Bubbles, Bubbles & More Bubbles

Author: Rob Elvy

With the holiday season quickly approaching, I thought it might be the perfect time to chat about sparkling wines.

While often reserved for special occasions, in the wine world, we love sparkling wines because they are arguably the best wines to pair with any dish.

With a lively body and refreshing flavour, sparkling wines always enhance the dish without ever dominating it. The question for you as a consumer is, “What are the best sparkling wine options for me based on quality and cost?”

Let’s start by distinguishing the differing styles of sparkling wine and thus a bit more information on what gives the various styles a fizzy structure.

After the fermentation process is complete, the wine then goes through a secondary fermentation in some form of closed environment, either in a bottle or a tank. The secondary fermentation occurs by exposing the existing wine to active yeast and sugar. When this occurs, carbon dioxide is captured, creating bubbles and its effervescent style.

Champagne is the most popular of all sparkling wines, named both for where it comes from — Champagne, France — as well as how it is made.  Known as the “traditional method,” the final wine is captured in bottles, thus creating a powerful mousse.  As it is quite labour intensive, the traditional method is typically a more expensive option.

Note that it is not just the method that creates a higher price with champagne, it is also due to the fact that there is a high demand for it, coupled with a limited amount of production given the defined geographic location. My tip for buyers: look for small champagne producers when shopping rather than the bigger, well-known producers, as they are generally priced lower and are of excellent quality.

Are the higher prices for champagne getting too out of reach? The good news is that winemakers around the world also employ this traditional method. These are the wines that stock my fridge and cellar because they really outperform, especially given their lower prices.

Sparkling wines such as Cava from Spain, Franciacorta from Italy and Cremant from various regions in France are fantastic options and could be priced as low as 25 per cent of the cost of commercial mass-produced champagne houses. Further, if you want to support local producers, there are many excellent options. In fact, in Ontario, we produce world-class traditional method sparklers at fantastic prices.

Do you enjoy Prosecco? It uses a more utilitarian method called the Charmat method. Instead of using a bottle for the second fermentation, it uses a large pressurized vat with carbon dioxide added to the entire tank.   

Prosecco is certainly the most popular selling sparkler in our market due to its easy drinking style. Stylistically, Prosecco can range from Brut (bone dry) to Extra Dry (slightly sweeter) and Demi-Sec (a dessert style wine) so best to read your labels to ensure you settle on a style that suits your palate.

While Prosecco is often thought of as a good-valued sparkler, my advice is to branch out this holiday season and taste a few other options. Head to the LCBO vintages section; you’ll typically have better options than the everyday shelf items. You will be pleasantly surprised at the pricing of these “Champagne method” sparklers – especially given their excellent quality.  Me…I am shopping for a lovely Rose sparkler to pair with my holiday bird!

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Rob Elvy – The Small Winemakers Collection

Private wine importer and wine educator, as well as long-term resident of Kingston, Rob Elvy has been involved in the food and wine business for over 25 years. Working primarily as a private wine importer with the Small Winemakers Collection, Rob collaborates with over 130 wineries from around the world of wine.

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