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Welcome back to Uncommon Pairings, a column all about wine! Today, we’re talking about sparkling wine: what it is, where it comes from, and why it’s more than just a celebration wine.
I don’t think sparkling wine gets enough credit. I know it’s like, the de facto wine for toasting something, and a classic oyster pairing, but outside of celebrations and the sea, no one has ever offered me a glass of sparkling wine the way that they would a glass of red. I don’t want sparkling wine to be relegated to celebrations. I want it to fall under the table wine category, ready to hold up against a roast chicken or a bad salad or even a humble potato chip. I just want more celebration in the mundane!
I get that sparkling wine is considered a “special occasion” wine because Champagne is so pricey, but there are so many other kinds of sparkling wine at all sorts of price points that are just as good! Let’s get into it.
You’re probably already familiar with sparkling wine. Perhaps you’ve participated in a champagne toast at a wedding or made a mimosa at brunch. Maybe you’ve witnessed a sabering in action (kind of dangerous, kind of hot!) or popped a bottle yourself — ideally with minimal spillage, unless that’s what you’re going for.
Sparkling wine has range. A bone-dry Sekt is a sparkling wine, as is a Lambrusco. Anything bubbly or carbonated counts, regardless of the grapes used to make the wine, the color of the wine, or where it’s from (though, like with most things wine, AOC and DOP rules do come into play). Some that you might want to keep in mind the next time you go shopping: cava, prosecco, crémant (my personal fav), moscato d’asti, pet-nat, Lambrusco, Brachetto d’Acqui, Sekt… honestly, your best bet is to browse the sparkling section at your local wine store. There’s way more to sparkling than just Champagne!
How Sparking Wine Is Made
There are a few ways sparkling wine can be made, but the original way is called the ancestral method (méthode ancestrale), and it’s still in use today! As the wine is fermenting, it’s bottled and allowed to continue fermenting in the bottle. No sugar is added, so the ancestral method results in what I’d consider to be a pure expression of the grapes. Sometimes the ancestral method-made wines are unfiltered and cloudy, but I think that’s part of the magic of this style — they’re kind of weird (see: pét-nats).
The large Champagne houses (Moet, Laurent-Perrier, Pommery, etc.), as well as some other sparkling wines, do things differently. They follow the traditional method (méthode traditionnelle), which is way more involved. Things get added to a “base” wine to start fermentation, and then those things are eventually removed, and sugar is finally added. It’s a whole thing and probably explains why Champagne is so expensive. It’s such a time-consuming process but it does result in really delicious wines! That said, it’s definitely possible to find wine made this way that isn’t expensive. Both crémant (from France) and cava (from Spain) follow the traditional method!
The other big way sparkling wine can be made is called the tank method. It’s a newer method, and involves fermenting wine in a tank (thus the name) instead of in the bottle like its forebears. Both Prosecco and Lambrusco are made this way!
Low ABV Sparkling Wine Options
The best low-ABV sparkling wines I’ve found have all been de-alcoholized — that is, the alcohol was removed after the wine was made, resulting in a beverage with high complexity but little alcohol (<1%, usually). My favorite is the Eins Zwei Zero, but if you want something a little less winey, Unified Ferments is the way to go.