Sparkling Wine, Champagne, and Other New Year's Eve Options: Know the Difference and Sip the Best
By Rai Cornell
New Year’s is synonymous with “bubbly” for anyone over 21. But there are so many different types of bubbly to imbibe on this special holiday - which one do you choose? Let’s run through your most effervescent options real quick so you can run off to the store and stock up for the countdown.
Let’s start with the poster-child for New Year’s Eve adult beverages. Now, if you’ve been around the block (or if you’ve been hanging out with us for a while), you know that what most Americans refer to as “champagne” isn’t really Champagne - it’s sparkling wine.
So what is Champagne? And what gives it the right to stick its nose up at sparkling wine?
Across the ocean and far away is a little place called France that we all dream about visiting. In France, there’s a region called Champagne (pronounced “shamp-ahn-yeh”). Visit Champagne and you’ll find more than 75,000 acres of gorgeous green hills covered in the finest vineyards. It’s from these vineyards - and only these vineyards - that true Champagne is produced. It’s a legal matter, in fact. According to European law, the only bottles of bubbly that are allowed to carry the “Champagne” label are those that originate from Champagne, France.
But it’s not just lines on a map and a few pages of legalese that make this beverage special. Champagne is only made with certain grapes - predominantly Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir - which are grown in a gentile climate in mineral-dense soil. To make sure that Champagne doesn’t lose its heavyweight title, the Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) is a French regulation organization that keeps tabs on how grapes are grown, how they’re handled from harvest to extraction, how the wine is processed and bottled, and, of course, how its labeled.
As you’re pouring your guests a glass of true Champagne, feel free to educate them a little by letting them in on a few of these fun facts. And while we’re Champagne purists, we’ll look the other way if you want to get playful this holiday with a fun recipe like these Champagne Cocktails from Delish.
Since France cornered the market on Champagne, Germany took notice and claimed Sekt as its national spin on sparkling wine. And the Germans are huge supporters of their variety - so much so that about five litres (or 32 fluid ounces) of Sekt are consumed per capita each year.
You may be a bit more confused by the labels on a bottle of Sekt than anything else. When you pick up a bottle, it may include a phrase like “Sekt b.A. Pfalz” or “Sekt b.A. Baden.” The first part, “Sekt b.A.” simply means “Wine from” and the last word is the region in Germany from which your bottle came. So a bottle of “Sekt b.A. Pfalz” came from the Pfalz region of Germany. You may occasionally see “Qualitätsschaumwein b.A.” as well, but it means the same thing. Loosely translated, “Qualitätsschaumwein” means “quality sparkling wine” and is synonymous with Sekt.
Sekt is made from a variety of wines and each will have its own flavor profile. For instance, a Riesling Sekt will have higher acidity while a Weissburgunder Sekt made from Pinot Blanc grapes will have flowery notes and a softer mouth feel.
Now go on and try all the varieties and know that when you see “Deutscher Sekt” on the label, you have a 100% pure German sparkling wine. Prost!
Of course, Spain had to compete with its neighbors and try to do them one better. Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine produced the same way as Champagne, but with different grapes.
Unlike Champagne that can be produced using any of seven different grapes, Cava is made exclusively from Macabeu grapes. Macabeu grapes are known for giving off floral scents and tasting faintly of lemons and green almonds. While some people dislike Cava for its bitter notes, others find it refreshing and perfect for toasts and celebrations like New Year’s Eve.
One thing you can count on, however, is Cava won’t be a sweet sparkling wine. So if your preferences lean away from sweetness and more toward the dry varieties, Cava may be a newfound friend.
As we continue our tour around Europe, let’s stop off in Italy. Prosecco is another form of bubbly but it originates from the Veneto region of Italy. Veneto is located in the northern part of the country and includes Verona, Padua, and Venice, among others. It's a coastal region situated in the gulf of the Adriatic Sea, but it also includes acres upon acres of high plains and rolling hills, so the variety of grapes grown here is vast.
Prosecco is made with Prosecco grapes, naturally, which are also known as Glera grapes. Unlike Cava and Champagne, Prosecco is produced using a more economical method referred to as “the tank method,” also known as charmat. The tank method involves significantly fewer steps than the transfer method used to make Cava and Champagne.
If your wine palate has a sweet tooth, Prosecco may be a perfect choice for you. Prosecco tends to have flavors of honeysuckle, cream, honeydew melon, pear, and green apple.
Prosecco is also fantastic for using in mixed drinks because its flavors are subtle but well balanced. We’re just dying to try these elegant Vanilla Coconut Bellinis from Threadsence.
Now, if you’re a geographically neutral wine lover and you don’t really care which country your sparkling wine comes from this New Year’s Eve, you may be interested to try a Brut (pronounced “broo”).
Brut is a style of sparkling wine and can be made anywhere. As you’re shopping, you may see Brut Champagne, Brut Prosecco, or even just Brut Sparkling Wine.
So what does brut mean? The term “brut” indicates that a sparkling wine is dry and contains very little sugar. Now, where this gets confusing is when you see a bottle of “Brut Sparkling Wine” next to a bottle of “Extra Dry Sparkling Wine.” Which one’s drier?
Brut is always going to be the most dry. Think of brut as the lowest level on the sugar spectrum. A bottle labeled “Ultra Brut,” “Extra Brut,” or “Brut Nature” will be the driest and contain no added sugar whatsoever. “Brut” is next up. It’s dry and won’t taste sweet, but it may contain trace sugars. Next up you have “Extra Dry” or “Extra Sec,” which will have a faint taste of sweetness. “Sec,” “Demi-Sec,” and “Doux” get progressively sweeter and are the antithesis of “Brut.”
Brut is great for mixing cocktails - hello New Year’s Day mimosas - because it’s lack of added sugar balances well with any mixer you’re keen to try.
The color pink just makes any drink more fun, don’t you think? That’s why we love rosé wines. On New Year’s Eve, dress up your rosé with some bubbles.
Rosé is simply red wine that has spent only a short amount of time (just a few hours) macerating with the skins of the grapes. This allows the wine to pick up a delicate pink hue and fewer tannins than red wine.
It’s difficult to say what flavors you can expect from rosé as the gorgeous pink liquid can be made from any red grape. However, you can count on sparkling rosé to be a fun, fresh, and festive addition to your New Year’s Eve party.
Have big plans to watch the ball drop? Share your New Year’s Eve pictures with us on Instagram @getVINEBOX and be sure to include a nice shot of whatever bubbles you’re drinking.
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