A fluted glass brimming with bubbly is the perfect quaff for the holidays, from the cornucopia of dishes on the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah tables to the celebrations of New Year’s Eve.
Whether bone dry or sugary sweet, sparkling wines have a natural affinity for salt and fat, and their tantalizing acidity can cut through the heaviness of gravy, butter and fried foods, while the cascades of bubbles act as natural palate cleansers.
While Champagne is the unsurpassed star of sparkling wines, not all sparkling wines can be labeled Champagne. This designation is reserved only for wines produced in the Champagne region of France, made from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier grapes, and undergoing a second fermentation in the bottle.
But first-class sparklers hail from many other growing regions as well. Spain’s contribution is called Cava, crafted in the traditional Champagne style but with Macabeo, Parellada and Xarello grapes. In Italy, winemakers produce four sparkling wines: Prosecco, Asti, Trento DOC and Lambrusco. Prosecco, made from Glera grapes and double-fermented, is generally dry or extra dry, semi- or fully-sparkling, and low in alcohol, with crisp, aromatic fruit flavors. Asti is sourced from the Muscato grape in a much sweeter style, balanced by a zesty acidity. Echoing Champagne in production style is Trento DOC, rich in bouquet, with crisp fruit and clean mineral flavors. Lambrusco wines are slightly-sparkling, fermented from bone-dry to very sweet. Other sparkling wine-producing countries include Portugal (Espumante), Hungary (Pezsgö), and Australia (Sparkling Shiraz).
Most sparkling wines are sourced from a blend of different varietals and vintage years. They are classified according to their levels of residual sugar as follows: Brut Nature (no sugar is added during fermentation); Extra Brut (bone dry); Brut (dry); Extra Sec (medium dry); Sec (medium sweet); Demi Sec (sweet); and Doux (very sweet).
As a rule, the smaller and slower-rising the bubbles, the better the bubbly.