What Makes It Sparkle?

Whether you’re toasting the happy couple, ringing in the new year, or winning a Grand Prix, you’ll have enjoyed a bubbly bottle or two in your time with wine. Most people (absolutely everyone) have heard of Champagne and in recent years prosecco has become the most popular wine in the UK. But there is a lot more to sparkling wine than just Champagne and prosecco, and even just knowing a little bit more about what is out there can bring you a bevy of brilliant bubbles.


Today we’re answering some of the questions that maybe you didn’t want to ask for fear of embarrassment. Fear not. Anyone who would laugh at you probably doesn’t know the answer either, and those that do would want to tell you ALL about it!


What ACTUALLY makes it sparkle?

A good place to start. The simple answer is carbon dioxide. That’s right, it’s the same as a glass of sparkling water or fizzy pop. I know, sounds awful, but don’t be put off. Cola and other such soft drinks are a bit of a forced concept. The CO2 is ‘squashed’ into them after they’re made, unlike sparkling wines, which is an altogether more interesting and (admittedly we’re biased) ‘more satisfying to drink the outcome’ method.


How is it made?

We’re not here to bore you, so we won’t go into great detail here. All fermentation creates carbon dioxide. In most alcohol production this CO2 is released to stop things exploding, but with sparkling wines the CO2 isn’t allowed to escape. This keeps the bubbles in the wine, and voila! sparkling wine.


There’s a method called the Ancestral method, which is still used in some parts of France (Blanquette is a great example) which is the oldest way to make sparkling wine. This method tends to make the bottles explode, which looks great, but it’s a huge waste of wine, and that is a travesty.


Something you’re more likely to have heard of is the Champagne method, which is exactly what it sounds like. This was the method invented in Champagne, and because the bottles are less likely to explode (until you want them to) it’s become the way to make most sparkling wine.


In a nutshell, the vineyard makes a still wine and this is poured into bottles before a little bit of sugar and yeast are added, and the bottle is sealed. Over time this sugar is turned into carbon dioxide by the yeast, and you get your fizz. Just before it comes to you, the yeast is removed, and your sexy bottle of wine is ready.


So, is everything Champagne?

No! In fact, the vast vast majority of sparkling wines are not Champagne. It’s the Champagne method, but only wines made in the Champagne region of France (and from particular grapes) can call themselves Champagne.


Everything else, even though they use the same method, and often the same grapes, is just sparkling wine. But that is why you want to know more, because while Champagne is lovely (it really is!) you can also find some amazing sparkling wines that aren’t Champagne at all.

What makes Champagne so famous (and expensive)?

Well, it’s a quality thing. The winemakers of Champagne were the first to perfect their method, and over hundreds of years they have made the finest wines in the world as a result. The area itself is a bit too cold for grapes to ripen to make great still wine, but that’s perfect for sparkling wine.


You can spot a Champagne a long way off because of the bubbles. You thought bubbles were just bubbles didn’t you? Alas, that’s not the case! Champagne bubbles are a lot smaller than those in other sparkling wines. It’s all to do with the process, but the result is tiny bubbles that bring out all the flavour in the wine.


As for the expense, well, if you were making the most famous, delicious, and celebration synonymous wine, how much would you charge for it? If you want the best, it costs a little more, but it’s so so worth it.


And is Prosecco just Italian Champagne?

Prosecco is slightly different altogether. Rather than going into a bottle to make bubbles, it’s made in large tanks that are pressurised. Once it’s ready, it’s poured into the bottles with the fix already inside. This tends to make the wines fruiter, which can be a great treat, and makes for very easy sipping in the summer sun.


Prosecco also has to come from a particular part of the world. In this case it’s Italy, and just like Champagne, wines that aren’t from the region have to go by sparkling wine, without the marketable name.


What’s the best way to open sparkling wine?

So once you’ve got a bottle, you may wonder about how to open it. Rule number one is DO NOT SABRE. If this means nothing to you, visit YouTube, and then do not try it at home.


Posh wine-drinkers will tell you the aim is to open the bottle with as little fanfare as possible. It’s seen as uncouth to ‘pop’ your fizz, and you’re likely to spill a little, which would be a shame. But this is all a bit rubbish too.


The best way to open sparkling wine is safely (don’t point the cork at your face) and in a way that means you enjoy it in the glass as soon as possible.


Can red wine be sparkling?

It can! It’s not very popular, and you seldom see it in the UK especially, but red wine can sparkle. It used to have a reputation for being a bit cheap and sweet (bringing us back to cola!) but that’s not the case when you find something really good. The reason it’s a tough search is because most red grapes go on to become still wines, but keeping an eye out for a sparkling syrah from Australia is always worth it for a bit of a treat.


When should you drink sparkling wine?

There are so many good reasons to enjoy sparkling wine, so we’ve listed the best of them:

  1. When you finish work for the weekend
  2. When it’s the end of the weekend
  3. When you’ve finally got the kids to bed
  4. When you’re with someone you love
  5. When there is nothing else in the house
  6. When it’s sunny
  7. When it’s rainy
  8. With fish and chips (do it!)
  9. When you get your vaccination
  10. When you treat yourself (because you’re worth it!)

Written by Matt Mugan