Tips for picking sparkling wines

Selections are vast in the sparkling wines section. | Lou Phillips

So, you’re standing in the Bubbles/Sparkling/Champagne section at the store and wondering what to get. Unless you’ve had the wine before, you’re not sure what you are getting into. Should you go dry or sweet, fruity and aromatic or structured? Are the bubbles a fine mousse or coarse and aggressive?

Although Bruts vary from quite dry to a little sweet, they are usually on the dry side.

You look at the label and there is probably not a lot of help there because it won’t tell you what grapes it was made from. The terms on the label are often in a counter-intuitive language. For example, extra dry is one of the sweeter classifications. So, you grab your tried-and-true and have the same, old wine experience. As is often shouted in infomercials: “There’s got to be a better way.”

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Now we’re going to crack the code. First of all, don’t worry about what you call the wine. Champagne is a legally protected term in some areas of the world, but if that’s what you like to call bubbles, I’m pretty sure there will be no arrests. As a bonus, for using that term incorrectly, you may even chap the hide of a snob.

Mags of Cava. | Lou Phillips

So, let’s become comfortable in the Sparkling section. Start by looking for terms such as Brut or Extra Dry. There are other categories, but they would be sweet wines that are not commonly found. You can be sure Extra Drys have noticeable sugar. Although Bruts vary from quite dry to a little sweet, they are usually on the dry side.

Next, look for the wine’s place of origin. This will tell you what grapes are probably in the wine. For example, most quality Sparklers from France or California are made primarily from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Spanish Cavas are made from spicy indigenous varietals and Proseccos from the aromatic and fruity Glera grape. If a region specializes in a grape variety, such as Chenin Blanc in the Loire Valley, it’s a safe bet the Sparklers will use that grape.

The various production methods in quality versions are dictated by cost, but also by what makes the best wine. For example, even high-quality Proseccos are made in a bulk method because the traditional method, which ages the wine longer and in contact with yeast cells, would overpower the best characteristics of the Glera grape. Unless you are buying low-rent Sparklers, you can trust the method will be appropriate for the style and price point of the wine.

With the variety of grapes and styles that make for unique and yummy Sparklers, I highly encourage you to branch out and by all means get some tips from the wine guru at your local shop.