Bubbly wines are popping up all over these days, in unique styles and from a number of different regions and brands. As more Americans discover that sparkling wines are not just for special occasions and celebrations, they’re finding plenty of new options in a wide range of prices.
Not only are sparklers incredibly food-friendly, sparkling-wine-based cocktails are elegant, refreshing and easy to replicate at home.
But with so many choices and terminology, it can be confusing to select a sparkling wine. Why is there such variation in prices? What do the names mean? Why aren’t they all just called Champagne?
First off, the only sparkling wines that can be called Champagne must be produced in the Champagne region of France; that’s also why the name is typically capitalized. What’s more, Champagne is produced under regulations requiring a secondary fermentation in the bottle to create carbonation. The sweetness of Champagne (and sparkling wine in general) is measured from driest to sweetest: Extra Brut, Brut, Extra-Dry, Sec, Demi-Sec and Doux.
Grower Champagnes are produced by independent estates who make wine from their own vineyards, vs. those made by the big Champagne houses. They can be identified by RM (meaning Recoltant Manipulant) on the label.
Methode Champenoise refers to the technique of making sparkling wine with a second, controlled fermentation in a sealed bottle to develop the bubbles. Outside of France it’s referred to as méthode tranditionalle. (There is a legal loophole that allows for the name California Champagne to be used in some cases.)
It’s a more time-consuming and expensive process than other methods, which is part of the reason you can find good values in different sparklers. Here’s a look at some of the other sparkling wines styles.
Prosecco. This popular Italian sparkling wine is produced from the glera grape variety via the Charmat or tank method of making sparkling wine in a large vat rather fermentation than in bottles. As such, prosecco tends to be an economical option among different sparklers.
Cava. Produced in the Penedès region of Spain with local grapes xarel-lo, parellada and chardonnay, cava is a wallet-friendly, traditional-method alternative to Champagne with a toasty, rich style.
Crémant. Sparkling wines from French producers outside of the Champagne region are called crémants and include Crémant de Bourgogne, Alsace, Loire and Limoux, among others. These are made with the same technique as Champagne but generally use regional grape varietals.
Lambrusco. This sparkling red wine from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy has seen a resurgence in recent years.
Asti (once known as Asti Spumante) and Moscato d’Asti. These gently bubbled, or frizzante, wines from the Piedmont region of northern Italy tend to be on the sweeter side; Brachetto d’Acqui is another red Italian sparkler from the Piedmont.
Sekt. Sparkling wines from Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic are called sekt and made with native grape varieties.
Pétillant naturel. The world’s first sparkling wine, pét-nat’s production predates even that of Champagne. It’s made by the méthode ancestrale, in which wine is bottled and capped before it finishes its primary fermentation. The yeasts continue to feed off the sugars, resulting in a wine with a slight sparkle.