07/21/2022 Federico Oldenburg, journalist specializing in wines
July 5 2022
How many types of sparkling wines are there? Cava, Champagne, Prosecco...
Although cava and champagne tend to take center stage in large social celebrations - and also at sports podiums and the best restaurants in the world - these are not the only sparkling wines made in the world. Many other examples of this seductive bubbly typology are produced in the vast and diverse global vineyard.
Some are traditional wines, deeply rooted in their respective regions, while others are the result of the innovative vocation of a viticulturist or winery who experiments with new varieties in areas without a background in this type of wine.
The three methods of making sparkling wines show the great diversity of this type of wine.
The methods of making sparkling wines
To have a rough idea about how many types of sparkling wines there are in the world - the exact number is impossible to determine - the first step is to know the definition of the typology and its different production methods. The first point is simple: sparkling wines are those that contain carbon dioxide. The bubbly particularity results from the addition of sucrose or yeast to a "still" wine (without carbonation), which does not usually exceed 11º of alcoholic volume, which leads to a second fermentation.
There are three common methods for making sparkling wines:
Traditional method (or champenoise)
It is the most complex and laborious system, which gives rise to the great sparkling wines of the world. It requires that the second fermentation take place in the bottle, which remains in cellars for at least nine months. During this period, dead yeasts accumulate in the bottle and, thanks to frequent stirring, end up concentrating in the neck of the bottle. To remove them, the neck is frozen and the bottle is "slaughtered". Subsequently, this proportion is filled with expedition liqueur (an action known by the French term "dosage"), whose sugar content determines the type or style of sparkling wine. In the current regulations of the P.D.O. For Cava, the following is stipulated: Sweet cavas (+ 50 gr / l of sugar), Semi-Dry cavas (between 32 and 50 gr / l), Dry (between 17 and 32 gr / l), Extra Dry (12-17 gr / l), Brut cavas (up to 12 gr / l), Extra Brut cavas (0-6 gr / l) or Brut Nature cavas (up to 0-3 gr / l).
In this method, the second fermentation also takes place in the bottle, but later the liquid is transferred to another container. Sparkling wines made in this way are usually less complex, because the wine´s contact time with the yeasts is reduced.
Charmat or Granvas method
The second fermentation takes place in large stainless steel tanks. It is suitable for large volumes and short aging, but it usually offers good results when made with base wines of proven quality.
Pét-Nat, the most ancient novelty
To these methods considered academically as the three ways of producing sparkling wines, we must add one more that today is a trend among lovers of natural wines: Pét-Nat. These wines are subjected to a second spontaneous fermentation in the bottle after a first in the warehouse. Without added sugar, sulfites, or aging on lees. Although it is not a new invention, the tradition of the Pétillant-Naturel is ancient in France and goes back 500 years, when champagne did not even exist.
Cava, Champagne, and other traditional sparkling wines coexist with others produced in regions with no background in this type of wine.
Cava and champagne, tradition and leadership
Knowing the different methods of production, fans of the best bubbles will know better where and how to choose. It is no secret that France has the most famous type of sparkling wine in the world, from Champagne, where the hectares of vine cultivation with the highest value of the global vineyard are also concentrated. The predominant varieties in the region are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, combined in different proportions depending on the production area.
In Spain, Cava has modified its regulations and diversified its offer to respond to market demands and today it reaches notable levels of quality, in different price ranges and styles. Although the P.D.O. encompasses sub-areas spread over different parts of the Iberian Peninsula, most of the production is concentrated in the Penedès wine region, where three native varieties have traditionally been used to make this sparkling wine: Xarel·lo, Macabeo and Parellada. However, in other regions, there are also other grapes with a much more minority presence, such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Monastrell, Subirat Parent, or Garnacha.
As in Champagne and other regions of the world where sparkling wines are made following the traditional method - which prioritizes the assembly of varieties - in Cava, it is common to find cuvées that offer the leading role to a single variety. This is the case of the so-called Blanc de Blancs (they are usually 100% Chardonnay, although they may contain another variety of white grape), such as Codorníu Ars Collecta Blanc de Blancs Gran Reserva, and Blanc de Noirs, which are cavas produced with 100% red grape, in most cases, the complex and subtle Pinot Noir, such as Codorníu Ars Collecta Blanc de Noirs Reserva cava.
Quality sparkling wines are also produced in other regions of Spain, such as Rioja, with remarkable results and a very distinctive character, as is the case with Lumen Brut Reserva.
Types of sparkling wines of the world and origins
In Italy, the offer is wide and diverse, depending on the different regions, from the popular Lambrusco - which continues the tradition of Amabili wines originating in Modena - to the delicate Moscato d'Asti, whose history dates back to the 13th century, with delicate floral nuances and low alcohol content (around 5º). Not forgetting the famous Prosecco, whose production is concentrated in the vineyards of Friuli and Veneto.
If one of the consequences of global warming has been the opportunity for the English to produce remarkable sparkling wines in their vineyards in Kent, Sussex, and Surrey - from the same varieties as in Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier -, it should not be forgotten that in the so-called New Wine World there are also many wineries that take advantage of the "champenoise trilogy" to produce sparkling wines of excellent quality. Argentina, for example, has been doing it since the 1950s of the 20th century. And today it also happens in Australia, the United States, Chile, South Africa ...
Finally, lovers of exoticism have in Canada what is probably the rarest sparkling wine in the world, made from unique, sweet, and contrasting ice wines. Frozen grapes, bubbles, and a high concentration of sugar in the same wine? You are right.