Many think that all bubbly wines are Champagne, but they are not.
All bubbly wines are sparkling wines, but not all sparkling wines are Champagne. Champagne is delicious but it can be very pricey and there are other tasty bubbly alternatives that are not quite so pricey. Let’s explore!
First, it is important to learn where the bubbles come from. Sparkling wine is made by taking the simple formula for fermentation. This process uses sugar plus yeast converts to alcohol and carbon dioxide without letting gas escape. This secondary fermentation occurs in a closed or sealed environment. Carbon dioxide returns into the wine, only to be released in the form of tiny bubbles after opening. However, some less expensive sparkling wines are just regular wines that do not undergo secondary fermentation.. These are just directly injected with carbon dioxide.
There are several reasons why genuine Champagne is so pricey.
For one, laws require that it can only originate from the relatively small and world famous Champagne region of France, creating high demand. Champagne can only be made with chardonnay, pinot noir and the pinot meunier grapes and must go through a process called the Champenoise Tradition Method. This process has strict regulations that require the wine undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle for at least 15 months. This means that the Champagne is kept in the bottle with the sediment that is formed. Bottles are gradually turned and inverted to remove the sediments. This process is extremely tedious but it allows the wine to ferment under high pressure. This creates the fine, persistent and sharp bubbles that make Champagne famous.
Allowing the wine to stay in contact with the yeast sediments also creates its distinct toasty, biscuity flavor. Most Champagne is intensely dry with high acidity. Thus, it pairs wonderfully with shellfish, raw bar, pickled vegetables and fried appetizers.
But onto some more affordable alternatives:
Prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine from the Veneto region in the northeastern part of Italy. It is produced from the prosecco or glera grape. It also undergoes a secondary fermentation to capture the carbon dioxide and produce bubbles, but with Prosecco it takes place in large stainless steel tanks with less pressure.
Therefore Prosecco bubbles are lighter, frothy and spritzy with less persistence. It tends to have more fruit and flower aromas, which are a product of the grape, and is a very forgiving and food-friendly wine that pairs well with stuffed mushrooms, creamy sauces, almonds, seafood, fried fare and spicy Asian entrees.
Cava is another delicious less pricey sparkling alternative from Spain. Like Champagne, it is produced using the Champenoise Traditional Method, making it the most Champagne-like sparkling wine outside of France. But unlike Champagne there is more leeway regarding the types of grapes that can be used and the regions from which it can be produced. Cava bubbles are similar to Champagne, but the flavor is fruitier and more aromatic.
Most people assume sparkling wines are only for special occasions, but as you just learned they can be affordable and pair very well with foods. So next time you dine out, don’t be afraid to add some bubbles to your meal.
By Georgene Mortimer, Island Winery
The perfect bottle of wine awaits at Island Winery on Cardinal Road. Store and tasting hours are Monday-Saturday from 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information, call 843-842-3141 or go to www.islandwinery.com.