Bubbles v. Bubbles
By: Maggie Bernat Smith
Posted: Dec. 27, 2012

[Credit: warrenski]

Bubbles vs. Bubbles, what's the difference? There are endless choices now of fizzy wines to choose from, Champagne being the most well-known and most expensive of all the fizzy wine is where the tradition started. It's the original masterpiece. Champagne is the region outside of Paris where the bubbles were perfected and is the gold standard of sparkling wine today. Depending on your budget and palate, you can get a wide range of fizzies now and this will help you pick the right one.


How Bubbles Happen and Why the Way They Get There Matter

Champagne Method (or Traditional Method). Champagne, France is where the second fermentation in the bottle was invented and perfected. A natural byproduct of the fermentation process (during which time the yeasts eat the sugars resulting in alcohol) is carbonation. If you ever looked into a bin of grapes fermenting, you would see the juices bubbling. Wine goes through one fermentation process and gets bottled. To make Champagne, you introduce another yeast and sugar cocktail, put a crown cap on the bottle and trap the bubbles inside. This method creates the most refined and complex type of sparkling wine. The entire Champagne process takes a minimum of 15 months to complete and most will age for at least 3 years longer at the winery. This is one of the reasons why this method is so expensive. See my other articles on traditional Champagne.


Charmat (or Tank Method). This is a cheaper and timelier way of creating bubbles in wine. This is where the winemaker conducts the second fermentation process in large tanks instead of individual bottles. This way, they can make and bottle sparkling wine within a few weeks at a low cost. You don’t get the complexity and refined fizz of Champagne, but if you are looking for a non-serious, easy-drinking sparkle, then think Italian Astis and Proseccos made in this method.


Transfer Method. This method follows the same scenario until the second fermentation; however after the second fermentation these bottles are opened under pressure and then emptied into a big tank to be filtered and refined in a larger quantity. This process saves time and is not that expensive, either. However, the wine made through this process lacks the benefits of aging on yeast lees, which adds complexity and character to the wine. Nevertheless, the transfer method delivers a decent quality at a lower cost than the traditional Champagne method.


Differences between the processes are readily noticeable in their end products. Both the transfer and Charmat wines usually have larger, less-long-lasting bubbles. Méthode Champenoise bubbles are usually more integrated into the wine and longer lasting. Also, because of the additional time Méthode Champenoise takes to clear the wine of sediment, the flavors of yeast autolysis (chemical breakdown) add a complexity and creaminess to the wine that is absent in sparkling wines produced through faster methods.


Now that you know how bubbles get into the bottle and how that can affect the price, let’s talk about the style and price you want to pay!

Champagne - obviously the most expensive, refined, finessed, toasty, creamy, most Heavenly sparkler on earth. You can buy good ones starting at $35 and going on up to whatever you can afford. I would stick the lesser-known producers that don't market their product heavily, since brand name is what you pay for in a lot of Champagnes. Duval Leroy is a great starter Champagne. Charles Krug is a favorite among wine people in the know, but more pricey.

California Sparkling - a good quality alternative to Champagne. Many producers from Champagne have set up shop in California (such as Roederer, Taittinger and Mumm) to make quality sparkling wine outside of Champagne. Since the climate in sunny California is much different than cool gray skies of Champagne, grapes get much riper and create a more fruit-driven style then French Champagne.

Cava - from Spain, which is a great area for less-expensive sparklers. Clean, crisp, citrusy, minerally and fresh are the adjectives I use to describe this fizzy wine. Cava is made in the traditional method, which gives you that extra added complexity, but at a fraction of the price of Champagne—ranging from $5 to $20 for a good one. Look for Avinyo Reserva, a solid Cava.

Prosecco - from Italy; a more fruit-driven, almost sweet style of sparkling wine. This is great if you don't like your wine too dry. Ripe apples, pears, apricots and stone fruit are typical of this Italian sparkling. Most of these range from $10 to $15 per bottle. Perfect for Mimosas, brunches and apertifs. Look for Adami Prosecco from the Veneto in Italy.


These are all sparklers I recommend for whatever occasion you may be celebrating or if you just like drinking fizzy wine like me!

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