Do you know your sparklers?
Sparkling wine names – or denominations – are designated based on the wine’s country of origin. Depending on your location, you may refer to sparkling wines as Champagne, Spumante, or just… sparkling wine. This nomenclatural war started in the Champagne province of France where local winemakers (with the help of the French government) put up a big fuss about their fizz. See what I did there? ; )
Champagne has been legally protected under a European treaty that happened in 1891 in Madrid (Spain). The protection was reaffirmed in the Treaty of Versailles after World War I and adopted by over 70 countries. They all signed agreements with Europe that limit the use of the term “Champagne” to only those products produced in the Champagne region.
The Champagne winemaking community has developed a comprehensive set of rules and regulations for all wine produced in the region to protect its economic interests. Those are some extremely intricate requirements that also regulates winemaking procedures within the Champagne region itself! They include varietals, pruning, vineyard yield, the degree of pressing, and the time that wine must remain on its lees before bottling. It can also limit the release of Champagne to market to maintain prices. Only when a wine meets these requirements may it be labelled Champagne.
One thing is for sure, it doesn’t regulate how we choose to call it. So we can use whatever name we want! The outside label may say something different, but the inside is universally pure bubble magic! However, for those who decide to call it what it really is, I just put together a list of sparkling wine denominations based on their country of production.
• Italy : Spumante (sparkling in Italian), but also Franciacorta, Trento DOC, Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico and Asti, when the wine is from southeastern Piedmont and particularly focused around the towns of Asti and Alba. Prosecco is another Italian sparkling wine (dry or extra dry) made from Glera (the grape formerly known as “Prosecco”). Although the name is derived from that of the Italian village of Prosecco near Trieste, DOC Prosecco is produced in the regions of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia.
• Portugal : Espumante (sparkling in Portuguese)
• Spain : Cava (digging in Spanish)
• South Africa : Cap Classique, which refers to the method of making sparkling wine by creating a second fermentation in the bottle (similar to the “Méthode Champenoise” aka traditional method). The term Cap Classique has been used in South Africa since 1992.
• France : Champagne, which refers to the AOC (Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée) and the worldwide famous region of France. The Champenois vigorously defend use of the term “Champagne”. They are notoriously proud and protective of their heritage. Consequently, other regions of France are subject to the same restricting laws. Regions like Burgundy, Alsace and the Loire Valley came up with their own designations: Crémant (creamy) for those using the “Méthode Champenoise” and Mousseux (foamy) for the others.
• United States : other than a few slang words for sparkling wines, the U.S. is poor in Champagne wine designations. We sometimes refer to it as a bubbly, champansky, fizz, champer or champy, made “famous” by a line in Lady Sovereign’s song ‘Love Me or Hate Me’. I think it’s time we find something better and classier for our local sparklers!
• German, Austrian, and Czech : Sekt (sparkling wine in German)
• Hungary : Pezsgő (sparkling wine in Hungarian)
• Soviet Union : Sovetskoye Shampanskoye (I have no idea what that means…)
Opening Champagne bottles – Depending on the ambient temperature, there may be a lot of pressure inside the bottle. It is always a good idea to keep your hand on the cork at all time while removing the foil and the muselet (the wire cage that fits over the cork). Also, do not stand directly above the bottle… Corks travel at speeds of up to 65 mph upon leaving the neck of the bottle. I’m just saying.
To reduce the risk of spilling or spraying any Champagne (not that there’s anything wrong with that), open the Champagne bottle by holding the cork and rotating the bottle at an angle in order to ease out the stopper. This method, as opposed to pushing the cork out, prevents the cork from flying out of the bottle at speed. That said, I always let the cork fly out when the party is outside. If it is a family reunion, let the kids go on a cork hunt, and whoever finds the lost cork gets a prize ; )
A sabre can be used to open a Champagne bottle with great ceremony. This technique is called “sabrage” – the term is used for simply breaking the head of the bottle.
Pouring Champagne – Pouring sparkling wine while tilting the glass at an angle and gently sliding in the liquid along the side will preserve the most bubbles, as opposed to pouring directly down to create a head of “mousse”. Colder bottle temperatures also result in reduced loss of gas.
“Le vin de Bourgogne pour les rois, le vin de Bordeaux pour les gentilshommes, le vin de Champagne pour les duchesses.” (Burgundy for kings, Claret for gentlemen, Champagne for duchesses.) – Champenois Proverb