Sparkling Wine and Wine Glass Guide for a Party
Vacinations are complete; lockdown is over and you’re hosting a party! What bubbles should you buy and which wine glasses should you use?
Here is SommWine’s Sparkling Wine Guide to three of the most popular sparkling styles; Prosecco, Cava, and Champagne. We’ll share what they taste like and why, what budget you will spend, and a couple of suggestions for awe-inspiring wines within the category to impress your friends!
Why? Because we really need something to look forward to in 2021.
Scroll down further for our sparkling glassware guide. We’ll tell you why some choose the flute, the vintage flute, a regular white wine glass or the old-fashioned coupe for sparkling wine.
Sparkling Wine Guide
Prosecco wines are from the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia-Giulia regions of Northern Italy.
Flavour Profile: Consumers love these lightly fruity wines that have aromas of fresh honeydew melon and white flowers. These wines offend no one.
How They Get the Bubbles and Flavours: adored for its soft, pretty aromas and flavours that are due to the quite neutral grape variety called Glera and the winemaking process. Prosecco is usually made in the ‘tank method‘ whereby sugar and yeast are added in large volume tanks to start a ‘secondary fermentation’. In fermentation, the yeast eats the sugars, and carbon dioxide is produced as a byproduct. The carbon dioxide is then trapped and becomes the delicate bubbles we love. This way of making bubbles is a less expensive process than the one used for Cava or Champagne. Which is why you can find many wines at great prices.
Prosecco has just come out with a pink version!
$ Budget: for inexpensive Prosecchi (that’s the plural of Prosecco and pronounced: prō-seh-key) look for labels that say DOC on them. Great bargains are available from small family producers such as Vaporetto’s Prosecco Brut No. 8.
$$ Mid-priced: Prices start to rise when you buy Prosecchi from the hillside appellation of Valdobbiadene [pronounced: valdo-‘bee-a-den-‘nay]. Try Valdo’s Valdobbiadene Superiore Marca Oro Prosecco Brut. These wines will be given the superior designation of DOCG.
$$$ For the wine savvy: Some Prosecchi are labelled with ‘Rive‘- followed by the name of the hillside. These are particular plots that are meant to showcase Prosecchi made with grapes from specific climates or terroir. This is Italy, so some do this better than others and generally price will tell you which ones they are. For great quality and value try the Adami Vigneto Giardino ‘Rive di Colbertaldo’ Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore
DOCG. Like come on, can these names get any bigger?
The most expensive Prosecchi are as pricey as Champagnes from France. These are also labeled with DOCG and come from the esteemed ‘Grand Cru’ of Conegliano Valdobbiadene. Wines labelled with Conegliano Valdobbiadene are from the Cartizze [pronounced car-teets-eh] hillside, one of the most expensive plots of vineland in the world. These wines show less obvious honeydew fruit and exude a distinctive volcanic minerality (they literally smell like a smoky volcano!) Try the Bisol ‘Cartizze’ Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG.
Italians love to make things complicated!
There are some Prosecchi [pronounced: prō-seh-key] that are made in the 'traditional method' which is the same way that Cava and Champagnes are made (see below). These wines will be labelled 'Metodo Classico' and the flavours will be different as a result. Instead of the fresh honeydew and white flowers flavours and aromas, you will smell burnt matchsticks or toast or freshy baked brioche bread.
Impress your friends with these facts...
The most common winemaking method for Prosecco is called the 'tank method' in English. But it's usually referred to as 'the Charmat method' in wine textbooks - named after a French inventor who helped develop the process in 1907.
However, this process was originally invented and patented by an Italian named Frederico Martinotti in 1895.
Unfortunately in the wine world, we often take French words to describe wines and 'the Martinotti Method' or 'Metodo Martinotti' is not often seen. Outsnob a wine sommelier with this little known fact!
But the Italians are not the only ones who have made their sparkling wine category confusing for consumers, Spain is doing a pretty good job of it too. Make sure your read about Cava’s renegades below!
In the next lines, I’ll try to break down some of the important labelling terms for you. However, the ageing categories of Basic Cava, Reserva, Gran Reserva and Cava de Paraje Calificado do not fit neatly into price points. The reputation and quality of the individual producers will affect the pricing as well. Therefore, one producers Gran Reserva Cava (which are aged for a very long time before being sold), may be less expensive than another producer’s basic Cava (which is aged the least).
Cava DO is a sparkling wine from Spain that is made in the same way as Champagne.
Flavour Profile: lemon peel, overripe apple, biscuit and matchsticks.
Basic Cava’s will show the freshest fruit characteristics of lemon juice and yellow apple or quince. As the wines age, some almond nutty notes appear and perhaps a bit of struck match aroma from the ageing process. Finally, Gran Reservas and longer aged wines will smell more of lemon peel, overripe apple or appleskins, toast, and baked bread.
How they get the Bubbles and Flavours: Cava gets its bubbles from the same labourious winemaking technique as Champagnes. The wines have yeast and sugar added to each individual bottle where the ‘secondary fermentation’ forms the bubbles. Then they are aged on the dead yeast cells (in French lees) that die and fall to the bottom of the vat after consuming all of the sugar in the wine.
Cava can be made with French grape varieties such as Chardonnay. However, native varieties such as Parellada, Macabeu, and Xarel-lo are being used more frequently (generally because they fit Spain’s climate better). Xarel-lo, in particular, is valued for its quality.
Cava is also produced in a rosé style that’s pink!
$ Budget: start with the inexpensive basic and crisp Cava from Jaume Serra Cava Brut Nature or the Sigura Viudas Reserva Cava Brut
Basic Cava (like the Jaume Serra listed above) is aged only 9 months on the dead lees and offer a fresher lemon and yellow apple aroma. They won’t show aromas of matchsticks, toast or bread because they haven’t been aged long enough on their dead lees (yeast). However, Reserva Cavas are aged longer for a minimum of 15 months on the lees and will offer some light aromas of freshly baked bread or toast (from ageing on the lees) and generally cost a little more because of their ageing.
$$ Mid-priced: If you are looking for an organic, biodynamic and more complex version of the basic Cava category, try the Parés Baltà Cava Brut. There are also some Gran Reservas that are mid-priced but in this case you get what you pay for. If your Gran Reserva wine looks like a bargain, it may have some vegetal aromas such as cabbage or overripe apples. (I do not recommend the Sigura Viudas Gran Reserva sold in the silver plated bottle for this reason. However, the Segura Viudas Brut Gran Cuvée Reserva is only made in good years and gets my approval!)
$$$ For the wine savvy: Gran Reserva Cavas are vintage dated (all the grapes must come from the same year) and aged for 30 months on lees for a much richer style showing more obvious toast, bread and matchsticks aromas often with overripe apples, and appleskins.
But the top tier wines are aged a minimum of 36 months on lees (think apple, toast, brioche and earthy yumminess). These wines are only from the best cool sites and offer fruit flavours closer to Champagne such as lemon juice, lemon peel or lemon curd. Try the organic Torelló 225 which is super rich and earthy or their top of the line Torelló Gran Torelló ‘Vinyes de Can Marti’ vineyard. This last is one of only 12 wines that made the new ‘Grand Cru‘ list in the recently formed ‘Cava de Paraje Calificado‘
For more of the best Cava producers, keep reading below.
There have been some major changes in this appellation in the last decade. Most notably most of the best producers of Cava have left the Cava DO appellation and formed their own.
First, Raventós i Blanc started a ‘Conca di Riu Anoia’ appellation for his sparkling wines in 2012.
More recently, 9 other producers left to form the Corpinnat (Gramona, Recaredo, Llopart, Nadal, Recaredo, Sabaté i Coca and Torelló and others). They released their new wines under the label ‘Vino Espumoso de Calidad, Método Tradicional’ in 2019. These 9 producers include 6 of the producers (or 50% of them) in the top tier Cava de Paraje Calificado designation. These 9 only make up 1% of Cava production, but 30% of Gran Reserva Cava production who will now be no longer allowed to put Gran Reserva on thier labels.
This is a big blow to the Regulador (the governing body that makes the wine laws) behind the Cava DO.
The two largest and oldest producers of Cava in Spain are Freixenet and Cordoniú. They tend to have the most influence on the Regulador and therefore on the way wine laws are drafted.
The other renegade producers complain that these 2 producers aim to make industrially produced Cava that focusses on faultlessness and cost efficiency to the detriment of quality, character and terroir.
They have a point.
But do try the Cordoniú, Anna de Cordoniú Brut, it’s mid-priced and wonderful!
Champagne is a region in France that makes premium sparkling wines
Flavour Profile: tart lemon juice and lemon curd with brioche, light toast and matchsticks
How they get the Bubbles and Flavours: Champagne uses the same ‘traditional method that Cava does (see above). This sparkling wine method produces the most elegant persevering bubbles. Champagne can be made from Chardonnay (a white grape), Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier (2 red grapes). It’s the marginal climate where these grapes barely ripen that gives Champagne its high quality.
There are many pink Champagnes to choose from too!
$ Budget: In Canada and the US, there are only premium bottlings. If you live in the UK, you may find some good deals at the supermarket. For example, my friend Lee tells me that Lesser known Champagnes from Ployez Jacquemart will save you a few dollars. But the Grand Marques houses of Möet et Chandon (if you want to know what I mean by a burnt matchsticks aroma, either strike a match or sniff a glass of Moët & Chandon Impérial Brut!) and Louis Roederer Brut Premier (known for its smoky, rounder style with apple, almonds, and toast) for example, will cost a touch more.
The Grand Marques Champagne houses are the generally the most well-known among consumers and will be labelled as CM or ‘Coopérative Manipulant’ on the back.
$$ Mid-priced: Impress your friends with a lesser-known grower-producer such as Pierre Paillard ‘Les Parcelles’ Bouzy Grand Cru Extra Brut known for being made from primarily Pinot Noir (brings body and earthiness to Champagne or try a steely lemony and créme brûlée and lightly toasted Gimmonet et Fils ‘Spécial Club’ Brut made with 100% Chardonnay.
You can recognize when a Champagne is from a grower because it will say RM or Récoltant Manipulant’ on the back label.
$$$ For the wine savvy: Otherwise, pick up a ‘Prestige Cuvée‘ or top bottling of a Champagne house (Dom Pérignon, Cristal (Louis Roederer), Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill (Pol Roger) etc). Prestige CuveAsk at your favourite wine shop for their Prestige Cuvee wines. Although, these wines are meant to be cellared for 10 years+ so, maybe put them away for a while.
There are premium Non-Vintage bottlings such as Krug Grande Cuvée available and ready to drink upon release. Krug is known for ageing their wines in old oak barrels which provides a heavy weight of a Champagne.
If you prefer Champagnes with lots of lemon curd, créme brulé, toasty complexity, long finishes and eye-watering tartness, try a Blanc de Blancs Champagne that are made with 100% Chardonnay. If you prefer more richness and earthy tones, try a Blancs de Noirs Champagne made with Pinot Noir.
With your wine for your party in tow, it’s time to choose the proper glassware to showcase your fancy bubbles in…
Guide to Sparkling Wine Glasses
Make sure your glasses are rinsed with hot water and free from dishwasher soap residue. The soap residue can prevent bubbles from forming, prevent them from floating to the top and leave you without that wonderful visual.
The flute is a narrow glass designed to keep your bubbles active for the longest. This is the most popular choice for serving sparkling wine for good reason…
Pros: A flute’s form is tall, lean and simple. It maintains the bubbles in your wine the longest due to its slender shape. This is a recognizable, functional and elegant crystal glass.
Cons: This style is not great for wine aromatics. The glass provides only a small wine surface and therefore little exposure to oxygen for releasing wine aromas.
The vintage flute
Vintage flutes are a crystal glasses that are quite tapered at the top and have a wider bulge in the middle. They are fashioned exclusively for vintage-dated sparkling wines and Champagne.
Vintage sparkling wines are wines made in the ‘traditional method’ and usually aged on their lees for long periods of time (such as Gran Reserva Cavas, the Cava de Paraje Calificados and Vintage Champagnes). They are generally aged much longer in the cellar before release than their Non-Vintage (NV) counterparts. The vintage (year) will be listed on the front label of the wine.
Because they are aged, they show developed aromas and flavours that reflect the time spent on their lees (dead yeasts) – lemon peel oxidative aromas, créme brûlée, lemon custard, and toast characteristics – These wines are really meant to be sniffed, drunk slowly and reflected on.
Pros: This glass makes you look cool. It’s slim enough to maintain the bubbles in your wine and the slightly wider girth will allow you to smell some of the developed aromatics of an aged wine.
If you don't have any narrow flute sparkling glasses, don't tell your guests. Serve your sparkling wines in a white wine glass. Let them know this is what all of the sommeliers are doing!
The white wine glass
It’s now de riguer to serve sparkling wine in a white wine glass. Make sure the glass slightly tapers at the top.
Pros: A wider glass exposes a larger wine surface to oxygen for optimal aromatics while the tapered top funnels the aromas towards your nose when you take a sip. Wine savvy people will adore you for this.
Cons: The bubbles won’t last as long in this glass so pour only a little at a time. Most people will think you just don’t have any ‘proper’ slim Champagne glasses, so make sure you let them know why you are serving their bubbles this way – to experience the aromas best!
Cons: The bubbles won’t last as long. Because you can’t walk or move without spilling the contents, these glasses are only good for sitting at a bar. Despite the wide surface area exposure, they are not great for enjoying the aromatics of the wine.
Sparkling wine aromatics are delicate, they will escape your nose with this ultra wide top. Better glasses will guide the aromas in a funnel towards your nose.
[This is an updated and enhanced post from December 30, 2019.]