Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sparkling wines and champagne 101

Our friends at Clover Hill Winery in Breinigsville recently sent out an e-newsletter to remind its loyal customers to pick up their sparkling wines for their New Year's Eve celebrations. It included an overview on sparkling wines and champagne that we thought we be of interest to the readers of our blog. So we are borrowing the information below from Clover Hill. Many thanks to Kari Skrip for sharing it with us!

Sparkling Wine Vs. Champagne

Many of you have probably wondered what is the difference between a sparkling wine and a Champagne. The difference lies in the geography. “Champagne” is a sparkling wine that is produced in the champagne region of France according to strict government regulations. That same carbonated beverage if produced in the USA is properly termed “Sparkling Wine” (it is often nicknamed by wine makers as a “Sparkler”). Somewhere along the way Americans started calling some of their sparkling wines “Champagne”, using the word Champagne in a generic sense. Sparkling wine is made in the USA and Champagne comes from the Champagne region of France.

What is Methode Champenoise?

All true Champagnes and most premium quality sparkling wines, (including Clover Hill Vineyards & Winery Sparkling Wine, of course), are made in the traditional method known as “Methode Champenoise”. According to Methode Champenoise, the wine goes through a second fermentation in the same bottle in which it is sold. With the secondary fermentation in the bottle, the wine becomes more complex, different flavors develop, and each bottle becomes slightly different than the others. Each bottle takes on a personality of its own. The end result is a light delicate wine that produces elegant columns of small tingly bubbles. There are other methods of producing sparkling wines but they are not quite the same, so look for the saying “Methode Champenoise” or “fermented in this bottle” on the label, or even better, just look for Clover Hill’s Sparkling Wine!

Sweet Vs. Dry

Sparkling wine labels can often be very confusing and not very user friendly. Usually American wine labels contain a variety of French terms on the label, for instance, Methode Champenoise, which was discussed earlier. Also the level of sweetness is defined using traditional French terms. These French terms are listed below from driest to sweetest.

Brut Natural – 0%-0.5% Sugar – Bone dry
Brut – 0.5% - 1.5% sugar - No perceivable sweetness
Extra Dry – 1.2%-2% sugar - Slight sweetness
Sec - 1.7%-3.5% sugar - Noticeable sweetness
Demi-Sec – 3.3%-5% sugar – Very sweet
Doux – 5.0% plus – Extremely sweet

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