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How to Pair Food and Wine Part One: Understanding Sparkling Wine

By Sophia Dearie


I love wine, don’t get me wrong. I work in the drinks industry, and my Dad works in the drinks industry. Wine courses through my veins just as blood does. But my god, it’s pretentious isn’t it?  


It’s almost as though those in the industry - don’t want anyone else to understand. I think that’s part of the reason that I was drawn to the industry in the first place. I want to make it more accessible, break it down - let people enjoy it for what it really is.  


So, aiming to make it a little more accessible, we are taking a deep dive into various sections of the wine world. How to understand a label a bit better, what to serve with different wines, where to buy your wines, interesting wine people to follow and whatever else fills my cup along the way.  


How to pair food and wine

First Up - How to Pair Food and Wine - Sparkling Edition. 


Sparkling wines are synonymous with celebrations. The mother of a dear friend of mine once told me, “you can’t say no to champagne”, and that has stuck with me. Sparkling wine is a great sipping drink, hence why champagne and canapes go together like salt and butter. A match made in heaven.  


I want to quickly explore some sparkling wine options that exist, what their origins are, and then I will get to the good stuff - some tried and tested sparkling wine and food pairings that will help you celebrate any day.  


Methods of Making Sparkling Wine:  


We all know Champagne by name, but what do we really know about it? There are a few ways to make sparkling wine; the traditional method (aka the methode Champenoise / Champagne method), the ancient method and the tank/charmat method. Each country has its own take on sparkling wine, so I’ll break these down a bit!  


For a sparkling wine to be called Champagne, it must be made in the Champagne region, and from wines grown in this region as well. The Champagne method, which due to French legalities, can only be called this within the Champagne region, is also known as the traditional method - it’s the classic sparkling vinification process. This method was invented in England around 1650 - and was later made famous by Benedictine monk, Dom Perignon (it all makes sense now doesn’t it) around 1700.

The traditional method requires a 2nd fermentation (aka - yeast converting the sugar in grapes into alcohol) to take place inside the bottle. So, still, wine is made, put into a bottle, and then a mixture of sugar and yeast is added (this is called the liqueur de tirage). This kicks off the 2nd ferment - which creates CO2 (the bubbles), and some more alcohol and lees (dead yeast cells - which add that buttery, pastry flavour).

Dom Perignon

This wine is then aged on these lees, which adds texture, flavour and overall richness to the wine. Before this wine is ready to be drunk by consumers - winemakers must remove these dead yeast cells. This is called riddling. The bottles are turned so that the sediment (the lees) is in the bottle’s neck. This is then frozen, so that when the cap is removed - the sediment is forced out. After this - dosage is added (mixture of sugar and wine) and the final cork is fitted. This method of making sparkling wine is laborious as well as expensive - but it results in rich and delicious wines. Part of the reason is that Champagnes are more expensive than other sparkling wines. Wines made via this method are most commonly seen in Australia, the USA and New Zealand.  


The final method - the tank / charmat method - is a great alternative for those who don’t necessarily like the rich complex flavours of Champagne. This sparkling wine process starts in the same manner as the traditional method. The still base wine is mixed with the liqueur de tirage, and then put into large stainless steel pressure tanks. The yeast and sugar that were added creates a 2nd fermentation within the pressure-sealed tanks, so the CO2 that is created during this fermentation is forced into the wine itself, thus - bubbles are born. This method is relatively quick, taking on average between 2-6 weeks - after which the wine is filtered and bottled and ready to be drunk.  

How to pair food and wine

 There is a final method of sparkling wine production - the simplest method - which creates the simplest wines. The carbonation method is straightforward. Still wine is made as normal, and then it is force carbonated (CO2 is forced into the wine). Sparkling wines made in this way often have quite rough beads (the bubbles of the wine) and tend to lose their sparkle once the bottle is opened. 


Now that we have the basics of the different types of sparkling wine methods down (don’t worry - there’s no quiz at the end), let’s move onto the different styles of sparkling wine from around the world.  


The Various Styles:  




Perhaps the most well-known sparkling wine style - comes from Champagne in northeast France. The main grape varietals that are grown here are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.  


Insider knowledge - blanc de blanc = white wine made from white grapes, blanc de noirs = white wine made from red grapes.  



The rules within France are so strict, that sparkling wine made elsewhere in France has to have its own name - enter, Cremant. Cremant is made in the same exact method as Champagne, but can be made with grapes from other regions in France (ie - Burgundy, Alsace etc.)  




Here come the Italians! The best-known sparkling wine from Italy is of course Prosecco, but my personal favourite is Lambrusco (more on that later). This style comes from the Veneto region in the north of Italy. Prosecco is made from the local grape variety there, Glera, and produces a lighter style that has grown massively over the last couple of years. These wines are made using the charmat method.  




My personal favourite style of wine (at the moment). This wine comes from northern Italy (just outside of Bologna). Lambrusco is made from a mixture of local varieties. This sparkling red wine is juicy and medium-bodied. This wine is made in the Charmat method, the traditional method and even some is made in the ancestral method.  




This is a semi-sweet, semi-sparkling wine from Italy. From the Piedmont region, in the North of Italy, this is made from the grape Muscat, and the slight fizz in this wine (made via the charmat method) - is known as frizzante (aka not fully sparkling).   



Spanish sparkling wine is Cava - which can be made in different regions across Spain. This type of wine is mostly made using local grapes (like Xarel-lo, Parellada and Macabeo), and made using the traditional method.  



German sparkling wine is known as Sekt - and whilst there are no ‘rules’ defining which grape varietals must be used - Pinot Noir and Riesling are the ones that are used most frequently. Sekt is generally produced via the Charmat method (some ultra-premium producers do use the traditional method).  


English Sparkling  

The hottest thing coming from the UK at the moment. English Sparkling is being made predominantly in Kent at the moment (the Wine Garden of England). The soil in this area is the same as the soil in Champagne, and the climate (due to global warming) is quickly becoming optimal for grape growing. Sparkling wine in England is made via the traditional method. However, some wineries are opting for the tank/charmat method to have some variety in their offerings.  


This has been a whistle-stop tour of just some of the sparkling wine varieties that there are globally, and stay tuned. Next time - I’ll be back with some suggestions for the best food pairings for sparkling wine! Until then, cheers. 




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