It’s late Sunday afternoon. The last rays of sunshine dance on your face while you take a sip from your glass of champagne. You smell freshly cut grass, taste lemon and grapefruit and feel the bubbles on your tongue. It tastes like holiday.
Apart from the moment and the memories, what makes bubbly bubbly? And what’s the difference between Champagne, Prosecco and Cava?
The bubbles in the bubbly are carbon dioxide. But how does CO2 end up in wine? Simply injecting it into wine is one method. The more common methods for producing sparkling wines however are: 1. Methode Champenoise/Traditionelle, 2. Transfer Method and 3. Charmat Process.
In the Methode Champenoise, sugar and yeast are added to the wine. Fermentation then occurs in the bottle. It is left to age (for a minimum of 3 years!), with regular “riddling” or rotating. The residual yeast is then removed, and a final touch of sugar is added. Champagne is made using this method. Outside the Champagne region of France, the same method (although then referred to as Methode Traditionelle) is used to produce Cremant and Cava, amongst others.
The difference between the Champenoise and the Transfer Methods is that in the Transfer Method the bottles are put in a temperature controlled tank after the aging process. Similar to the Champenoise process, sugar is then added.
In the Charmat process, the whole process takes place in tanks rather than in the bottle itself. Yeast and sugar are added to the tanks, after which fermentation takes place. The wine is then cooled and clarified, and sugar is also added. This process is used more in Italy, and Prosecco is a good example of a wine produced through this process.
In addition to the differences in methods, different grapes are used to produce different types of bubbly. For example, Champagne is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier grapes, and these have to be hand-picked! You may have also seen the white sparkling with additional labels such as “Brut”, “Sec” or “Doux”. These refer to levels of sugar in the bubbly drink, and thus the “dryness” or sweetness of it. Cava has similar categories.
Cava is usually made using a mix of Macabeo, Parellada and Xarello grapes. Prosecco is made from the Glera grape. Public opinion tends to say that Prosecco is less “complex” in its’ taste. This is largely due to the fact that Prosecco is not left to age, and because the wine is fermented and processed in tanks rather than in the bottle. Prosecco also tends to be a bit sweeter, likely because of the grape used and also the process.
Some winemakers also produce rose champagnes or sparkling wines, usually made by introducing red grapes skins in the process.
Grapes and therefore wine are a reflection of the soil they come from and the climate they grow in. People that are into wine tasting will therefore often refer to flavours they taste in the wine as minerality, fruit, grass and “terroir” or earth. You may hear people say they can taste the sun in their glass or a saltiness often tasted in wine from grapes with a silty earth.
In addition to these well known variants, lesser known bubblies are the Cremant and Blanquette de Limoux (from France), Franciacorta (from Italy) and Sekt (from Germany). On top of that there are bubbly wines from the so-called New World (Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, whose wine production started much more recently than the as Old World: France and Italy). A lot of the famous vineyards in the New World produce their own bubbly wines. What most people don’t know is that some of the more famous Champagne brands have vineyards in the New World from which they produce sparkling wine, often under a different brand name. An example would be Domaine Carneros in the US is owned by Taittinger.
Any wine expert will tell you that Champagne can go with anything food-wise. This is because most white sparkling wines are reasonably complex – there are many different flavours and layers in a sip. It can be dry, fruity and full-bodied at the same time making it an easy pair for anything from antipasti to seafood to cheese and desserts. Whilst Cava is more similar to Champagne’s complexity, Prosecco, its’ taste being a bit lighter and sweeter, tends to go well with most starters and fish. Of course all bubbly make for great aperitifs!
Most people are under the impression that Champagne is much more expensive than Prosecco and Cava. This is true when considering the more famous, sizable Champagne houses. There are examples of more affordable options, examples would be Jacquard or Gosset, both from the Champagne region but with a lower price point than Moet & Chandon or Veuve Clicquot. Cremant, in taste usually quite similar to Champagne, can be found at prices similar to Prosecco and Cava.
Where can you try these delicious bubbles?
Luckily all bubbly flows freely in the UAE. Most brunches advertise which brand or type they offer with the spread, usually with a higher price tag for the Grandes Marques. Yalumba at Le Meridien near the airport and the VIP room at the JW Marriot Marquis in Dubai for instance both serve Laurent Perrier whilst Al Qasr’s Friday Brunch and Nine7One at Oberoi include Moet & Chandon. Nobu serves Perrier Jouet and Okku serves Taittinger.
If you’re up for a surprise, try the Friday Brunch at Traiteur at the Park Hyatt in Dubai. They offer Besserat de Bellefon Champagne with their selection of culinary highlights. Or try the brunch at La Residence at Raffles in Dubai that combines their extensive buffet with Belair Sparkling Brut from the Provence.
Why not turn a Friday into a little holiday?