Sparkling wine is any wine with carbon dioxide dissolved in it, whether it is caused by a second fermentation in the bottle, as with cava, crémant and champagne; in a second tank, like with prosecco; or by partial fermentation in the tank and partial fermentation in the bottle like those made following the ancient method. The best known sparkling wines in the world are champagne, sparkling wines made in the French region of Champagne. However, high-quality sparkling wines are also now produced in many other regions. In Spain, for example, the best known are those from the Cava Denomination of Origin, a label that protects a production method more than a production area.
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A short history of sparkling wine
Sparkling wines date back to the 17th century, when in the Champagne region, in the north of France, they started bottling the wine shortly before fermentation had finished to preserve its freshest and cleanest aromas. However, this early bottling caused fermentation to continue in the bottle and some of the carbon from fermentation remained in the wine. Many producers called this type of wine the devil's wine or cork-buster, because many of the bottles were destroyed through the pressure exerted by the gas. It was not until a few years later that the famous monk Dom Pérignon found certain ways to control this pressure: using a conical cork and holding it in place with a metal clip, using thicker glass for the bottle to stop it exploding with the pressure of the gas... Currently, sparkling wines made following the ancient method are reviving this production technique.
Sparkling wine has been associated with celebrations for many years now. It is common to break a bottle of champagne on the hull of a ship when it is launched into the sea from the shipyard. In many sports, especially motor sports, winners and those on the podium tend to spray themselves, the audience or their team with sparkling wine. However, when opening a bottle of sparkling wine, shaking the bottle and trying to make the cork pop is not a good idea, because this loses a lot of the wine and carbon dioxide. It is better to uncork by rotating the cork little by little so that as little gas as possible is lost.
Sparkling wine classification
Broadly speaking, sparkling wine can be classified by production method:
Made with the champenoise or traditional method: the method that results in the highest quality. This involves a first fermentation in the tank and a second in the bottle, giving a small integrated bubble. The longer it ages stacked (on the second fermentation sediments), the creamier the wine and the more integrated the bubble will be.
Reviving the ancient method: there are now some producers looking to recover the ancient way of making sparkling wines. This involves carrying out part of the fermentation in the tank and finishing it in the bottle to preserve part of the carbon dioxide it generates.
The Charmat or Granvas method: this also involves double fermentation, but the second fermentation takes place in tanks. With this method, the bubble is not as integrated.
And gasifying: adding carbon dioxide artificially, like when making carbonated soft drinks. Using this method, the bubbles are larger and less integrated than they are with the other methods.
They can also be classified by the residual sugar they contain: dry, off-dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet or sweet.
Sparkling wine pairing
In general, sparkling wines should be enjoyed cool, at around 5-8 ºC. A narrow glass should be used, otherwise the aromas and bubbles might be lost quickly and the wine would heat up more easily.
Sparkling wines have been associated with celebration through various marketing campaigns. However, by their nature, these wines go very well with many dishes and to save them just for special occasions misses some of their potential. For example, because they can contain different levels of residual sugar, they can be enjoyed with anything from a good meal, as an aperitif or with dessert. Dry wines or those with less residual sugars are the perfect accompaniment for starters or main courses, whether it is pasta, rice, fish or seafood. Its good acidity and bubbles perfectly cleanse the palate and the aromas will not dominate. The sweetest wines, on the other hand, are best saved for dessert.
What about you? Do you save sparkling wines for special occasions or do you enjoy them with food?