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Make Sparkling Wine Your New Go-To

IMG Sparkling-Krug

Picture this: You walk into a wedding reception and are greeted by staff holding trays of sparkling wine. Is it Champagne? Prosecco? It doesn’t matter. You grab a glass and proceed to a high top table where you await the arrival of creamy and flaky and savory appetizers. The sparkling wine is a perfect pairing.

If, like me, the last few years of life have been polka dotted with weddings and special events of loved ones, then you’ve probably consumed many glasses of sparkling wine alongside celebratory oohs and ahhs as the bride and groom walk in, alongside indulgent appetizers like cups of tuna tartare or miniature lobster rolls.

Sparkling wine is a traditional party starter here in the United States and beyond. The bubbles get us excited and there’s something about a Champagne flute that sets the mood – but it’s not all for show. Sparkling wine is incredibly high in acid. This means it’s a great pairing for foods that are fatty or creamy like those light bites during cocktail hour.

That said, bubbly isn’t a one-trick pony. Oftentimes we enjoy it during celebrations and don’t break a bottle out ourselves until the next time we get all dolled up to celebrate.

Lately, I’ve been flipping that script. But, before we get to some of my favorite sparkling wine pairings, we need a little background on the different styles of bubbly.

Styles of sparkling wine

Traditional method

You know Champagne and, chances are, you love it. But 'Champagne' is not a universal word to describe sparkling white wine. Champagne is a region in France where the wine is made in a method named after the region – Méthode Champenoise – also called the traditional method. Technically, seven grapes may be used in Champagne production, but there are three main players: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Wine undergoes its first fermentation in large tanks, and then its second in individual bottles. This sets the traditional process apart from other methods you’ll read about here because there's a perceivable impact on the wine in your glass as a result. The yeast added to each bottle to get that second fermentation imparts bread-y notes into the wine. Sparkling wines made this way may smell like fresh brioche.

If you’ve had Champagne, Crémant, Cava, Sekt, or Franciacorta, you’ve had sparkling wine made in the traditional method.

Tank method

This one is another style of wine, but the way the wine is made goes by a different name (welcome to the wild and wacky world of wine, friends). Prosecco describes an Italian sparkling white wine made from the Glera grape (formerly also known as Prosecco, which is yet again a bit confusing). Prosecco is made in the tank or charmat method. Instead of the second fermentation taking place in individual bottles, both fermentations happen in large tanks, and then bottles are filled with bubbly wine and can be sealed.

Ancestral method

This is the oldest method of making sparkling wine, and is a bit uncontrollable. It involves stopping the first fermentation partway through and allowing the wine to continue its process in individual bottles. This style is coming back with a vengeance as we see more and more pétillant-naturel wines (pét-nat for short) on the shelves.

Soda method

Believe it or not, one of the easiest ways to make sparkling wine is to pump CO2 into the wine to add bubbles. Generally, this method is used to mass produce wines.

Why sparkling wine style matters

Knowing the production style of sparkling wine can help you determine a few things before you even take a sip. Traditional method bubbly often has bread-y, yeasty notes. Not a fan? Try Prosecco, or another tank method wine. Trying to avoid sugar? Look for Brut or Extra Brut on the label, which indicate less than six grams of sugar per liter (close to zero if you find an Extra Brut). Traditional method sparkling wines also generally have a finer mousse which is the sensation of bubbles on the palate. Since the second fermentation for traditional method wines happens in a much smaller space, the bubbles are smaller and feel more like delicate pinpricks in wines of this style as opposed to larger, harsher bubbles that you might experience in soda method sparklers.

How you can pair outside of cocktail hour

Now that you know the basics of bubbly, it’s time to break out of the mindset that bubbly is only for big celebrations, or that it’s out of your price range. There is a ton of delicious sparkling wine on the shelves of your local wine shop that pair perfectly with what you’re already having for dinner. Here are a few suggestions as you get started:

  • Lambrusco with pepperoni pizza: Pizza is a food group around these parts, and the best pairing I’ve found is pepperoni (sausage and onion also works) with an off-dry (slightly sweet) Lambrusco. This is a red (yes, red!) sparkling wine from Italy and, once you try it, I promise you’ll be hooked.

  • Sparkling rosé with salmon sushi: If you haven’t tried this yet, you’re in for a treat. I’m all about pairing sushi with sake, but when I’m getting takeout and sitting on the couch to binge watch another episode of YOU, I need a rosé sparkler and a mountain of wasabi.

  • Champagne with french fries: This is a classic pairing and one of my favorites. The high acid in the Champagne cuts through the oil in the fries. If you’re feeling indulgent, opt for truffle fries and make this your whole meal.

Just as sparkling wines don’t have to only be enjoyed during celebrations, celebrations don’t have to just be formal occasions. Celebrate checking off items on your to-do list, finally signing up for that gym membership, or just making it through the workweek with some takeout and bubbles. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Brielle Buckler (she/her), founder of Viva la Vino (on Instagram as @vivalavino_nyc) , is a wine enthusiast who loves rare varietals, busting wine myths, and making the world of wine more approachable. While Brielle is typically based in the NYC area, she has been traveling the country by car for the past year, hosting virtual wine tastings from the road (check out her brick background – it’s a backdrop she brings with her!). The philosophy of Viva la Vino is that wine is only good if you like it, and Brielle is passionate about helping wine drinkers of all levels understand what qualities they prefer in wine and why. She wants to help others be more confident ordering wine in a restaurant or asking for recommendations in a wine shop. Brielle currently holds her WSET II certification and is waiting to sit for her WSET III exam once COVID restrictions are lifted.