The category has grown well beyond Champagne.
Sparkling wine is having a renaissance in the U.S. Consumption is up throughout the year, according to the Wine Market Council. The trend is driven by Millennials: 62 percent of them report drinking sparkling wine each month, compared to 21 percent of Baby Boomers. But even people who rarely drink wine will often spring for a bottle of bubbly for the holidays.
A lot of consumers like to call anything with bubbles “Champagne,” and some U.S. producers reinforce that misconception by labeling their products as, for example, “California Champagne.” True Champagne comes only from the Champagne region of northern France, although sparkling wine is made in nearly every part of the world that makes wine.
In the western U.S., California leads the way on sparkling wine, with choices ranging from inexpensive André and Barefoot Bubbly to pricier offerings like Roederer Estate and Schramsberg. Oregon and Washington produce bubbles, too; the Michelle brand from Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington is widely available. Spain produces Cava, much of which is bargain-priced.
And, of course, there’s the bubbly phenomenon from northeastern Italy called Prosecco, a category that’s seen tremendous growth over the past several years.
Like all wines, sparkling wine starts by undergoing an alcoholic fermentation: Yeast converts grape sugar into alcohol. Sparkling wine involves a secondary fermentation in a sealed container to catch the carbonic gas that’s produced. In general, that secondary fermentation is achieved using one of two processes: the methode champenoise (sometimes known as the traditional method) and the charmat method.
In the first, the second fermentation takes place in the same bottle in which the wine is sold. That’s the way it’s done in Champagne, in high-quality domestic sparkling wine and in Spanish cava, among others.
Wines made in the charmat method undergo the second fermentation in a large tank before they’re bottled under pressure. This technique is used in Prosecco and in some inexpensive California bubblies.
Within all categories of sparkling wine, there is a range of styles.
The wines can be very dry or quite sweet, although most are dry to slightly sweet. Most are pale; some are rosé-colored; some are even red (like sparkling shiraz from Australia). And the vast majority aren’t vintage-dated.