guide to sparkling wine

The Beginner's Guide To Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wine isn’t just for New Years Eve! This wine is arguably the most versatile when it comes to food and drink pairings (add it to your Thanksgiving shopping list right now!) and makes any occasion feel more festive. 

But what exactly is sparkling wine? How does it differ from still wines? And are all sparkling wines expensive? 

Stop wondering and get to poppin’ bottles ASAP with these facts about this worldwide favorite … 

WHAT IS SPARKLING WINE? 

Sparkling wine is just what it sounds like: wine with bubbles. But it’s not as simple as just adding carbonation to a still wine … sparkling wine goes through a more complex double-fermentation process. This process can be carried out several different ways, including the traditional method and the tank method

The more expensive wines use the traditional method, which is more labor intensive and requires adding yeast and sugar to each individual bottle. These bottles are then stored away, and the bubbles develop from trapped CO2 during the second fermentation. Another common way to create these favorite fizzy wines is with the tank method. It’s pretty much the same idea, except yeast and sugar is added to a tank and stored over a shorter period of time. The wine is then filtered, bottled, and distributed. 

BENEFITS OF SPARKLING WINE

Besides the fun, fizzy bubbles that define sparkling wine, there are plenty of benefits to having cans or bottles of this wine handy. For starters, sparkling wine pairs with almost anything. Creamy cheeses, fried foods, fresh seafood, and weeknight pasta dishes get an upgrade with a can or bottle of bubbly on the side. And not only does this wine pair with everything, but it can actually get you in the mood to eat! It’s the perfect apéritif to kickstart the appetite at happy hour. 


TYPES OF SPARKLING WINE 

You might know that Champagne must come from Champagne, France, but what about the other sparkling wines? Bubbly comes by a few other names, and knowing them will help you understand exactly what you’re buying. 

Cava: This Spanish sparkling wine comes from the Catalonia region, and is produced in traditional methods similar to Champagne. Its flavors lean earthier compared to other bubbly wines. 

Champagne: Near and dear to Paris is the Champagne region of France. These sparkling wines are more expensive, require the most time and storage space, and have bread-like tasting notes. 

Prosecco: Sweeter than Champagne and Cava, the Italian version of sparkling wine is a bestseller worldwide. This wine is usually priced lower as well due to its second fermentation made with the tank method. 

Sekt: Don’t sleep on German sparkling wine! This delicious creation is made with at least 85% of German-grown grapes, is typically stored for at least three years, and can taste fruity and floral. 

Sparkling Wine: Some sparkling wines are specific to a region, but there are plenty of sparkling wines around the world. Sparkling wine can come from California and other areas of France besides Champagne … anywhere, really! They can even come in cans for easy transportation. 

HOW TO CHOOSE SPARKLING WINE 

Part of choosing a sparkling wine comes down to budget, but another factor will be how sweet you like your wine. There are six sweetness levels to consider, and knowing them will prevent surprise (and disappointment) when you taste what you bought … 

Brut Nature: Otherwise known as “bone-dry”, this wine has hardly any residual sugar and pairs best with fish, shellfish, and oysters. 

Extra Brut: These wines are less tart than Brut Nature, but are still quite dry. Pair with goat cheese, but avoid anything sweet — desserts can make the wine taste sour! 

Brut: A bottle of brut is a party classic, and will taste dry to almost everyone except for the trained wine aficionado. These wines work with salty foods and pair especially well with popcorn. 

Extra Dry: Sugar adds weight to a wine and although this wine will have a hint of sweetness, the sugar will mostly help it stand up to heavier, creamier dishes like lobster and butter, scalloped potatoes, and rich white pasta sauces. 

Dry: Now we’re in sweet-wine territory, but don’t pair this sparkling wine with chocolate lava cake just yet! Instead, pair with fruit, angel cake, whipped cream, lady fingers, and other delicate desserts. 

Demi Sec: If dessert is the star of the party, break out the Demi Sec! It can hold its own next to a big slice of chocolate cake or a creamy, sugar-crusted crème brûlée. 

STILL vs. SPARKLING 

It’s up to you! Both types of wine are equally appreciated in the wine world, but sometimes a moment just calls for celebratory bubbles. So crack open a can or pop a bottle, and enjoy all that sparkling wine has to offer.


Erin Hooker

Erin Hooker is a writer with experience creating wine, food, and interior design content. She began contributing to Graham + Fisk’s blog in 2021.