Better with Bubbles

From prosecco to champagne

They foam with varying intensity, spread the most diverse aromas and awaken a feeling of the special moment with an unalterable guarantee. We are talking about sparkling wines. The oenological drink of the moment.

Sparkling wine not only suits the season, but the moment in general. Bollicines are more popular than ever, not so much because you have something to celebrate, but because you want to include moments of lightness in this difficult time. And if any wine is predestined for this, it is the sparkling wine.

If one speaks of them, the term "champagne" is used for them in most cases. Which is not always quite correct, especially since only wines from Champagne may be called so - with some exceptions (but that's another topic). The rest is just called sparkling wine or when talking about a specific region Cava (Spain), Sekt (Germany), Spumante, Franciacorta (Italy), Sparkling (New World). In Switzerland, too, numerous sparkling wines are produced, and in all wine-growing regions.

Sparkling wines can be vinified from both white and red grapes. Depending on the region and style of the house, they are made from one or more grape varieties and have different complexity. In general, we can choose between two quite different production methods - the traditional method and the autoclaved method from the tank. Both are based on the same principle, in which the transformation of sugar into carbonic acid is achieved thanks to the use of yeasts.

On the palate, it is not always easy to immediately recognize which method has been used, with the traditionally produced show wines (which also include champagne), meinst somewhat more complex and intense than those that have the large tank as their origin. The autoclave is a pressure vessel that can be closed gas-tight and is filled with still wine, sugar and yeast.

After a certain time, the yeast reacts with the sugar and the second fermentation, during which the CO2 bubbles are formed, begins. As a rule, this process lasts about 30 days - in the case of bottle fermentation, it lasts from a few months to several years. A factor that is also reflected in the selling price. Most often, the cheaper sparkling wines are created in the tank and not in the bottle.

Cold and from a bulbous glass

No matter how a sparkling wine has been produced, it should always be enjoyed nice and cool. 8 to 10 degrees are ideal - one with a fresher taste can also be served cooler and one that is rather opulent and powerful can also have one degree more. However, it should not be too warm, because otherwise it will look pappy and flat. The CO2 bubbles will also have an unpleasant effect on the palate. Incidentally, they are a good indicator of the quality of a sparkling wine. Ideally, they are fine, dense and delicate.

What was considered an oenological faux pas a few years ago is now socially acceptable. Today, if you want to be in, you enjoy your sparkling wine from a bulbous glass full of ice cubes. The concept is the same as for a "spritzed white" - a glass full of ice and then top it up with sparkling wine. The idea was launched by the major Champagne houses, which have created products such as Moët Ice Imperial, Ice Impérial Rosé and Pommery sur glace. Meanwhile, Cava or sparkling wine producers also offer this sparkling refreshment.

Generally, such bottlings are more aromatic and also a little sweeter in taste and can be enjoyed both at the party and with culinary creations, whose flavors are colorfully mixed. As mentioned earlier, sparkling wines and especially Champagne are more popular and sought after than ever. Thanks to the lockdowns during Covid-19, we have the phenomenon that the demand for sparkling wines of all kinds has increased massively.

As if sparkling wine is no longer uncorked solely at formal events and parties, but in a much more relaxed context. Also to treat oneself - in view of the negative environment. The champagne market even seems to be overheating at the moment. Total champagne shipments in 2021 rose to 322 million bottles, an increase of 32 percent over 2020. Exports continued to rise to a new record of 180 million bottles.

Glass choice

In addition to the classic flûte, Champagne wine glasses are becoming increasingly popular. Their slightly bulbous shape helps the wine to develop better, so you can see the different aromas more beautifully. Of course, this glass can also be used for other sparkling wines, the important thing being that the second fermentation has taken place in the bottle (as with Champagne). These would be Franciacortas, Crémants or even single Cavas, for example. The flûte is often too narrow and narrow to show the bouquet of a beautiful champagne in its full glory. Therefore, with a flûte, always make sure that the glass has a larger opening and is bulbously shaped, so that the champagne is well perceived in the nose and on the palate and can develop nicely. This is very important for vintage champagnes. If you uncork a fine champagne and only have thin flûtes to choose from, I would serve it from the white wine glass.

Jean-Marie Barillère, president of the Union des Maisons de Champagne and co-president of the Comité Champagne, predicts that the well-known bubbles will reach record sales of more than 5.5 billion euros. However, one problem that also plays out in this sector are the rising prices, the chaos in inventory and allocation management, and the supply chain problems. For wine consumers, it's very exciting at the moment - albeit unsettling, especially as a plethora of new creations are set to hit the market in the coming months - from the very low-priced, to the high-priced and virtual NFT's.

Austria and Germany in focus

One region to watch in particular is the German-speaking region - i.e. Germany and Austria. Both - albeit independently of each other - are focusing more and more on their local bollicine production, thereby automatically enhancing its value. In Austria, for example, the "Day of Austrian Sparkling Wine" takes place on October 22 of the year. From funky Pet Nat sparkling wine to the more complex Austrian sparkling wine are the focus.

In our neighboring country, almost 47,000 hectares of vines are cultivated, which is about three times the area of Switzerland. Two-thirds of the vineyard area is planted with white varieties, with Grüner Veltliner accounting for 31 percent of the total area. Among red wines, Blauer Zweigelt is number one with 14 percent. It is interesting to note that 14 percent of all vines are now cultivated organically, which was also noticeable when tasting this selection of sparkling wines, especially since most are produced organically, biodynamically or even naturally.

"Our sparkling wines are of the highest quality, and they are increasingly in demand internationally as well."

Chris Yorke, Managing Director of ÖWM (Österreich Wein Marketing GmbH)

Of the annual production, 10 percent is processed into sparkling wine, which is considerable. Austrian quality sparkling wine (Sekt) may be produced exclusively from quality grape varieties. The carbon dioxide must have been produced by alcoholic fermentation in the bottle or tank. Different methods are used for the production: bottle fermentation (classical method), transvasation (filtration de-fermentation) or tank fermentation (Méthode Charmat). In Austria, sparkling wine has the most important meaning as quality sparkling wine.

Since 2021, the quality marks "Sekt Austria" (fresh sparkling wine), "Sekt Austria Reserve" (18 months bottle fermentation) and "Sekt Austria Grosse Reserve" (36 months bottle fermentation) have also been used. That also works well for exports. For example, Austrian sparkling wines posted a 34 percent increase in 2021. Chris Yorke, Managing Director of ÖWM (Österreich Wein Marketing GmbH), comments: "Our sparkling wines are of the highest quality, and they are also increasingly in demand internationally. In the last two years, important steps have been taken to position Austrian sparkling wines of protected origin unmistakably on the market. The classification 'Sekt Austria' is internationally easy to understand and unambiguous."

Sparkling wine as a swear word

What's interesting here is that for a long time the term "sparkling wine" was more of a swear word than a sign of quality. It stood for bottles of cheap, light bubbly with disgusting plastic corks, which could be found on the street on New Year's Day next to the debris of spent fireworks. The German wine industry can also sing a song about this, but its sparkling wines, like those of Austria, are experiencing a true renaissance - albeit still somewhat smaller in terms of volume.

The seal of quality here is called "VDP Sekt" and "VDP Sekt Prestige". VDP President Steffen Christmann says: "With the VDP Sekt statute, we are launching a quality offensive for German sparkling wine. Our strict quality criteria meet the highest international requirements. The statute enables our wineries to develop continuously. Our aim is to use the sparkling wine seal to distinguish lighthouse sparkling wines that rank among the world's great sparkling wines. We are thus giving wine lovers a quality compass in their hands."

"With the VDP sparkling wine statute, our goal is to recognize lighthouse sparkling wines that are among the great sparkling wines of the world."

VDP President Steffen Christmann

Traditional bottle fermentation is mandatory for VDP sparkling wines. Vintage sparkling wines must lie on their lees for at least 24 months or 36 months. Grand sparkling wines are also allowed to age for much longer. The strict production guidelines of the VDP apply to the production of the sparkling wines. Additional sparkling wine parameters are regulated in a separate VDP specification. For example, sparkling wine produced according to the VDP sparkling wine statute may only come from estate-owned vineyards suitable for this purpose.

These are appropriately cared for from pruning to harvesting - traditionally early for sparkling wine - and are always harvested by hand. The grape varieties are defined individually by each region, classically Riesling and Burgundy varieties, supplemented by regional classics. Among sparkling wines, Cava always has its own easily recognizable taste - which of course has to do with the grape varieties used.

Macabeo is one of the three grape varieties that make up the Trinity of Cava and the most widely grown within the Denomination of Origin (D.O.) Cava. This variety is believed to be native to the Penedés region, particularly Vilafranca, and was first mentioned in 1617.

Production of the Prosecco

After the harvest of the Glera grapes, the production of white wine takes its course: the sugar is transformed into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Fermentation lasts between 15 to 20 days at a temperature not exceeding 18°C. The first wine to be bottled is Prosecco Tranquillo (still wine), while Frizzante (sparkling wine) and Spumante (sparkling wine) undergo a natural second fermentation. Second fermentation according to the Italian method - also called the Martinotti method - takes place in large pressure-tight containers called autoclaves. This is where the wine gets its famous bubbles. Towards the end of sparkling winemaking, which lasts at least 30 days, fermentation is stopped by lowering the temperature and a residual sugar is retained to achieve a certain aromatic signature. In the creation of Rosé Prosecco, local Pinot Nero wine is blended with Glera at a percentage of 10 to 15 percent to obtain a light pink wine for sparkling. The production process is the same as for Prosecco DOC, with the difference that the foaming must not be less than 60 days to give more stability and roundness to Prosecco DOC Rosé.

Xarel-lo is another grape variety with which Cava is most closely associated. This variety is considered autochthonous to its Penedés region of origin in Catalonia and was first mentioned in Sitges in 1785. Xarel-lo, thanks to its wide use, is considered the second most cultivated variety in the D.O. region. Cava. Xarel-lo, together with the varieties Macabeo and Parellada, forms the most classic cava coupage. However, Monastrell, Subirat, Trepat, Grenache, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are also allowed.

In 2021, this region has also introduced a new classification system for sparkling wines - with the aim of quality control and increase. In short - it bubbles strongly in the sparkling wine sector - and not too scarce and this in the positive sense. Sparkling wines are the trend and there is a general worldwide valorization in this sector - not only in Champagne. At the same time, access to and enjoyment of sparkling wines has also loosened up and it doesn't necessarily take a special moment to pop the corks.

This article appeared in
Issue 5-2022

BAR NEWS magazine as single issue

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