Know your bubbles
Christmas is about celebration and sparkling wines remain the beverage that best captures a sense of festivity, in a glass. New Zealand offers a growing number of sparkling wines made in a variety of styles and with an array of different grape varieties. There are a number of methods available to the winemaker in order to trap the bubbles of carbon dioxide in each bottle.
- Made in the traditional method (methode traditionelle) is when a still wine has fermented for a second time in the bottle in which it is sold, e.g. Champagne, Cava from Spain, New Zealand traditional method, such as Cloudy Bay Pelorus, No1 Family Estate, Quartz Reef from Central Otago.
- Tank-fermented sparkling wine is a cheaper process and this is reflected in the price that you pay. Examples are Asti, Prosecco from Italy and New Zealand’s Lindauer.
- Adding carbon dioxide to a still wine is another method and widely used for our sparkling sauvignon blanc.
Sparkling wines are generally lower in alcohol and come with varying levels of sweetness. Just prior to release, Champagne undergoes “dosage” where, depending on the required level of sweetness, the wine is topped up and sweetened to round out the palate and take the edge off the acidity. The most popular non-vintage category of Champagne, referred to as brut, may have up to 12g residual sugar per litre. In recent years, there has been a fashion for “zero dosage”, where the wine is left in its naturally dry state following the fermentation.
In tank-fermented sparkling wines, the fermentation is often stopped early in order to retain a level of sweetness and the natural fruitiness of the grape in the wine.
Understanding the level of sweetness in a sparkling wine can give you a host of new ideas for what food to pair with it. A sparkling wine with a high level of residual sugar can offer a wonderful lift with dessert. In Champagne, these are referred to as demi-sec with 32-50g/l residual sugar or doux with over 50g.
At the dry end of the scale is brut nature or zero dosage with less than 3 g/l with no sugar added at dosage. Brut, which is the most common methode traditionelle, has less than 12 g/l residual sugar. Sec is medium-dry 17-32 g/l residual sugar while demi-sec or medium-sweet has 32-50 g/l residual sugar. Doux has from 50 g/l residual sugar upwards, which makes it well-suited to desserts and the end of a meal.
Styles of methode traditionelle
Champagne or methode traditionelle, as this style of wine is called when made outside of the Champagne region in France, also has a number of terms used to reflect its level of quality. Non Vintage (NV), blended from more than one vintage, is what we are mostly drinking and priced from $40-$90.
The more expensive Vintage is from a single year and will have the year of production on its label. Prestige Cuvee, usually a vintage wine, considered the best blend of the house, is the most expensive. Examples are Crystal from Louis Roederer or La Grande Dame from Veuve Cliquot.
Rosé wines are a blend of red and white wine, usually pale pink or salmon colour. Blanc de blanc or white of white, is when the wine is 100 per cent chardonnay. Blanc de noir, or white of black is made from pinot noir and/or pinot meunier.
In her latest book New Zealand Wine Guide: An Introduction to the Wine Styles and Regions of New Zealand, Celia Hay, Director of the New Zealand School of Food and Wine and well-respected wine educator, explains in detail about new Zealand’s wine regions, significant grape varieties and wines produced.
RRP $49 from nzwinebook.com and selected retailers.