Last week I have had the pleasure of helping to host a Northern Italian wine tasting which included some Prosecco. Our host explained the differences between DOC, DOCG, Rive, and Cartizze, so much to learn! And last month at the Wine Festival Winchester there were a whole host of delicious English wines to taste. These included: Danebury, Exton, Hambledon, Hattingley, Furleigh, and so on.
Sparkling wine is featured at all levels of the WSET wine courses. The Level 1 introduces Champagne and Cava. On Level 2 we add Asti, Prosecco, Sekt, Crémant, Saumur and New World Fizz. Then Level 3 goes into much greater depth on these sparkling wines. It is not unusual for me to overhear ‘I don’t like Champagne’ on the sparkling wine sessions, but, as with light wines, there are many different styles of Champagne and other sparkling wine.
What makes Sparkling Wine different?
So what makes sparkling wine different, even within their own category?
Firstly, let us categorise sparkling wine into its two main styles. There are ‘fruity’ wines that are ‘fizzy.’ These include Prosecco, Asti, and Sekt. These are tank/Charmat method sparkling wine. Then we have wines that are ‘fruity’, ‘fizzy’ plus have ‘toasty/bready/biscuity’ flavours. These include many English Sparkling Wines, Champagne, Cava, and Crémant etc. The secret is in the yeast. When it runs out of food (sugar) it starts creating the taste of dough, pastry, brioche etc. So someone who really likes their sparkling wine to be a Prosecco, for example, may not be convinced by ones that have more of these additional flavours to them too.
If we want a sparkler with flavours of the bakery then we need to go for the ones where the wine has spent a lot of close contact the yeast. This is known as the ‘traditional method’ of making sparkling wine, those that have had second fermentation and maturation in bottle. So the longer the sparkling wine sits on its yeast, the greater the intensity and complexity of the wine, thereby giving a very different style of sparkling wine.
Often the traditional method sparkling wine from the New World, e.g. Yarra Valley, Marlborough, Walker Bay have a lovely expression of the grapes varieties they are made from (often Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) balancing with a delicious creamy, toastiness. Whereas the Cavas are more earthy, steely and toasty, and Champagne …
Food and Wine Pairing with your Festive Fizz
I am often asked what you should eat with sparkling wines. I have to say that they are extremely versatile. The reason they work with a range of dishes is that generally they do not lack acidity. This helps to cut through the rich dishes (gravy, cheese, oils etc.). The high acidity can also stand up to acidic dishes such as tomato-based ones. Some have some residual sugar which can take a bit of sweetness or spice in a dish. And depending on the style, many have lots of flavour so will not be overwhelmed by your dinner, or lunch, or Christmas breakfast …!
Sparkling Wine written by Erica Dent DipWSET, Enjoy Discovering Wine