Sparkling wine is, well, a wine that sparkles. We usually associate sparkling wine with Champagne. Champagne is, of course, sparkling wine. It is specifically sparkling wine produced in the Champagne district of France under the wine making rules of that area. Only wines from Champagne, made under these rules, can legally be called Champagne. All other sparkling wines are simply called sparkling wine or by some regional synonym such as Cava in Spain, Espumante in Portugal, Asti or Spumante in Italy, Sekt in Germany, and Mousseux or Crémant in France for wines not produced in Champagne. The sparkle or fizz comes from carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide in sparkling wines of any quality comes from natural fermentation. Sparkling wines are usually white, but are frequently rosé and on occasion can be red. The sweetness of sparkling wine can range from very dry brut styles to the much sweeter doux style. Although the United States is a significant producer of sparkling wine, and French Champagne houses have opened wineries here to produce wines in the Champagne style, we just call it sparkling wine. All naturally fermented sparkling wines are made using a two-fermentation process. The first fermentation is done like most still (non-sparkling) wines. If the wine is to be a blend, then each still wine is produced separately and then blended together. Sparkling wines made entirely from white wines are known as blanc de blanc (white of white). Wines including both white and red wines are known as blanc de noir (white of black). Most Champagne and Champagne-style sparkling wines are made from Chardonnay (blanc de blanc) or Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (blanc de noir). However other grapes are sometimes used and these produce wines that are markedly different from traditional Chardonnay-based sparkling wines; for example Italian Moscato and Prosecco. It is the second fermentation that distinguishes still wines from sparkling wines and which produces the bubbles. The traditional method of secondary fermentation is called the Champagne method. Using this method, the still wine from the first fermentation is bottled with a mixture of sugar and yeast and then sealed. This restarts the fermentation process. Since the bottle is sealed the carbon dioxide from the fermentation has nowhere to go so, under pressure, it dissolves into the wine. During the entire process the bottle is inverted so that debris from the fermentation process collects in the neck. Once the fermentation is complete, the neck of the bottle is frozen, the bottle unsealed, and the now frozen debris violently disgorged from the bottle by the pressure of the carbon dioxide. At this point the bottle may be dosed and then quickly resealed to preserve the remaining carbon dioxide. When we pop the cork, the pressure is released, the carbon dioxide comes out of solution and we get bubbles. As mentioned above, after disgorgement, the bottle may be dosed with sugar before being corked. The amount of sugar in the dosage will determine the ultimate sweetness of the wine. The nomenclature used to describe the relative sweetness of sparkling wines is sometimes confusing. It may help to understand that the terminology is based on the premise that dryness is the absence of sweetness. So, the terminology, from most to least sweet, is doux, demi sec, dry (or sec), extra dry, and brut. Note that extra dry is sweeter than brut. Brut always designates the least sweet wine. To complicate matters a bit further, you will sometimes see degrees of brut, such as extra brut (dryer than brut) and brut natural (the most dry). While sparkling wines are perfect to celebrate special occasions, don’t neglect sparkling wines as an everyday wine and especially as food wines. Champagne is excellent with mild cheeses such as brie, mild cheddar, chevre, colby, edam and gouda. You can also serve Champagne with steamed or grilled lobster, scallops and shrimp, with mild sushi, and light chicken dishes. As always, the goal is to match the flavor intensity of the wine to the flavor intensity of the food. - Cellar Notes - Here are three good examples of sparkling wines. The Mumm is a rosé from Napa Valley, the Cristalino a Cava from Spain, and the Veuve Clicquo a true Champagne from France. Note that although white, the Veuve Clicquo is a blanc de noir made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Brut Rose * Maker: Mumm * QuickClass: Drier White * Grape(s): 85 percent Pinot Noir, 15 percent Chardonnay * Appellation: Napa Valley * Cost: $22 * Tasting Notes: This Brut Rosé offers a bouquet of ripe Pinot Noir fruit, rich with black cherry and strawberry notes. Part of the wine is initially fermented in the press, producing the soft fruity character that gives Brut Rosé its directness, while a small percentage of Chardonnay gives the wine power and structure. Cristalino Brut Cava * Maker: Cristalino * QuickClass: Drier White * Grape(s): Macabeo, Parellada, Xarello and Chardonnay * Appellation: Spain * Cost: $6 * Tasting Notes: Pear, green apple, peach, tropical fruit, citrus, mineral, flinty and subtle spice and butterscotch. Generally full bodied and dry. Champagne - Brut * Maker: Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin * QuickClass: Drier White * Grape(s): 66 percent Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, 34 percent Chardonnay * Appellation: Champagne France * Cost: $45 * A wonderful smooth-textured Champagne with flavors of apricot, peach, vanilla pastry and mineral; good acidity and a long finish. A note about vintage – If you can’t find a particular vintage discussed here, with some significant exceptions, you may find the next vintage year very similar. Modern viticulture and production methods have reduced, although not eliminated, dramatic year-to-year variation. Food pairing suggestions are available at virtualwineknow.com. Local oenophile David Dickson has been enjoying, learning and teaching about wine for nearly 30 years. He welcomes questions, comments and suggestions for columns at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Visit his Web site at www.lifeisacabernet.net.