Sparkling wine

Sparkling wine is a wine with significant levels of carbon dioxide in it making it fizzy. The carbon dioxide may result from natural fermentation, (either in a bottle, as with the méthode champenoise, or in a large tank designed to withstand the pressures involved, as in the Charmat process) or as a result of carbon dioxide injection.

The United States is a significant producer of sparkling wine: California in particular is famous for its rosé sparklers. Recently the United Kingdom has started producing Champagne-style wines. Sparkling wine is usually white or rosé but there are many examples of red sparkling wines such as Italian Brachetto and Australian sparkling Shiraz, some of high quality.

Some wines are made only lightly sparkling, such as vinho verde in Portugal — such wines are often called frizzante or pétillant, or simply semi-sparkling wines. Sparkling Wines as opposed to Semi-Sparkling wines must contain more than 2.5 atmospheres of Carbon Dioxide as at sea level and 20 °C.


While this section is entitled "Sparkling Wine", strictly speaking it deals with effervescent wines, of which sparkling wine is one type. An effervescent wine is defined as a wine which releases carbon dioxide bubbles at its surface and the term includes the following wine types:

Sparkling wine, Vin mousseux. This is defined as a wine which, in a closed container at 20 °C, has an excess CO2 pressure greater than 3 bar, which must originate exclusively from the secondary fermentation of a still base wine after the addition of the liqueur. Fermentation can take place only in the bottle or in a closed tank. Sparkling wines must be aged in the producing winery for a certain minimum period starting from the onset of secondary fermentation (prise de mousse).

Semi-sparkling wine, Vin pétillant. This is an effervescent wine with a pressure of between 1 and 2.5 bar in a closed container at 20 °C, which can be made like sparkling wines, with secondary fermentation occurring either in the bottle or in a closed tank. In France, vins pétillants are made in two regions – the Loire Valley and Bugey-Cerdon. Carbonated semi-sparkling wines contain added CO2. Pétillants tend to have a lower alcohol content than other sparkling wines and some are marketed on a low-alcohol proposition.

Perlants contain more than 1 g of CO2 per litre of wine and bubbles can be seen at the surface at 20 °C when the bottle is uncorked. At 2 g/litre of CO2, corresponding to an excess pressure of around 1 bar, the wine approaches the definition for semi-sparkling wine.

The term champagne is reserved exclusively for effervescent wines produced in the Champagne region of France by the méthode champenoise. Since 1994, sparkling wines other than champagne produced by this method have not been allowed to use the term méthode champenoise, but have been obliged to use the term méthode traditionnelle.

Since 1975, the term crémant has been reserved for sparkling wines from an appellation d'origine contrôlée, or AOC; this French law was adopted by the EU in 1992. In France, the following AOCs are defined by decree: crémant d'Alsace, de Bourgogne, de Limoux, de Die, de Loire, du Jura and de Bordeaux. Crémants have a slightly lower effervescence – more than pétillant, but less than mousseux.

Regional styles

The classic example of a Sparkling Wine is Champagne, but many other examples are produced in other countries and regions, such as Cava in Spain, Asti in Italy (the generic Italian term for sparkling wine being Spumante) and Cap Classique in South Africa. In some parts of the world, the word "champagne" is used as a synonym for sparkling wine, although laws in Europe and other countries reserve the word champagne for a specific type from the Champagne region of France. The French term "Crémant" is used to refer to sparkling wine not made in the Champagne region. German and Czech Sparkling wines are called Sekt.

Current US regulations require that what is defined as a semi-generic name (such as champagne) shall be used on a wine label only if there appears next to that name the appellation of "the actual place of origin" in order to prevent any possible consumer confusion. Many US producers of quality sparkling wine no longer find the term "champagne" useful in marketing and prefer to call their products "sparkling wine".


Unlike most other French wines there is only one appellation of champagne, "Champagne". Anything labelled "Champagne" is produced in the Champagne region and conforms to the appellation standard.

There are just three grapes used to make Champagne. There are tiny quantities of a few other obscure grape varieties planted and legally included, but the vast bulk of champagne is composed of the three important ones. They are Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. The first two are black grapes, the latter is white. There are just five main regions within Champagne where the grapes are grown, and where the houses source their grapes will influence the quality and style of the final product. It's not really of much use to the general consumer, however, as you won't find these names on the label.

Firstly, the Montagne de Reims is the most northerly area, and is planted mainly with Pinot Noir, mainly on north facing slopes. Wines produced here are firm and dry. The Côte des Blancs is a mostly east-facing region south of Epernay. It is almost entirely planted with Chardonnay, and produces a wine much less hard than the Montagne de Reims. There is a little Pinot Noir planted in the very south of this region. The Vallée de la Marne runs west-east, and is planted with all three grape varieties, although the Pinot Meunier dominates. Further south is the Côte des Sézanne, primarily Chardonnay country, and finally the Aube, the southernmost of all five regions, is planted mainly with Pinot Noir. This latter region is quite a distance further south than the other four, and is thus warmer, so it is planted with mainly Pinot Noir.

The terms Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs indicate wines made solely from white grapes (Chardonnay) and black grapes (Pinot Noir and Meunier) respectively.

An oddity among champagnes are the rosé Champagnes, which may be made by either allowing the wine to stay in contact with the red grape skins for a while (the saignée method), or by adding in a little red wine to colour the product.


Crémant is the generic French name for sparkling wine made in that country outside the region of Champagne. Initially reserved for "Champagne demi-mousse", the term crémant has long been in use, but since 4 July 1975 (French law no. 75-577) it has been reserved for sparkling wines from an appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC). This law was adopted by the EEC in 1992.

The term crémant is thus defined at the European level.

In France, the following are defined by government decree:

  • Crémant d'Alsace
  • Crémant de Bordeaux
  • Crémant de Bourgogne
  • Crémant de Die
  • Crémant du Jura
  • Crémant de Limoux
  • Crémant de Loire

In Europe:

  • Crémant du Luxembourg

In the other European countries, the term crémant has not been adopted by wine producers.

The term was originally used to define those wines with a lower pressure than 2.5 bar, Champagne being of a pressure from 2.5 to 3.5 bar, but the term has been generalised and harmonised within the EU.

French appellation laws dictate that a Crémant must be harvested by hand with yields not exceeding a set amount for their AOC. The wines must also be aged for a minimum of one year.

The Loire Valley is France's largest producer of sparkling wines outside of the Champagne region. The majority of these Crémant du Loire are produced around the city of Saumur and are a blend of the Chardonnay, Chenin blanc and Cabernet franc. AOC laws do allow cuvees with Sauvignon blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot noir, Gamay, Côt, Pineau d'aunis and Grolleau but those grapes are rarely used in a significant amount.

In Burgundy, AOC laws require that Crémant de Bourgogne be composed of at least thirty percent Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Pinot blanc or Pinot gris. Aligoté is often used to fill out the remaining parts of the blend.

The Languedoc wine Crémant de Limoux is produced in the forty one villages around the village of Limoux in the south of France. The wine is composed primarily of the indigenous grape mauzac with some Chenin blanc and Chardonnay. The wine must spend a minimum of one year aging on its lees. The sparkling Blanquette de Limoux is composed entirely of mauzac and is aged for nine months.

Other French sparkling wines

There are also some other French appellations for sparkling wines, which do not carry the name Crémant. Some of these are exclusively sparkling wine appellations, and some are appellations allowing both still and sparkling wine to be made. The term Mousseux is French for "sparkling" and can refer to a sparkling wine made using methods other than the méthode champenoise such as charmat method. While Crémant can only be used for wines that have been made using the méthode champenoise.

Sparkling-only are:

Either still or sparkling are:


Cava is the name of a type of spanish white or pink sparkling wine, produced in different areas of Spain but mainly in the Penedès region in Catalonia, Spain, 40 km to the south west of Barcelona. Its name is derived from the Catalan word for cellar. The region of Penedès is an area of predominantly rocky terrain, and has been home to vineyards since the Greeks settled there in antiquity. It has a favourable climate for wine-making; the north and eastern winds of the Levanter help to cool the region, while the chalky top soil over clay allows the vines to establish deep roots.

The sparkling wine of cava was created in 1872 by Josep Raventós. The vineyards of Penedès were devastated by the phylloxera plague, and the predominantly red vines were being replaced by large numbers of vines producing white grapes. After seeing the success of the Champagne region, Raventós decided to create the dry sparkling wine that has become the reason for the region's continued success. In the past the wine was referred to as Spanish Champagne but this is no longer permitted under EU law, or colloquially as champaña or xampany.

Cava is produced in varying levels of dryness of the wine which are: brut nature, brut (extra dry), seco (dry), semiseco (medium) and dulce (sweet).

Under Spanish Denominación de Origen laws, Cava can be produced in six wine regions and must be made according to the Traditional Method with second fermentation in the bottle and uses a selection of the grapes macabeo, parellada, xarel·lo, Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Subirat. The house of Raventós i Blanc makes limited edition Cava, Elisabet Raventós which includes 10% white (blanco de negro) wine made from Monastrell Despite being a traditional Champagne grape, Chardonnay was not used in the production of Cava until the 1980s. Pinot noir has been permitted in white cavas since the 2007 harvest.

In Spain, Cavas have become integrated with family traditions and is often consumed at baptism celebrations with even the newborn getting a taste of his/her pacifier dipped in the wine.

Cava is a Greek term that is used to refer to "high end" table wine or wine cellar, and comes from the Latin word "cava" which means cave in English. Caves were used for the preservation or aging of wine. The constant, slightly chilly temperature and high humidity that most caves possess makes them ideal for such use.

Cap Classique

Cap Classique denotes a South African sparkling wine made by the traditional Champagne method. The name derived from the fact that the classic art of winemaking was introduced to the Cape by the French Huguenots, and the first bottle-fermented wine produced at the Cape was Simonsig Estate's Kaapse Vonkel (Cape Sparkle).

Grapes are selected from a diversity of regions in the Cape, resulting in highly individual styles. Grape selection in the vineyards ensures that only perfectly healthy grapes are handpicked and brought to the cellar. Sauvignon blanc and Chenin blanc have been the traditional Cap Classique grapes but the use of Chardonnay and Pinot noir have been on the increase.

Whole bunch pressing is at the heart of the winemaking process, with only the first pressing, or cuvée, used to make the various base wines destined to be called Cap Classique. Individual base wines and blends are tasted annually by the Cap Classique Association's own members to ensure that the final wine is of high quality.

Once bottled, the bottles ferment and mature horizontally in cool, dark cellars for a minimum of twelve months. There are individual producers who ensure much longer yeast contact time, depending on the style and vintage. After riddling and disgorging, Cap Classique wines are left to mature on the cork for some time, to ensure integration and balance.

The Cap Classique Producers Association (CCPA) was established in 1992 by a group of like-minded producers who share a passion for bottle-fermented sparkling wines, made according to the traditional method (méthode champenoise). Their vision is to promote South Africa's premium Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) wines, as well as the common interests of the producers. They also intend to establish MCC as a generic term to describe these wines, ensuring that it is recognized both locally and in the international marketplace.


Asti is a DOCG sparkling wine produced in the Asti region in Piedmont, Italy. Made from the Moscato Bianco grape, it is available as a sparkling wine (Asti, earlier known as Asti spumante) and a frizzante (Moscato d'Asti). Both are sweet and low in alcohol, and often enjoyed with dessert. Similar styled wines produced elsewhere are often called spumanti.


Sekt is the German term for sparkling wine. The majority Sekt (around 95%) is made by the Charmat method with the remaining premium sekt being made according to the méthode traditionnelle (The term "méthode champenoise" is no longer permissible due to the Treaty of Versailles). Germany is the largest per capita consumer of sparkling wine in the world. Historically much sekt was made at least partially from imported wines from Italy, Spain and France. Sekt can only be labeled as Deutscher Sekt if it is made exclusively from German grapes. Some of the premium wines are often made using the Riesling, Pinot blanc and Pinot gris grapes, with much of it drunk locally rather than exported. These sekts are usual vintage dated with the village and vineyards that the grapes are from.

Not all sparkling (bubbling) wines are called Sekt, some are simply Perlwein. Sekt typically comes with elaborate enclosure (safety cage) to withstand its considerable CO2 pressure. It also comes with a Schaumwein tax, which since 2005 has been 136 euro per hectoliter, corresponding to 1.02 euro per 0.75 liter bottle. Germans also call some similar foreign wines Sekt, like Krimsekt (often red) from Crimea.

In Austria, Sekt is often made in the méthode champenoise with the Welschriesling and Grüner Veltliner grapes giving the wine a golden hue color. Sparkling rosé are made from the Blaufränkisch grape.

There's a Sekt wine made in Bohemia, the Bohemia Sekt. Production begun in the late forties and early fifties when a French expert worked in a local wine company and passed his experiences from the production of sparkling wine to his Czech colleagues.


Spumante is the Italian term for a sparkling wine. While some producers use the méthode champenoise, the majority of Italian spumante is produced by Charmat-Martinotti method, including the top Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene and Asti Spumante wines.

More lightly sparkling wines, pressurised between 1 and 2.5 atm, are termed frizzante.

Sovetskoye Shampanskoye

Sovetskoye Shampanskoye (Советское Шампанское, 'Soviet Champagne') is a generic brand of sparkling wine produced in the Soviet Union and successor states. It was produced for many years as a state-run initiative.

After the USSR was dismantled, private corporations in Russia and Belarus purchased the rights to use "Soviet Champagne" as a brand name and began manufacture once again. "Soviet Champagne" is still being produced in Russia and Belarus today, by these private companies, using the original generic title as a brand name.

American sparkling wines

Sparkling wines produced in the United States can be made in both the méthode champenoise and the charmat method. Lower cost sparklers, such as André, Cook's, and Tott's, often employ the latter method while more premium sparkling wines utilizing the former.

The history of producing quality sparkling wine in California can be traced to the Sonoma Valley where, in 1892, the Korbel brothers (immigrated from Bohemia in 1852) began producing sparkling wine according to the méthode champenoise. The first wines produced were made from Riesling, Muscatel, Traminer and Chasselas grapes. As the sparkling wine industry in California grew, foreign investments from some of the Champagne region's most noted Champagne houses came to set up wineries in the area. These include Moët et Chandon's Domaine Chandon, Louis Roederer's Roederer Estate, and Taittinger's Domaine Carneros.

Partly aided by the foreign influence, the overall quality of Californian sparklers increased with the introduction of the more traditional Champagne grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Pinot Meunier and Pinot blanc into the production. US AVA requirements and wine laws do not regulate the sugar levels and sweetness of wine though most producers tend to the follow European standards with Brut wine having less than 1.5% sugar up to Doux having more than 5%.

While many top American sparkling wine producers utilize the French champagne methods of production, there are distinct differences in their wine making techniques that have a considerable effect on the taste of the wines. In Champagne, the cuvee blend will rarely have less than 30 wines and sometimes as many as 60 that are taken from grapes spanning 4-6 years of different vintages. In California, cuvees are typically derived from around 20 wines taken from 1 to 2 years worth of vintages. French Champagne laws require that the wine spend a minimum of 15 months on the lees for non-vintage and minimum 3 years for vintage Champagne. It is not uncommon for a premium champagne to age for 7 years or more prior to release. In the US, there are no minimum requirements, and aging length can vary from 8 months to 6 years.

Another distinct difference, particularly in Californian sparkling wines, is the favorable Californian climate which allows a vintage wine to be produced nearly every year.

United Kingdom

The White Cliffs of Dover are made of the same chalk rocks as are found in the Champagne region, and are not that much further north. So it is not surprising that there has been increasing interest in making traditional method wines in southeast England. At around 52° North southern England has always been at the northern limits for viticulture, although there has been wine made in England since Roman times and the recent trend towards warmer summers definitely helps. Another problem is that the region is densely populated and land prices are very high, but at least there is a wealthy local market for the wine.

Nyetimber in particular has been grabbing headlines with a classic Champagne blend of Pinot noir, Pinot meunier and Chardonnay that won Best Sparkling Wine at a recent IWC.

Semi-sparkling wines

Semi-Sparkling wines are sparkling wines that contain more than 1 and no more than 2.5 atmospheres of carbon dioxide. The Carbon dioxide may be endogenous through second fermentation or through gas injection in which case the wine label must contain the words "aerated by the addition of carbon dioxide"

Several countries such as the UK, Germany and The Netherlands apply an excise duty rate for semi-sparkling wines the same as for still wines and less than for sparkling wines provided that there is no mushroom cork or ties.

Origins of terms for describing similar wines produced in other countries vary.


Frizzante is the Italian wine term for semi-sparkling wine (as opposed to Spumante, which is generally used for fully sparkling wines). Frizzante wines generally owe their bubbles to a partial second fermentation in tank, a sort of interrupted Charmat process sparkling wine.


The German term Perlwein also refer to such wines.


The French term Pétillant (approximately meaning "sparkling")

Vino de Aguja

The Spanish name — Vino de Aguja literally translates as "needle wine" or prickly. Vino Espumoso denotes fully sparkling wine or Cava under the Denominación. Similarly in Portugal, the Portuguese word for "needle" — Agulha — is used to describe the semi-sparkling quality of locally-produced vinho verde.

Red sparkling wines

While the majority of sparkling wines are white or rosé, Australia, Italy and Moldova all have a sizable production of red sparkling wines. In Australia, these sparklers are often made from the Shiraz grape.


Further reading

  • Guy, Lolleen. When Champagne became French: Wine and the Making of a National Identity. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.
  • Prial, F. J. Decantations. New York: St. Martin's, 2001.
  • Robinson, Jancis (Ed.) The Oxford Companion to Wine. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, second edition, 1999.

External links

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