Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, Sparkling Wine…what difference does it make? Which one do you like best and why? I’ll break down the different attributes for you to help you decide which bubbly to serve and drink for your New Years festivities!
The first thing we need to talk about is how you’ll be drinking this bubbly. Are you drinking for quantity or quality?
Answer: Quantity? If you aren’t particular about the fine aspects of a sparkling wine and just want some bubbly for a cheers after drinking larger quantities of other alcohols or you plan on drinking lots of bubbly over the duration of the night, I’ll immediately point you towards a Cava or a Prosecco. These wines are typically most affordable for the better attributes, which I’ll describe in detail later in this article. I typically buy Cava at my local wine shop, The Wine Gallery and Gourmet, so if you’re in the Colorado Springs area, check them out and they won’t steer you wrong. If you’re looking to buy several bottles of Prosecco, I highly recommend Costco’s Kirkland brand Prosecco. This is typically my go-to for mimosas.
Okay, now if you answered “Quality” for why you’ll be drinking bubbly this New Years Eve, I have a lot more information for you! Sparkling wine has always been a signature drink for my family, so it was typical to have a nice glass of Chandon or Veuve Clicquot over the holidays. Though I’ve always enjoyed sparkling wines, I never truly knew the aspects that made a sparkling wine great until I visited Yountville, CA and the Domaine Chandon winery and tasting room in 2011. If you ever have the chance to taste several different ages and types of sparkling wines in one tasting, you’ll quickly identify the very distinct characteristics of this type of wine. First, it is necessary to understand each type of bubbly:
- Champagne and Sparkling Wine: this is the most traditional bubbly. Champagne is often a blanket term that many use for all the sparkling wines. However, do not be fooled! A true champagne is only produced in the Champagne region of France and it is unethical for any wine producers to label their wines as “Champagne” unless the wine is produced in that region. Occasionally, you will see a wine labeled “Champagne” because the grapes came from the Champagne region, however the wine was produced outside of the region. Technically that’s not the real thing. If it’s a bubbly produced outside of the Champagne region, it is sparkling wine.
- Basic Info: Produced in France for Champagne, outside of the Champagne region for sparkling wine. This used to be the highest produced wine by volume but has since been surpassed by Prosecco for its affordability.
- Strong pressure. The best way I can describe this is, have you ever taken a really big gulp of a sparkling wine and it’s almost painful to swallow? That’s because the pressure of the wine is highest in Champagnes and sparkling wines. The wine is fermented, which also enhances that kick.
- Bubble size. Champagne and sparkling wines have small bubbles and with age, the bubbles are even smaller. If you get the chance to try several wines of different vintages, this will be incredibly evident. If you have a young sparkling wine, it’s as if the bubbles explode in your mouth. With a vintage sparkling, the bubbles are so fine and smooth, they quickly dissipate.
- Glass. I look forward to sharing some information in the future regarding a double-blind study that indicates that the glass used for drinking wine is irrelevant. But that’s beside the point. There are two traditional options for drinking Champagne and sparkling wine: a flute or a coupe. A flute preserves the bubbles, allowing more space for them to travel up the glass before dissipating. However, a flute’s narrow opening is not ideal for smelling the aromas of the wine. A coupe causes the bubbles to dissipate quickly, but the openness of the glass allows for adequate smelling. If you really want to show someone up, drink your champagne out of a traditional wine glass like I do. You still get the bubbles AND the openness of the glass allows for smelling. When they make fun of you for being a lush you can blindside them with your bubbly knowledge! This information pertains to each of the wines, but is most applicable for quality Champagnes and sparkling wines.
- Best bang for your buck. I’m a huge fan of Domaine Chandon, Mumm and Veuve Clicquot. For a decent Chandon, you can likely find it at your local liquor store or wine shop for under $20. If you’re willing to spend a little more, Veuve Clicquot has never let me down! If you have a Costco in your area, they often price Veuve around $45, otherwise expect to spend $55-60 at smaller-owned shops.
- Prosecco: I only recently started drinking Prosecco as our dear neighbors and great friends are huge fans of Italian wine country and it’s pretty much the only bubbly they drink. As mentioned in the “quantity versus quality” portion above, Prosecco and Cava are typically more affordable for a decent bottle, so that is also a huge bonus!
- Basic Info: Prosecco is an Italian bubbly that is not fermented in the bottle. Vintage Prosecco’s are not common and are mostly considered drinkable when purchased.
- Mild Pressure. Because Prosecco lacks bottle fermentation, the pressure is lowest among all bubbly. This is typically why Prosecco is so “likable” – it’s mild nature is a great crowd-pleaser. Additionally, this mild pressure tends to make it excellent for mimosas as the sharpness of the citrus juice is balanced with the smoothness of the Prosecco.
- Bubble Size. The bubble size goes hand-in-hand with the low pressure of the Prosecco and is considered to be “light”. The actual bubble size is somewhat unnoticeable since the pressure behind the bubble is hardly existent.
- Best bang for your buck. I personally think La Marca and Ruffino are pretty great options. You can likely find these at your local liquor store or wine shop for under $15!
- Cava: I’m beginning to learn that this is likely the least-known bubbly in the U.S. though it’s quite comparable to a sparkling wine or Champagne. But even better, you can find a pretty great Cava for under $15-20!
- Basic Info: Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine that most frequently is produced from similar grapes to Champagne and sparkling wine: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is also fermented in the bottle similarly to Champagne and sparkling wine.
- Medium Pressure. If you like a bit of pressure but have a hard time with young Champagnes or sparkling wines, Cava might be for you! The pressure is an in-between of Champagne and Prosecco.
- Bubble Size. The bubble size of a Cava is small and because Cava is rarely vintaged, you’ll get small bubbles out of young wines. Bottom line: if you’re on a budget but want an enjoyable bubbly, Cava may be your option to near the attributes of a Champagne/sparkling wine but not the price point!
- Best bang for your buck. There aren’t a lot of big-label Cava’s out there. You’ve likely seen Friexenet, a Brut Cava, which I’m a little on the fence about for its quality. I’d recommend trying to find a smaller label producer and give it a try!