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October 7, 2016

Bubbles, Bubbles, and More Bubbles

Photo credit: Jeremy Ball

Today I am making the drive up the coast to Avila Beach for BubblyfestBubblyfest is the definitive festival for all things sparkling! In fact it is the only dedicated sparkling wine festival in the United States (that I know of!). Thank you to Create Promotions for granting me a press pass to cover the event. Stay tuned for my bubbly-related posts both before and after I attend Bubblyfest events such as: seminars, grand tastings, and even a 1920s themed cocktail reception! Also, follow me on Twitter @SOMMspirations for an up-close look at all the Bubblyfest events! Ok, back to the juice.

One of the most oft misused wine terms is “Champagne”. Similar to how the word “Kleenex” is synonymous with tissue, in our cultural lexicon, “Champagne” is synonymous with any sparkling wine. If you are drinking a wine in which the grapes were grown in the Champagne region of France, you are in fact drinking Champagne. If the grapes were grown anywhere outside of the Champagne region, then it may not be referred to as Champagne. Well then, what is it to be called? Below is a list of different types of sparkling wines. Yes, there are more than these, but I chose to highlight the most popular styles.

*Note that I referred to Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine for some of the technical information and definitions. I affectionately refer to this book as “The Bible”. In my religion, Jancis is the patron saint of wine. Yes, I’m Jewish, but that’s besides the point.

Types of sparkling wine:

Champagne. Oh Champagne. Where do I start? As mentioned above, sparkling wine can only be called Champagne if the grapes are grown in the Champagne region of France, which includes Montagne de Reims, Cote des Blancs, Vallee de la Marne, Cote de Sezanne, and Cote des Bar. Aside from region, there are other rules that need to be adhered to in order to call it Champagne. The grapes can only be: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Also, the bubbles in the wine need to be created by the methode champenoise. This means that the second fermentation happens in the bottle in which the wine is sold. A base wine is made and bottled with an addition of sugar and yeast (liqueur de tirage). The bottle is closed with a crown cap and the second fermentation will happen in the bottle, creating bubbles…voila! There are a few other steps, but those are the basics to get you started. See my previous post entitled “How Do Bubbles Get in Bubbly?”. Champagne is a wonderful thing. It used to be served only on celebratory occasions, but now the tides are turning. See HERE for an article that NPR came out with last week. I personally prefer to imbibe Champagne when I am in the mood to pay attention. I LOVE to savor all the notes that come with Champagne including: toastiness, yeastiness, and a leesy quality.

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Cremant. It’s easier to start with what Cremant isn’t. Cremant isn’t Champagne. Cremant is the term used to describe any sparkling wine in France (outside of Champagne) that is still made in the traditional method (known as methode champenoise in Champagne). Familiar cremants include Cremant de: Bourgogne, Loire, Alsace, Jura, Limoux or Bordeaux. Grape varieties vary by region. Cremants are useful when you don’t want to spend as much on your bubbly. Many Cremants can be had for $12-$20, whereas the bulk of Champagne is over the $35-$40 mark.

Cava. Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine also made in the traditional method. Cava is predominantly made in Catalunya (though production in a few other regions is allowed). The three main grapes used are Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo, though the trend is moving towards including traditional Champagne grapes, mainly Chardonnay, much to the dismay of Cava traditionalists. Cava generally has a zesty citrus/lemon note, acidity, and a nice nuttiness. I’d describe it as a bit easier to drink than Champagne. I choose Cava when I want a less serious bubbly and when I want to save a bit of money. You can generally find Cava in the $10-$20 range.

Prosecco. Prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine made in the Veneto region. By volume, it is the most produced and consumed sparkling wine in the world. The varietal is Glera, also known as the Prosecco grape. Prosecco is made in the tank method, which means that the second fermentation (how the bubbles are created) takes place in a tank versus in a bottle. This production method is much cheaper than doing the second fermentation in the bottle. A Prosecco is going to be much fruitier than the other types of sparkling wines discussed. Prosecco is frothy, usually has some residual sugar, and has fruity and floral notes. Basically, I use Prosecco as my brunch bubbly. It’s not too serious, good with food, and goes down easy when you’re drinking at 10am! A decent Prosecco can be had for $12-$15.

Lambrusco. You might not know that you’ve had Lambrusco, but if you’ve had a chilled sparkling red wine, it probably was Lambrusco. Lambrusco is an ancient varietal grown mostly in central Italy in the Emilia-Romagna region. It is also the name of the sparkling wine made with that grape. Lambrusco was HUGE in the 70s in the US. A little brand named Riunite cornered the market and many Americans in that time period had experience with a (probably sweet) Lambrusco. Lambrusco has now grown up and it is no longer your grandma’s wine. Many producers are vinifying the wine dry or off-dry. Lambrusco has a nice food-friendly acidity, a tannic grip, and notes of berry. It pairs well with cured meats and hard cheeses. Typically, a good bottle of Lambrusco can be had for $14-$18. As a general rule, you’ll never pay more than $20 for a bottle.

Franciacorta. This one you might not have tasted, as a huge percentage of the production stays in Italy. But, if you ever get a chance to try one, I highly recommend it. Franciacorta is Italy’s answer to a high-quality sparkling wine made in the traditional method. Franciacorta is made in the Lombardia region with grapes such as: Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Gris. It usually has extensive aging on the lees (what the hell does that mean? Read HERE) and thus has a nice yeasty, toasty note as does Champagne. Prices for Franciacorta are similar to Champagne.

Sparkling Wine. Are we done yet? Almost. I’ve highlighted many types of sparkling wine from around the world. You may be thinking: what about all the bubbly made in California, or that New Zealand sparkling you tried last week? Essentially, (most) all other sparkling wine around the world is called just that: sparkling wine. No fancy name, no delimited areas, no required grapes or production methods. This includes, but is not limited to any sparkling wine made in the US, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, etc.

If you learn one thing today, it’s to learn how to order a glass of bubbly. If you’re specifically looking for say Champagne, Prosecco, or something of the like…say it! If you know that you want to drink something with effervescence, then ask if the establishment has any sparkling wine. My biggest pet peeve is if I ask if they have any sparkling wine, and they say “yeah, we have Champagne.” And pull out a Cava, or Prosecco. Or if I specifically ask for Champagne and they pull out something else. Look at it as your winely (I made that word up) duty to spread the good gospel of proper bubbly lingo!

From what I hear, there will be 70 sparkling wines available for tasting at Bubblyfest. That’s a lot of bubbles! I will definitely report back on some of my favorites. Remember to follow me on Twitter @SOMMSpirations to follow my Bubblyfest adventures! Below is an agenda of my trip:

Friday October 7

2:30pm-4:30pm Winemaker Seminar Series presented by San Francisco Wine School

Learn the origins of sparkling wine from the south of France to the south of England and eventually Champagne. Taste through Cremant and other sparkling wines from regions all around France to find out how they are different and why. Follow the evolution of global bubblies as they reached California and led to the wines of today. David Glancy will be joined by Pomar JunctionJ Vineyards, and Riverbench to taste and talk about their sparklers to wrap up the session.

6pm-8pm Corks & Cocktails

Enjoy an evening under the stars, as our popular Gatsby inspired Cocktail Party returns for another jazz filled evening by the sea! Sip from 4 unique Sparkling Wine cocktails from recipes concocted by our partner Wineries, and Sparkling Wines by the glass.  Dance the night away to the gypsy jazz stylings of The Tipsy Gypsies.

Saturday October 8

11am-noon VIP Tasting

This one-hour tasting on the ocean view terrace at Avila Beach Golf Resort’s Beach House will feature 4 highlighted wineries pouring 1 special bottle from their collection, not available at the Grand Tasting.

Noon-1pm Riedel Masterclass Glass Seminar

In a unique and fascinating wine glass tasting, Riedel Ambassador Susan Dubrow will demonstrate the relationship between the shape of a glass and our perception and enjoyment of wines.

Stay tuned for more from Bubblyfest!

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you’re looking to Up Your Wine Game and Drink Better, consider booking a private in-person or virtual wine tasting experience.
Brianne Cohen Wine Educator
Brianne Cohen is a Los Angeles-based certified sommelier, wine educator, consultant, and writer.

Brianne has educated and entertained over 10,000 people through her in-person and virtual wine tasting experiences.

Brianne holds the WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) Diploma certificate, one of the most coveted wine certifications in the world. When she’s not helping people Up Their Wine Game, she can be found judging at international wine competitions

Brianne aims to make wine approachable and conversational, to surprise and delight with unexpected wine finds, and to give people knowledge (and confidence) about wine in their everyday lives.

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