A seasoned Europhile talks Bubbles!

A seasoned Europhile talks Bubbles!

After one year of relocation in Spain and seven years in Germany I have decided  to clarify the sparkling wine question most frequently posed by my friends in both countries: what is the difference between Sekt, Cava, Prosecco, Spumante and Champagne?

The first differentiating factor is the country of origin: Champagne is from France, Cava from Spain , Sekt from Germany and of course Prosecco and Spumante are as Italian as this blogger!

Now for more detail on their other characteristics:

Method of production Charmat-Martinotti (trapping bubbles in wine via carbonation in large steel tanks)

Grapes : Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. So, not always German grapes. To know if German varieties have been used look for ‘Deutscher Sekt’ on the label

Production : made throughout Germany but mainly in the South West close to the French border

Color: White or Rose’

Classification of residual sugar: residual sugar comes from the natural grape sugars that remain in a wine after the alcoholic fermentation is completed. In Sekt look for Trocken (dry), Halbtrocken (semi-dry)

I’ve concentrated on German Sekt because it has a high volume of production and is a very widely available wine. But Austria also produces Sekt using a high quality process but in a small production to create value internationally. It’s a completely different product which can be really excellent, and is usually better than the German offerings. That’s not to say that all German Sekt wines are poor quality. Just try Winzersekt which follows a defined quality process, mainly produced with Riesling grapes, and yields truly high quality results with intense fruity and mineral aromas, an irregular foam and perlage.

The interesting thing about this method of production is that it makes this wine a great addition to many cocktails – like Russian Spring Punch. Find a complete list here: https://www.kuechengoetter.de/rezept-galerie/drinks-cocktails-mit-sekt

Method of production: Classic (same as that used to produce Champagne)

Grapes : Macabeo (or Viura), Xarel-lo and Perellada.

Production : throughout Spain but mainly in the northeasten part of Catalonia, close to Barcelona

Color: White or Rose’

Classification of residual sugar: Most Cava wines are dry. There are seven types differentiated by the amount of sugar added to them with some having no sugar at all. From driest to sweetest they are Cava Brut Nature, Cava Extra Brut, Cava Brut, Cava Extra Seco, Cava Seco, Cava Semi Seco and Cava Dulce – a dessert wine.

Cava wines can be very fine and some command high prices due to their classic method of production. Most of them still cost less than Champagnes, however you have to accept more grassy notes, lower acidity and less delicate bubbles. The bottles are labeled with badges of different colors: white for the Cava Joven (more than 9 months of ageing), green for the Reserva (over 15 months), black for the Gran Reserva (over 30 months) and diamond-shaped for the Cava de Paraje Calificado (qualified area).

Method of production: Charmat-Martinotti (trapping bubbles in wine via carbonation in large steel tanks)

Grapes: Glera (formerly Prosecco)

Production: North-eastern Italy, Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

Color: White

Classification of residual sugar: Brut (dry), Extra dry (the most common, dry/soft) and Dry (slightly sweet)

Prosecco is a very famous wine, popular for its price, wide availability, attractive aromas of fruit and butter and its freshness. It’s a highly flexible wine with irregular bubbles and low foam, typical of fermentation in steel, and which produce a carbonated mouthfeel.

Its flexible also in that it can be drunk alone, as an aperitif or with cocktails – among the most popular are Aperol Sprizt and Campari & Prosecco.

Prosecco has several denominations of which Prosecco Generico and Prosecco Treviso DOC are the most accessible on the market. For Prosecco with an unbeatable flavour look for labels with Colli Conegliano Valdobbiadene and the Cartizze area.

Method of production: Classic (used to produce Champagne)

Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio

Production: Mainly produced in Franciacorta, an Italian region which is a hilly area in Lombardy in the Province of Brescia, near Lake Iseo.

Color: White or Rose’

Classification of residual sugar: Extra-Brut, Brut, Extra-Dry, Sec, Demi-Sec

The spumantes, especially if produced in the Franciacorta area, are known and appreciated internationally. They are produced in fewer quantities than Champagne and are expensive – though not as expensive as Champagne. Qualitatively they are very similar, both in the production method and in the grapes used. They are produced with bottle aging on the lees for 18 to 36 months, have very fine and regulated bubbles and a lot of foam with floral and fruity aromas.

Method of production Classic

Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier ( blanc de blancs if obtained from berried grapes ; blanc de noirs if obtained only from black berried grapes)

Production: Champagne region, France

Color: White or Rose’

Classification of residual sugar: pas dosé, extra brut, brut, extra dry, sec, demi sec, doux.

Now let’s talk about the most prestigious wine in the world, set apart from all others by its amazing history and for the production method and quality process which make it simply great – a symbol of luxury and prestige and with a price to match!

A first difference from the other wines produced with the classic method we have talked about (Cava and Spumante) is the manual and selective harvesting of the grapes followed by a vinification process in numerous phases – more information here: https://www.pernod-ricard.com/en/media/champagne-production-method). It’s a complex, detailed process with attention to every aspect and can only be performed by expert hands.

Champagnes can be differentiated by colour, by the type of grapes used, by the dosage (amount of residual sugar) and by the price. But there are further classifications based on:

the vintage – sans année for grapes harvested in different years, millésime for grapes harvested in a single year.

the region, and indeed the commune, where the wine is produced – Grand Cru for the 17 municipalities with the most prestigious appellation, Premier Cru for another forty-one municipalities in the region.

the professional organization which the bottler belongs to – this involves many acronyms on the label, which can be difficult to interpret but which serve an important purpose. Given that individual growers usually do not have the economic and commercial heft to make wine and bottle it on their own, they use legally defined acronyms that identify the type of production and who was imvolved. These are the main elements in defining the quality and value of a champagne.

The main characteristics are well-known! The large quantity of foam and the absolutely regular chains of bubbles which indicate the high presence of finely balanced carbon dioxide. These are signs of top quality wines.

so….to summarize

The important thing to understand what you are drinking is that each wine has its context, its traditions – and its price!


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