crafted using indigenous grapes such as Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel·lo. It typically exhibits a dry profile with citrus and nutty flavors, made using the Traditional Method like Champagne.

  • Crémant: This term encompasses various sparkling wines from different French regions outside of Champagne. Varieties like Crémant d'Alsace, Crémant de Bourgogne, and others are made using traditional methods with their regional grape varieties, offering diverse flavors and profiles.

  • Franciacorta: Another Italian sparkling wine crafted in the Lombardy region using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc grapes. Franciacorta tends to be more akin to Champagne in terms of production method and flavor profile, often with a fine and persistent perlage.

  • Sekt: Sekt is the German version of sparkling wine, made predominantly from Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, or other German grape varieties. It can range from dry to sweet and is produced using various methods, including the Traditional Method.

  • English Sparkling Wine: England has gained recognition for its quality sparkling wines, often made with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes. The cool climate contributes to wines with crisp acidity and delicate flavours reminiscent of Champagne.

These varieties showcase the diverse flavours, grape varietals, and production techniques found in sparkling wine. Each type offers unique characteristics, making them suitable for various occasions and preferences, from crisp and dry to fruity and aromatic profiles.

Best Australian Sparkling Wine

Australia produces exceptional sparkling wines across various regions. Several standout Australian sparkling wines have gained international acclaim for their quality and distinct flavours. Here are a few renowned Australian sparkling wines:

  • Jansz Tasmania: Located in Tasmania, Jansz is celebrated for its méthode champenoise sparkling wines. They produce a range of sparkling wines, including their Jansz Premium Cuvée, showcasing elegance and finesse with citrus notes and creamy textures.

  • Arras by House of Arras: House of Arras crafts premium sparkling wines in Tasmania. Their Arras range includes various expressions like Grand Vintage and Blanc de Blancs, known for their complexity, richness, and exceptional quality.

  • Croser by Petaluma: Produced in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia, Croser sparkling wines, particularly their Croser Vintage, offer a combination of vibrant fruitiness, refined acidity, and a persistent mousse.

  • Deviation Road: This boutique winery in the Adelaide Hills focuses on méthode traditionnelle sparkling wines. Their wines, such as the Beltana Blanc de Blancs, exhibit depth, elegance, and vibrant flavours.

  • Seppelt Salinger: Seppelt, from the Grampians region in Victoria, produces the Salinger range, offering vibrant and well-balanced sparkling wines with a focus on freshness and fruitiness.

These Australian sparkling wines showcase the diversity and quality of the country's winemaking. Each region offers unique expressions from Tasmania to South Australia, often made using traditional methods, reflecting the terroir and skilled craftsmanship of Australian winemakers.

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