How will you recognize them?
You won't have any trouble with this. Sparkling wines are one of the few categories of wines that define themselves and leave no room for doubt and negotiation. Recognizing them is so simple, that you only need to answer the following simple question. Does it have bubbles? If so, it's bubbly! However, there are several different styles, which are shaped mainly by the quality of the grapes and the production technology, while in specific cases, they are also determined by their place of origin and some rigorous legislative frameworks. But apart from that, they all have a common point of reference during their production process, and let's check on everything a bit more clearly.
Where do they come from?
To start things off, sparkling wines are nothing more than wines that contain bubbles, i.e. trapped carbon dioxide, aka CO2. It is produced when the yeasts eat the sugars in the grape juice and turn it into alcohol, and in the case of still wines, this is simply released and lost to the atmosphere. Therefore, for there to be a cool and refreshing bubble in the wine, the carbon dioxide must be trapped inside the bottle so that it can also be channeled into the wine. There are several ways to do this, but four are the leading ones!
Along the way, they take different paths, but the starting point for the three of them is common and is called "base wine". A completely dry wine, derived from a classic wine fermentation, usually done in stainless steel tanks, but it must have high acidity (this is what makes the sparkling disarmingly "crunchy") and low alcohol (there's a reason for that also!). Then, additional yeasts and sugars are added to it for a second fermentation, and from here on things change, because the sequel gives each sparkling its style.
It is the most well-known and timeless and is applied in many parts of the world, but in France, it also has its name, the famous "Champagne Method" and has been established as the exclusive method of producing champagne in Campania.
In this case, the base wine is put into the same bottle that will be released on the market and the extra yeasts and sugars are added there. The bottle is placed horizontally and the second fermentation takes place inside it. Derivatives are also alcohol and CO2, so the first raises the original alcohol of the base wine a bit (and this is the reason we mentioned above), while the second remains inside the closed bottle, in the form of bubbles!
Once the yeasts have "eaten" all the sugars, the resulting sediment goes, in the form of lees, at the bottom of the bottle and over time begins to "dissolve" in it. The process is known as autolysis and gives the wine aromas of biscuit, dough, and brioche.
All the above sediment should be removed, after initially shifting to the neck of the bottle which is closer to the exit! This is done by remuage, a slow and very careful movement of the bottle so as not to dissolve the sediment back into the wine. The neck of the bottle cools and the sediment now freezes and as the cork is removed, a sediment and yeast ice cube leaves with it, due to the pressure of the carbon dioxide, which is now present in the wine!
For obvious reasons, the empty part of the bottle created by the extraction of the sediments will be filled with the liqueur expedition, a mixture of wine and sugar, which will also determine the sweetness of the wine. The more sugar, the sweeter the sparkling wine will be produced. This process is called dosage! Then the bottle is sealed with a cork and the characteristic protection wire (for extra safety) and it is ready to drink!
THE GOOD: the method is usually used on very good quality grapes and produces sparkling wines of excellent quality worldwide. It gives extra complexity to the wine, which finally has the primary aromas of fruit, lees, and autolysis.
THE NOT-SO-GOOD: the above stages are time-consuming and relatively expensive, so the price of the final wine will be adjusted accordingly. But we said we don't want it all ours too!
YOU WILL FIND IT AS: Champagne in France, Methode Traditionnell all over the world, and Cava in Spain.
The above method may have stolen it of its glory, but it is also first class and should have a second name too. In what is also known as the Charmat Method, the base wine together with the extra yeasts and sugars are put into stainless steel tanks, a technology capable of withstanding the pressure of the CO2 produced. After the fermentations are complete, the lees are removed by filtration and the wine is bottled under pressure, with the characteristic cap, ready for sale.
THE GOOD: the wine mainly retains the aromas of the original base wine, since the tanks are completely neutral and do not add additional aromas to the wine. For this reason, strongly aromatic varieties are preferred, which will retain the fruity aromas even after the process. The price is much lower than the Traditional Method, while the ease of production allows for larger quantities!
THE NOT-SO-GOOD: they don't have a complex character and very long aging potential. The result is sparkling wines with intense fresh fruity aromas, which doesn't seem like much of a disadvantage!
YOU WILL FIND IT AS: Methode Charmat, Asti in Piemonte, Prosecco in general in Italy.
It is the simplest and fastest method of producing bubbles. Here the original base wine does not go through a second fermentation, but carbon dioxide is added directly to it. Then follows the bottling, which must be done very carefully and with pressure so as not to lose the carbon dioxide that was channeled into the wine.
THE GOOD: wines are produced in very large quantities and at very low prices because the degree of difficulty in their production is minimal.
THE NOT-SO-GOOD: their quality is debatable, because after the pop the effervescence almost disappears, and what remains is just an aromatic and very fruity wine, perhaps not so pleasant. For this reason and in order for this method to gain some quality ground, varieties with very strong herbal aromas are used that will keep the freshness even after the bubble has disappeared.
YOU WILL FIND IT AS: usually nothing is written on the label, but their price is so low that you will immediately recognize them.
This is the flower child of the "sparkling" category, and not necessarily because it has floral aromas, but because it possesses an eminent freedom in what it will do and how it will behave. The difference with the above is that there is no longer a base wine and the wine is bottled before its one and only fermentation is completed. The sugars and yeasts continue their work inside the bottle, with the result that the CO2 produced is trapped inside! The wines that are finally produced are called pétillant naturel (or PET NAT), are sold in the bottle in which they were fermented, and are an ode to spontaneity!
THE GOOD: it is the purest, as it is an extremely natural, method of producing sparkling wine, with almost zero interventions, and has created its revolutionary movement, with an ever-growing public preferring them and winemakers daring more and more.
THE NOT SO GOOD: the wine most often comes out cloudy, because the sediment, as a product of fermentation, remains inside the bottle. But this, apart from (for some) aesthetic, does not create any problem at all in the wine. The bubble is usually less than the rest of the methods, which in some new vinifications, we noticed that it has changed a lot!
YOU WILL FIND IT AS: the labels of these wines write it clearly and in big letters, PET NAT, to avoid misunderstandings, since it must be clear what you are going to drink. A completely natural, pure, and cloudy wine, with strong aromas of orange, citrus, apricot, yeast, and bubbles!