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Popping the Bubbly: A Guide to Champagne, Cava and Sparkling Wines

Patch helps you find the perfect spirits for your New years celebration.

As we celebrate the holidays and ring in the New Year, people are shopping for sparkling wines.  Although many know champagne, prosecco, and maybe cava, there are others as well.  Knowing flavors and prices of sparkling wines from around the world will help you find the perfect wines for gifts and celebration.  See below for different options. 

 The kinds you may know

Cava - a Catalan sparkling wine of Denominació d'Origen (DO) status, it is mostly produced in Catalonia (Spain). Usually produced as a white sparkling wine, it is sometimes also made as a red.  The macabeu, parellada and xarel·lo are the most popular and traditional grape varieties for making cava, but sometimes others are used.  The flavor is light and fruity, and like champagne, the driness level varies according to the amount of sugar added.  Freixenet is the biggest brand of cava that is consumed.

Prosecco - normally made from glera grapes that grown in DOC regions (Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia) in Italy.  The less knowledgeable will say that it is like inexpensive champagne; but as many of my customers have observed, “dry” Prosecco is not always really dry.  Many Prosecco wines are syrupy sweet and to make mixed drinks like a bellini, a drier Prosecco is sought.  Two brands that produce truly dry and well-made Prosecco are: La Marca and Caposaldo.  Prosecco is typically a bit more expensive than Cava, but also has more floral and/or citrus notes.

Champagne – a traditional favorite that is not as expensive as you might anticipate, these wines can only come from the Champagne valley in France.  If you hear about the “traditional” or “champenois” method of making sparkling wines, it means that the same method of producing bubbles in the wine is used as for champagne.  Champagne is most often produced at different sweetness (dosage) levels, including “no sugar added”, which is quite refreshing.  Prices may range from $31 (Montaubret Brut Champagne) to hundreds of dollars.  Try the brand Ayala ($32), a smaller producer that is comparable to Veuve Clicquot but less expensive.

Lambrusco – Lambrusco is the name of both a red wine grape and an Italian sparkling wine made principally from the grape.  The grape itself is not particularly sweet but many of the sweet Lambrusco are made by either partial fermentation or with the addition of the sweeter Ancellotta grapes to the blend. When not fermented sweet, the Lambrusco grape is capable of producing a dry wine with strawberry notes and a slight bitter finish.  During the summer, it is an excellent barbeque wine to serve chilled. 

Other Sparklings

From California – Sparkling white wine - sometimes cheaper than champagne, and sometimes not, it is made from different white wine grapes, often Chardonnay.  Brands include Barefoot, Mumm’s, Korbel, Piper Sonoma, and Schramsberg Vineyards. 

From Italy – Cuvee: Also made from white wine, primarily Chardonnay, this sparkling wine’s price is between Prosecco and Champagne, and the vintner uses the best grape juice from gently pressing of the grapes to make this wine.  Berlucci makes an excellent Cuvee that I recommend for someone who’s ready to graduate from Prosecco onto something better.

From France - Cremant: Sparkling wines designated Crémant ("creamy") were originally named because their lower carbon dioxide pressures seemed to give them a creamy rather than fizzy mouth-feel. Today they are produced using the traditional method, and must to fulfill strict production criteria.  A sparkling wine that is cheaper than Champagne but good, it is made from a variety of grapes, depending on the maker and region.  Some makers include Paul Chollet and Frederick Mallo, and are priced at around $17.  Another sparkling to try when you’re ready to move away from Prosecco!

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