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In Good Taste

Introduction to Champagne and Sparkling Wines

Introduction to Champagne and Sparkling Wines

Pop the Cork, Let’s Talk Bubbles!

Champagne is the perfect treat to pair with any celebratory occasion. From weddings and birthdays to bachelorette parties and the typical Friday night, this effervescent beverage is a welcome companion to life’s special get-togethers. 

Did you know that the bottle of bubbly you love to drink may not be Champagne at all, but rather a sparkling wine? You’re not alone in thinking all bubbly is champagne. As we move along in this article, we will run you through the history of actual champagne, the differences between champagne and other sparkling wines from around the world, as well as how to choose the right one for your tastes, and which foods pair best! 

History

Champagne originates from the Champagne region of France. This region has been known to produce wine even before medieval times, although they have not always been the sparkling variety that the area is known for today. Romans originally planted the vines there, but wine from Champagne was struggling to keep up with its countrymen in other wine-growing regions. .  With chalky limestone soils, planters struggled to ripen red grapes to the level of other regions in France like Burgundy. Early Champagne wines were more acidic, had less sugar content, and had a much lighter body than Burgundy wines. What they didn’t realize at the time was that this terroir was perfect for sparkling wine.

Champagne Originated in Champagne, France Muselet ties to keep corks in the bottles

In fact, the first sparkling Champagne was created by accident. What a happy accident, right? Well, at the time, they didn’t think so, even referring to this as “the devil’s wine” because the bottles and corks couldn’t withstand the pressure of the carbonation of the wine. Luckily, that changed in 1844 when Adolphe Jaquesson invented the muselet to prevent cork blowouts. In the mid 19th century, Champagnes winemakers also adopted the method champenoise (or the traditional method), which was documented 200 years earlier by English scientist Christopher Merret. This led to a steep rise in the production of Champagne. In 1800, it was a regional production with about 300,000 bottles produced, and by 1850, that number jumped to 20 million bottles. 

Champagne History of Production

Champagne vs. Sparkling Wine 

 

Champagne and sparkling wine can be very similar, but not the same. They are sisters, but not twins. All Champagnes are sparkling wines, but not all sparkling wines are Champagne. We’ll explain that in a little more detail. 

Champagne

Champagne is only Champagne if it’s made in the Champagne region of northern France (drinking game time, take a sip every time we say Champagne!), and these wines are held to some stringent standards. This region is about 90 miles Northeast of Paris. Like we mentioned in the history of Champagne, the soil here is chalky and full of limestone, leading to highly acidic grapes, which is a key for good sparkling wines. The méthode champenoise (or the traditional method) is used to make official Champagne, which means that the wine undergoes a second fermentation inside the bottle. This method is more intensive than others and helps to add complexity to the wine. Champagnes have an average ABV of 12.2%, slightly less than the average glass of wine. 

Champagne region of France

Champagnes that are held to a strict level of production in France are made from a blend of three grapes; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. “Blanc de Blancs” are Champagnes made exclusively from Chardonnay, while “blanc de noirs” are made solely from pinot noir. There are also rosé Champagnes, made from a blend of these red and white grapes, with a pinkish hue that comes from brief contact with the red grape skins during the fermentation process.

Methode Champagne requires a second fermentation in the bottle

While it’s tempting to sip your Champagne from a flute glass, experts recommend that you enjoy those bubbles from a traditional white wine glass. The shape allows the wine to breathe so you can experience all of those tasty complexities in the wine. 

Enjoy champagne in a standard white wine glass

Sparkling Wine

For any other effervescent wine made outside of Champagne, it is referred to as sparkling wine. Several countries are known for delicious sparkling wines, such as Italy, Spain, and the United States. Depending on where your bottle of bubbly is from, it may also go by a specific name. 

Outside of Champagne, FR it is called Sparkling Wine

Prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine made from prosecco (glera) grapes. Italy is also known for a more unique sparkling wine, the Lambrusco, a sparkling red for when you feel like testing the dark side of bubbly. Cava is Spain’s version of sparkling wine and is made with a blend of maca beu, parellada, and zarello grapes. Outside the strict rules of Champagne production, there is more freedom in sparkling wines for the type of grapes that are used and the method by which these wines get their bubbles. 

Sparkling wines may undergo several methods to earn their effervescence. Some may use the traditional method that Champagnes uses, although, as we know, unless these wines are from the Champagne region, they are still called sparkling wines. Sparkling wines, especially those in the Napa area will often have “method champagnes” indicating that while the grapes are from California, the style of wine making is the same they use in the Champagne region.

Another method is called the Charmat or tank method, where the wine undergoes its second fermentation in a large tank before being bottled. Sparkling wines that have undergone the transfer method get their secondary fermentation in the bottle much like the traditional method, but the wine is then poured into a tank, filtered, and re-bottled, making the process faster than the traditional method.

The final and cheapest method is the carbonation method, where carbon dioxide is pumped into a tank of wine, and the contents are then bottled under pressure. 

Charmat method of Champagne making includes a second fermentation in the tank

Styles of Sparkling Wine

Champagnes and sparkling wines are extra in every way, and the way their level of sweetness is classified is no exception. If you find yourself in the store for a bottle of bubbly but aren’t sure what these terms mean, we’ve got you.

Brut Naturelle - the driest variety, there’s no sugar here. Extra Brut - Very dry with less than 1% sugar added. Brut - Very to fairly dry; this is the most common type of sweetness level out there. Extra Sec or Extra Dry - this has a dry to medium taste with approximately 3% sugar added. Sec - This is the middle of the scale, with medium dry and sweet flavor. Demi-sec - This one is sweet, no dryness here. Doux - The sweetest of the sweet, this could almost be considered a dessert wine.

If you’ve reached for a bottle of sparkling deliciousness that falls on the dry end of the spectrum, you may be wondering - what dishes can I pair with this? For drys, you can’t go wrong with light seafood and chicken dishes. Oysters, deviled eggs, shrimp cocktails, white pizza, and fried chicken are also pairings that are just *chef’s kiss* incredible. On the other hand, if you’ve dipped your toe into the sweeter side of the sparkling scale, fresh berries and soft cheeses are the perfect companion for a delightful pairing. 

Tranquillo, Frizzante, and Spumante

Along with different levels of sweetness, Champagnes and sparkling wines also have varying levels of effervescence. Normal, non-sparkling wines are referred to as Tranquillo or still wines. They’re the chill ones, and we love them for that. 

Champagnes described as frizzante are gently sparkling wines. They will have smaller, lighter bubbles and a more delicate fizz. Sparkling wines with full fizz are referred to as spumante. 

Sparkling Wine: Levels of Bubbly

Can You Make “Sparkling Wine” With a Soda Machine?

While this is certainly a, shall we say, “creative” idea, the short answer is no, you cannot make sparkling wine with a soda machine, not real sparkling wine anyway. Although you may be able to coax some effervescence from your beverage by using such a method, soda machine companies do not recommend doing this, as it could damage the machine itself. You’re better off buying an inexpensive bottle of bubbly from the store. Plus, the at-home method comes without the iconic cork pop, and what’s the fun in that?

The Best Mimosa Recipe for your Champagne

Mimosas are the ideal justification for indulging in those sweet, sweet bubbles before noon. To make the perfect mimosa for your next brunch or get-together, we recommend starting with a dry or brut champagne. This will add a nice contrast to the sweetness of the orange juice, which, of course, is the second ingredient. Pro tip: if you’re able to get your hands on some oranges, fresh-squeezed juice makes all the difference for a refreshing mimosa.

The best mimosa is equal parts Champagne and juice. Be sure to pour the Champagne first, as this allows the beverage to mix itself while you pour the orange juice. To snazz up this recipe, you can also add fresh fruit or some fruit puree for a little extra pizzazz. To give your mimosa a little more oomph, change the ratio to 3:1 sparkling juice and add a splash of orange liqueur. 

Champagnes and sparkling wines are a fun addition to any occasion. That iconic cork pop is enough to get any party started, and now that you know a little bit more about our effervescent friend, you can pick the perfect bottle with confidence!

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Rosé of Sangiovese

Andiamo

Sangiovese can be found in both the Chianti and Montalcino regions of Tuscany (it all sounds so romantic, right?) and is known for producing classic medium-bodied wines. Rosé wine is actually made from red grapes, and this is where the Rosé of Sangiovese comes to play. Crisp, fruit-forward, and easy-to-drink, it's everything you want in your bottle of Rosé and more.

$19.99

Montepulciano

Andiamo

Big, bold, and full of flavor—exactly what you’d expect an Italian wine to be! This classic Italian grape produces some of Italy’s most straightforward red wines and is often used as a blending grape. Not here, though. We let Montepulciano do the heavy lifting as a heavy red wine and shine on its own. If you enjoy the smell of leather bound books, nibbling on dried fruit, and complementary notes of bitter, dark chocolate and sweet plums, you will love this Italian wine. No need to pair it with any certain dish—Montepulciano tastes great with all the Italian classics.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Unprecedented

If Pinot Noir is the light and juicy queen of reds, Cabernet Sauvignon is her bolder, heavier, meatier sister. Often referred to as just “cab,” it’s the wine of France’s Bordeaux and California’s Napa Valley. There’s nothing subtle about Cabernet Sauvignon—high in alcohol, full-bodied and robust, you can usually find this red served with a ribeye, New York Strip, or filet mignon (re: carnivores love cab). Classic cabs usually offer tasting notes of chocolate, coffee, and darker fruits like prunes and plums. The Unprecedented Cabernet Sauvignon is as classic as they come, and we highly recommend letting the bottle sit and mellow until your next red meat and potatoes dinner!

Pinot Grigio

La Pluma

If you’re looking for more zest in your life, a bottle of Pinot Grigio can provide that. We included a classic Pinot Grigio in the La Pluma collection because we’re all about light and easy here, which is exactly what this grape from Italy is. It has that dry sense of humor that seems so effortless with a punchy acidity to keep you on your toes, all while offering notes of lemon, limes, green apples, and honeysuckle. Long story short; when it’s been a heavy day and your soul is seeking light things only, you’ll be happy to have this bottle on hand.

Pinot Noir

Unprecedented

We couldn’t create the In Good Taste Unprecedented collection without the Golden Retriever of wines: Pinot Noir. Pinot is likable, it’s easy, and its natural state of being is simply charming. It’s an incredibly easy red wine to love, which is why so many people do. The grape itself is from the Burgundy region of France, but has made its way to California, Oregon, Australia, Italy, Argentina, and Germany since. Our Pinot Noir has no surprise twists—it’s a classic light red with just the right amount of sweetness to keep you coming back for another glass (or two).

Coteaux Bourguignons

Passport

The Burgundy region of France is home to their best Pinot Noirs, but we took the grapes into our own hands to create something extra special with our Coteaux Bourguignons. It’s a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay, which results in a French red that’s light in body but full in flavor. The ripest blueberries and freshest herbs can be easily detected in this French burgundy blend. May we suggest pairing it with some creamy brie and freshly baked bread? It’s a oui-ning combo.

$25.99

Verdicchio

Andiamo

A little sweet. A little tart. A little salty? You truly get it all with this white Italian wine. If you're into that biting acidity, Verdicchio will probably be high on your list of most-loved wines from our Andiamo collection. Citrus fruits like mandarin, lemon, and grapefruit are at the forefront, but what really sets this Italian wine apart is its distinct notes of almond. While our Verdicchio can start out tasting a bit tart, the more you sip, the smoother it becomes. In fact, we suggest approaching it as an aperitif (Italian for an alcoholic drink sipped before a meal to stimulate the appetite) to experience its full effect.

$23.99

Côtes du Rhône White

Passport

This was one of our first French wines to join the Passport collection and one sip will explain why. Some background on the Rhône Valley in France: While this region is known for its dark, juicy reds, a very small amount of special white wines are made in the Rhône Valley. Our Côtes du Rhône is packed with French-perfected, floral flavor and Old-World charm. Its natural tang paired with the weighty Marsanne grape and aromatic Roussanne grape results in a crisp, savory sip that’ll transport you to a sunbathing chair by the Rhône itself.

$23.99

Bordeaux Rouge

Passport

When you picture medieval folk sitting around a feast with goblets of wine, chances are they were drinking Bordeaux. This wine has been made in France since forever and is arguably the most classic French wine out there. Bordeaux is known for its full body, smoky notes, and rich, oaky taste. If you love cabs, chances are you will adore Bordeaux. For our Passport wines, we had to include this classic French red for you to sip and enjoy to your heart’s content. Best savored over a rich meal like lamb ragu, ratatouille, or BBQ.

$21.99

Ventoux Rosé

Passport

You probably know that the Tour de France is held on Ventoux Mountain in France, but did you know that the same area is known for its high-altitude rosé? This is the kind of quintessential French rosé that you don’t need to spin your wheels over—it’s simply delicious, crisp, and perfect for warm weather. Despite its delicate, pale pink color, each sip is lush with flavor, from tropical passionfruit and zesty citrus to refreshing melon. This has the potential to be your new summer go-to, so we’d suggest stocking up.

$21.99

Tempranillo

Wild Child

Say “¡Hola!” to Spain’s main grape: Tempranillo. This red grape put Rioja wine on the map and is un vino tinto classico. It’s best compared to a classic cab, but with a bit more unique magic that’s hard to put your finger on, which is why it’s a part of our Wild Child line. This medium- to full-bodied wine with its relatively higher tannins usually offers complex notes of cherry, fig, cedar, tobacco, and dill. This is the type of red wine you want to buy and pour for a Latin-infused meal; think carne asada, tacos al carbon, or just perfectly cooked steak fajita meat.

Grenache

La Pluma

We knew the only red in the La Pluma collection had to be exceptionally good and exceptionally light. That’s why including a Grenache was a no-brainer. If smooth, fruit-forward, light-bodied reds appeal to your tastebuds, this could be your new favorite. The grape itself is tricky; depending on the climate of where its grown, Grenache wines could be light, dense, or somewhere in the middle. La Pluma’s version has all the airiness and flavor notes we wanted in our Grenache, which is how we know you’ll love it. Get the most of this red by pairing it with roasted meats, spice-heavy vegetables, and Mexican-inspired dishes with lots of cumin.

$27.99

Moscato

Andiamo

This grape goes by different names in most European countries, but what remains the same is its fruity floral nature. Delicate in every way and extremely quaffable, this wine is as dainty as they come.

Barbera

Andiamo

We really try not to play favorites at In Good Taste, but there is just something about an Italian Barbera that hits different in the best way. Barberas are the perfect wine for pizza night; they're low in alcohol, and medium-bodied but taste super light, and their berry and plum flavors pair incredibly well with savory tomato sauce and cheese! Another fun thing about Barberas? They actually taste great when chilled, which is not something we're in the habit of suggesting for our red wines. Our Italian Barbera lies somewhere between the body of a cab and a pinot and is the ideal choice for a "ladies who lunch" kind of afternoon.

Vermentino

Wild Child

We couldn't not have a weird white in the mix, right?! The Vermentino grape is native along the coast of Italy on the island of Sardinia (yeah, like the fish). Because of its origin, this grape offers a salty, crisp flavor that's incredibly easy to drink and enjoy. We say it's "weird" only because it's not widely known by name, but chances are you've probably had it before if you've ever ordered white wine in an Italian restaurant. If you love peaches and lemons and get a kick out of anything that reminds you of the sea, our Vermentino is the perfect Italian white to experience on a sunny day outside.

$23.99

Viognier

Unprecedented

For the Chardonnay lovers who are looking to dig a bit deeper in the world of bold whites, a Viognier (pronounced vee-own-yay) could be your next big adventure. Viogniers tend to have more range; while they can be creamy with hints of vanilla like their Chardonnay counterpart, they also offer lighter, fruitier flavors like tangerine, mango, and honeysuckle. It’s still a more full-bodied white wine, but unlike Chardonnay, it’s softer on acidity and more perfumed. Spend an afternoon with a glass of Viognier amongst the flowers and it’ll all make sense.

$24.99

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