World of Wine: An introduction to the major sparkling wines of Europe
With the possible exception of Thomas Jefferson who liked just still wine — no bubbles — I think I'd be safe in saying that probably 99 percent of the wine drinking population today loves their sparkling wines: Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, and when you can get it, Sekt.
Each of these sparkling wines comes attached to a country: Champagne, exclusively from Champagne, France; Prosecco from Italy; Cava from France; and Sekt from Germany.
A cautionary note: Check the label carefully before jumping into a purchase of any of these sparkling wines. There was more Prosecco sold than actually produced, so the rumor goes, with the error in thinking that anything sparkling from Italy has to be Prosecco. Check the label carefully — especially the back, to see just how the content of the wine within was produced and where it originated to get the real thing.
All of these branded wines have suffered cheap imitators, which or course, tarnishes the quality the originators are attempting purvey. Copycat low-priced sparklers are often dubbed nothing more than carbonated fruit juice.
What then, is the difference between these major country labels? In some cases price; others it's just how the effervescence is created. For the French Champagne, it is only the champenoise method, where the final fermentation takes place in the bottle. American imitators will use the same technique, but it is termed traditionelle, while Cava will have tradititionnelle as its method of in-bottle second fermentation. Both Prosecco and Sekt get fermentation via the Charmat, or tank method of fermentation.
For middleclass consumers, we look for the genuine without the stratospheric prices, which fortunately for our taste buds, is available on the market.
Look for non-vintage labels to get into the lower price ranges, then expect to be able to find good bottles priced at or below $30 for Champagne, Prosecco at or below $12, Cava and Sekt at or below $15.
The grapes used in making these sparkling wines differ as well. Champagne is made from Pinot noir, Pinot meunier and Chardonnay. Prosecco is made from the Glera grape, Cava from Macabeo, Parellada, Xarello, Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Subirat. The German Wine Institute indicates around 50 percent of premium sparkling wine is made from Riesling, around 30 percent is made from Pinot varieties, and the rest is made with other varieties. The wide range of varieties being used make it difficult to establish a clear image of the category of German Sekt.
Basically, if you find a German Sekt or bubbly wine you like at your desired price point, latch on to it. Premium Sekt is hard to find in America because as the German wine industry makes it, Germans consume it. Very little is left for us to enjoy.
Ron Smith, a retired NDSU Extension horticulturist, writes weekly about his love of wine and its history. Readers can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.