Bubbly for Beginners: Your Intro to Sparkling Wine

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Sparkling wine: it’s the official libation of celebration. From the 18th-century French royal courts, to your sister’s wedding, and the annual New Year countdown — where there’s a milestone or holiday to commemorate, there’s always bubbly flowing and someone shouting “Pop champagne!”

For starters, let’s clear something up: Champagne is a wine region in France that makes sparkling wine; it’s not a blanket term for all sparkling wine as a category.

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Champagne is only one kind of bubbly (and often the most expensive). But with so many delicious options out there — most of which won’t run you $200 like a bottle of Krug — people are starting to realize that the fizz need not be reserved for special occasions.

Popping bubbly on a Tuesday, simply because you feel like and it pairs well with dinner, is reason enough. Let’s raise a toast to that and break down your options…

Champagne

Only sparkling wine made with grapes from Champagne, France in the traditional method (basically, fermented in bottles) may be labeled Champagne.

Growing, harvesting, and processing standards in Champagne are rigorous, which is why this prestigious bubbly always comes with a hefty price tag.

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Don’t make mimosas with real-deal Champagne; it has delicate flavors and yeasty, nutty notes that don’t care to mingle with OJ (but also, don’t taint an $80 bottle with juice). Instead, pair champers with oysters, burrata toast, flaky pastries, and one pinky in the air because dang it, you’re fancy.

Prosecco

Prosecco is Italy’s most popular bubbly and everyone’s brunch table staple. Made with Glera grapes, it’s produced using the tank method (fermented in a tank), which is more affordable and often creates sparkling wines with lighter, spritzier bubbles.

Prosecco is fruitier and slightly sweeter than other bubblies, which makes it the perfect base for mimosas, bellinis, and other cocktails — the flavors won’t clash with added mixers and spirits.

Cava

Hailing from Catalonia, Spain, Cava is made with three local grapes — Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo, for those wondering. It’s aged just like Champagne, but the price is right — you can snag a great bottle for under $15.

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Cava can be blanco (white) or rosado (pink). It’s your drink-all-day bubbly that loves to play with all foods. It has tart acidity to cut through a greasy bacon-and-eggs breakfast, plus fresh flavors (citrus, apple, pear, minerals) to complement a green salad or Gazpacho.

American sparkling

Back in the day, many of California’s most famous wineries were set up by the OGs of the Champagne world, like Roederer Estate (Louis Roederer) and Domaine Carneros (Taittinger).

Today, as desire for domestic sparkling continues to grow, many other wine regions across America are making noteworthy bubbly using a variety of grapes, like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Pinot Blanc.

So whether you’re popping a bottle from Oregon or New York’s Finger Lakes, there’s no such thing as a “traditional” American sparkling wine — they’re all a little different, and that’s the beauty of it!

Trentodoc

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Trentodoc is Italy’s more elegant sparkling wine, grown in the high altitudes of the Italian Alps and made using the traditional method.

It has a fuller body and more richness than Prosecco, with crisp acidity and refreshing mineral notes — meaning, it belongs at the dinner table alongside a full-blown Italian meal of pasta all’Amatriciana or eggplant Parmesan.

Crémant

In addition to Champagne, France is home to 22 other sparkling wine regions, eight of which produce delicious Crémants. This sparkling wine is made using the traditional method, but every region uses different grape varieties, giving each Crémant a unique flavor (and more economical price tag).

Generally, Crémants have high acidity and yeasty flavors, so if you’re enjoying one with food, balance the acidity with something fatty (like a goat cheese omelet) and match the yeasty flavors with a crusty slice of bread.

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