Your wedding is a celebration of your love for one another, and nothing says “celebration” quite like popping the cork off of a bottle of champagne. You may like to imbibe with an occasional glass of bubbly, but when it comes time to pick out a few bottles for your reception, the choices can seem overwhelming. Here’s the basics to help guide you through the process.
Champagne or Sparkling Wine?
Champagne is a sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wines are champagne.
Champagne (with a capital “C”) is produced only in the region of Champagne in France. By French law, it can only be made with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier grapes. It must also be produced using the methode champenoise (Champagne Method).
To make matters confusing, United States producers can legally call their sparkling wines “champagne” even though they are not produced in France. However, on a label in the United States, champagne must begin with a small “c” and the sparkling wine’s geographic origin and production methods must be listed.
The abundance of bubbles in sparkling wines are created during a second fermentation process. For the second fermentation the winemaker adds some sugar and a bit of yeast to the wine. The yeast and sugar then convert to carbon dioxide (bubbles) and, of course, alcohol.
What’s in a name?
A Champagne’s sweetness will vary depending on the amount of sugar added by the wine maker during the fermentation process. The sweetness of a champagne can be used to match your dinner courses or desserts. Some classifications to look for on the label:Ultra Brut/Extra Brut: No added sugar Brut: Nearly dry, contains no more than 1.5% sugar. This is the most popular style and plays well with most food. Extra Dry/Extra Sec: Slightly sweeter, can contain up to 2% sugar. This is great as an aperitif if you are having a cocktail hour before dinner is served. Dry/Sec: Can contain up to 4% sugar Demi-Sec: Just sweet enough, can contain up to 8% sugar. This pairs great with fruit or dessert. Doux: Sweet, can contain up to 10% sugar.
Sparkling wines from around the world
In addition to Champagne (with a capital “C”), some other regions of France also produce sparkling wines, most notable the Loire Valley where the sparkling wines are referred to as Cremant.
Italy’s sparkling wine is called Asti or, sometimes, Asti Spumante. Asti is produced in the Italian wine region of Piedmont and is made with the Moscato grape.
The Spanish wine region of Catalonia produces their well respected Cava sparkling wine. Cava is made with several different grapes including the traditional Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes
The United States produces several types of sparkling wine (or champagne with a little “c”). Several French champagne producers have set up shop in the US, including Domaine Chandon and Tattinger in Napa Valley, and Roederer in Mendocino. Most now use the traditional champagne grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, plus Pinot Blanc. United States producers Andre, Cooks, and Totts are able to make less expensive sparkling wines by using a more cost effective production process.
Germany and Austria
Germany and Austria produce the little known Sekt. Sekt is made with Riesling, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris grapes in Germany and Welschriesling and Gruner Vetliner grapes in Austria.