Sparkling wine is a type of wine with significant levels of carbon dioxide that makes it fizzy. The carbon dioxide may result from natural fermentation (either in a bottle, as with the method champenoise), in a large tank designed to withstand the pressures involved (as in the Charmat process) or as a result of the injection of carbon dioxide. Sparkling wines are usually white or rose, but there are many examples of red sparkling wines.
Terms on labels of sparkling wines indicate the sweetness level of the wines:
- Natural means very dry (sometimes called extra brut or ultra brut).
- Brut means dry.
- Extra-Dry, oddly enough, means slightly sweeter than brut.
- Demi-Sec means "half-dry," so wines labeled demi-sec fall on the sweeter side (best consumed with desserts).
The classic example of sparkling wine is Champagne, but this wine is exclusively produced in the Champagne region of France. Italian versions of sparkling wines include the ever-popular Prosecco which is made in both fully sparkling (spumante) and lightly sparkling (frizzante) styles in the cool hills around the town of Valdobbiadene. Sparkling wines produced in the United States can be made in both the method champenoise and the charmat method.
The history of producing quality sparkling wine in California can be traced to Sonoma Valley where, in 1892, the Korbel brothers began producing sparkling wine according to the methode champenoise. Varietals used in California sparkling wines include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and/or Pinot Blanc.
Champagne and sparkling wines pair especially well with caviar, shrimp and shellfish, salami, smoked salmon, stuffed mushrooms, fruit-based desserts and buttered popcorn. Rose sparkling wines pair well with prosciutto, smoked salmon, chocolate, chocolate-covered berries and raspberries. Prosecco pairs well with white meat, pasta dishes, salads (especially those with duck and chicken), antipasto, almonds, prosciutto and smoked salmon. Sparkling wines do not pair well with sautéed scallops and smoked salmon, strong-flavored red meats and rich creamy sauces.
Along with Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, sparkling wines work well with many cheeses, primarily because they have crisp acids, low wood, exuberant fruit and no tannins. Sparkling wines tend to cleanse and refresh the palate, excite the senses and clear the way for the flavor of the cheese, lifting and enhancing flavor rather than competing with the cheese for attention.
Specific cheeses that go well with sparkling wines include Asiago, Beaufort, Brick, Brie, Brillat-Savarin, Camembert, Cheddar (mild), Chevre, Cheshire, Colby, Comte, Dry Jack, Edam, Emmental, Epoisses, Feta, Fontina, Gorgonzola, Gouda, Gruyere, Jarlsberg, Le Chevrot, Limburger, Manchego, Monterey Jack, Meunster, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Port Salut, Provolone, Taleggio, Tomme de Savoie and such sheep-milk cheeses as Pecorino Romano and Pecorino Toscana. Do not pair sparkling wines with triple cream brie of any smoked flavors.