Could there be anything more satisfying than sipping on a chilled sparkling wine on a hot summer day? Probably not. In celebration of summer, and sparkling wines, I teamed up with my friends Ryan and Regan to tell you all about sparkling wine.
Ryan Arnold is a Divisional Wine Director and Sommelier for Lettuce Entertain You, and Regan Baroni is an incredibly talented photographer who shot all the images for this post. We met up at one of my favorite restaurants, Summer House Santa Monica where Ryan led us through a tasting and taught us the difference between difference sparkling wines, how to pair them, and how to read the labels to see how sweet the wine will be.
We should start off with a little vocab lesson. Sparkling wine is a general term that doesn’t refer to a specific region. Champagne refers to sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France, using specific fermentation techniques. While winemakers outside of Champagne can use the French techniques, they can’t call their wine “Champagne” and instead they call it Method Traditional. Prosecco is a sparkling wine produced in Italy, using their own method. Cava is sparkling wine produced in Spain. In America we use the term sparkling wine.
Do you feel a little lost when you are buying sparkling wine? I have a trick for you. Each bottle is marked with a term that tells you how sweet the wine is. Brut Nature is the term for sparkling wine that is made without adding any extra sugar. Next comes Extra Brut, a dry wine with a touch of sweetness. Brut is next and is the most popular type of sparkling wine. Extra Dry is sweeter, and this term can be confusing since it is sweeter than Brut. Most Prosecco is Extra Dry. Demi Sec is a level sweeter than Extra Dry, and Doux is the sweetest. Often you can find sweetness level marked on the front label, but if it isn’t there, just check the back of the bottle, it will be on there somewhere.
The sweetness level of your sparkling wine gives you hints on how to pair it. Pair the dryer, less sweet Brut and Extra Brut wines with oysters, or raw fish like sushi or sashimi. Ryan says that Muscadet, a bone dry French wine, goes particularly well with oysters and any oyster bar will probably have it on their menu. The sweet wines, like Extra Dry sparkling wines pair well with spicy food since the sweetness of the wine will balance out the spice.
At Summer House we paired the Extra Brut and Brut sparkling wine with the ahi tuna tostadas and the spicy point judith calamari, and both were fitting pairings for sparkling wine. I did especially like the ahi tuna and the Roederer Estate Brut. And Regan and I agreed that the calamari was the best we have tasted. It has a light tempura batter and a creamy dipping sauce with a kick of spice.
Are you a fan of rosé? Winemakers are too. It’s faster and less expensive to produce. The rosé market has increased cash flow for wine producers since it can be produced in less than 6 months. It can also give vineyards more visibility since they can price the rosé lower than their other wines, and introduce new customers to their brand.
Wondering how rosé made? It isn’t made by blending white and red wine together, and it isn’t a white zinfandel. It is made by pressing the grapes letting the juice have contact with the grape skins for a few hours, making the wine pink. Rosé can be made from any red wine grape varietal. If you want a very light colored rosé, order a French rosé from Provence. If you like darker rosé, order one made with Malbec grapes.
When it comes to serving sparkling wine, you can use a flute or a white wine glass. If you choose a wine glass, you can experience the aromatics. Some people perfect champagne flutes since they seem more celebratory and they are made to make the bubbles dissipate more slowly, keeping your drink effervescent for longer. It comes down to a matter of personal preference.
Now that you have learned a bit about sparkling wine, you might want to try some! Ryan very kindly provided some recommendations for you based on sweetness level.
Brut Nature/Non-Dosage: Larmandier-Bernier
Extra Brut: Louis Métaireau
Brut: Roederer Estate (around $25)
Demi Sec: Huet Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu (around $30)
Prosecco: Bisol (around $25) and Nino Franco Rustico (around $15)
Champagne: Louis Metaireau (around $20), or if you want to splurge a bit get Egly Ouriet Grand Cru (around $100)
Rose: Division Wine Cellars ($23) and Red Car ($65 for 1.5L)
Sparkling Rosé: Garrubba Incanto Rosa
Huge thanks to Regan and Ryan for collaborating on this post. You can follow Regan on Instagram here, and be sure to visit her site Up Close & Tasty. Ryan is heading to Rio soon to do some work at the Olympics – so you should probably follow him on Snapchat (@wine_ryan) and Instagram.