December 29, 2020
When you’re wrapped in a blanket (or better yet, cats) in front of the TV, you want a nice reliable glass of red. But when you want to make an event special, you toast it with Champagne. We can’t clink glasses with a large group of friends right now, but that doesn’t mean we have to ditch the bubbly.
Since Champagne is mainly enjoyed on special occasions, most people don’t have much experience with it. Our guide to types of Champagne will help you find the right sparkling wine for any occasion and pick the perfect base for your mimosa.
The Difference Between Champagne, Cava, Prosecco and Sparkling Wine
All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. In fact, Champagne, cava and prosecco are all types of sparkling wine. Sparkling wine is a general term used to describe fizzy wines, regardless of what type of wine it is or how it came to be fizzy. Let us get into the details.
Champagne is the OG festive drink made in the Champagne region of France, 90 miles northeast of Paris. To be classified as Champagne, a sparkling wine must satisfy three conditions: It must be grown in the Champagne region of France, it must be made from the traditional grapes (chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier), and finally it must be produced using the traditional method also known as méthode traditionelle, méthode classique or méthode Champenoise.
The traditional method is to give the wine a second period of fermentation after moving it to the bottle in which it is sold. (This is what makes it bubbly.)
Expensive Champagnes are best enjoyed on their own, while more affordable options work well in mixed drinks. If you want to make mimosas to accompany your next fancy brunch, opt for a brut Champagne, prosecco or cava.
Champagnes to try:
For a special occasion: Veuve Clicquot Vintage Brut Champagne
For a gift: Taittinger la Brut Française Champagne
Cava, the Spanish sparkling wine, is also produced using méthode traditionelle, but with different grapes (macabeo, xarel-lo and parellada).
Young cava is a light- to medium-bodied, typically dry sparkling wine with notes of citrus and yellow apple and noticeable acidity and minerality. Aged longer, cava develops a nuttiness in flavor—you may recognize notes of almond or hazelnut. Include cava in your next at-home wine testing.
Cava to try:
For any occasion: Segura Viudas Brut Cava
Prosecco is a sparkling wine made from glera grapes in the Veneto region of Italy using the Charmat method, which is cheaper and faster than the méthode Champenoise. Prosecco gets its bubbles from being fermented in tanks and is only then transferred to bottles. This Italian wine is normally sweeter and lighter than cava or Champagne and has hints of pear, apple or even tropical fruits.
Prosecco is a base for many popular cocktails such as Aperol spritz, bellini and mimosa and is widely enjoyed as either an aperitif or a digestif.
Prosecco to try:
For your NYE celebration: Chloe Prosecco
For fancy mimosas: La Marca Prosecco
Types of Champagne Sweetness Designations
You’ve undoubtedly heard of brut Champagne, but what does it mean? Brut is a sweetness designation given to very dry Champagne and sparkling wine. The full sweetness scale looks like this:
- Brut nature: extra bone dry
- Extra brut: bone dry
- Brut: very dry
- Extra dry: dry, but not as dry as brut
- Dry: somewhat dry
- Demi-sec: sweet, typically a dessert sparkling wine
- Doux: very sweet, also typically a dessert wine
However, brut is the most common designation and is often applied to Champagnes and sparkling wines that could be considered a bit sweet. So if you really prefer a dry-tasting sparkling wine or Champagne, play it safe and opt for extra brut or brut nature.
Fun fact: There are more grams of sugar in a 5-ounce gin and tonic (14g) than there are in a very sweet-tasting demi-sec Champagne (8g), according to Wine Folly.
How to Serve Champagne or Sparkling Wine
The consensus is that the ideal temperature at which to serve most sparkling wines is just below 50° F. Further, do not serve sparkling wine in pre-chilled glasses, as it will kill the bubbles. Champagne should not be stored in the freezer because it will expand and may push out the cork or crack the bottle.
Champagne Food Pairings
The next time you’re looking to pair wine with food, consider grabbing a bottle of Champagne. Despite its reputation as a fancy loner, Champagne—and sparkling wine—play very nicely with a lot of dishes, including some downright homey dishes.
Mac and cheese or grilled cheese sandwich
Why it works: Acidic Champagne bubbles help cut through the cheesy, buttery richness of a creamy mac and cheese or a gooey grilled cheese sandwich. It even works with Kraft singles.
Try it with: Veuve du Vernay Brut
Spicy Thai food
Why it works: Sweet, fruity bubbles can soften spicy and acidic Thai dishes, such as tom yum kung soup and pad prik king.
Try it with: Barefoot Bubbly Brut Rose
Why it works: This combination is a classic for a reason: dry bubbles complement the minerality of the briny oysters.
Try it with: Veuve Clicquot Vintage Brut Champagne
Fish and chips
Why it works: Champagne’s acidity can help balance out fatty, salty fish and chips. It’s similar to vinegar, which is a staple topping for this popular across-the-pond dish.
Try it with: Gosset Champagne
Salad with vinaigrette dressing
Why it works: Because it’s so delicate, not a lot of alcohol pairs well with salad. But Champagne perfectly accompanies the acid in a vinaigrette, and is especially good with a tangy cheese topper.
Try it with: Chloe Prosecco
Why it works: With its crisp bubbles, Champagne is a great palate cleanser, especially when it comes to spicy chili.
Try it with: La Marca Prosecco
Why it works: Sweet, fatty duck needs an acidic drink partner, which it finds in a nice glass of brut Champagne.
Try it with: Moet & Chandon Imperial Brut