Bring on the bubbly

Your master class in all things bubbly starts here. From cava to crémant, and Asti to Prosecco, find everything you need to know about serving, pairing and enjoying sparkling wine over the holiday season and beyond.

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Sparkling wine is synonymous with special occasions, but there’s no reason to save the effervescence for big events. There’s a whole world of bubbles that can transform any occasion into a celebration. While premium French, Spanish and Italian bottles might immediately come to mind, sparkling wine now finds expression everywhere grapes are grown—including Ontario. Likewise, as bubbles at one time symbolized luxury and extravagance (and at the highest end, they do still include some of the world’s most coveted bottles), there are now options available in styles and price points suitable for drinking at any time and once in a lifetime.



Bubbly 101

These methods are used all over the world to produce sparkling wines.

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Traditional Method

A base wine is bottled with yeast and sugar, which kick-start a second fermentation, creating bubbles. Bottles are “riddled” (twisted and turned) to settle spent yeast cells in the neck. The yeast gets disgorged and then a small amount of fresh wine and sugar is added. On the label: Look for French crémant and Champagne, Spanish cava and other wines labelled Traditional or Champagne Method.

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Charmat or Tank Method

Here, the wine’s bubble-producing second fermentation takes place in large tanks before bottling. On the label: Check for terms like Cuvée Close and Metodo Italiano, plus Prosecco, Lambrusco and many other international wines.

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Ancestral method

The initial fermentation is stopped partway and then the wine is bottled and aged. During bottle fermentation, bubbles form. On the label: Pétillant-naturel (“pet-nat”) uses this method.


Glassware

Over centuries, sparkling wine glass shapes have evolved, and while there are no wrong answers (even a slipper can work!), each has its own appeal.

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Unlike still wine, sparkling shouldn’t be swirled in the glass, which causes the carbonation to dissipate. Bubbles, in addition to looking pretty, are essential for releasing aromas.

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Coupe

An early Champagne glass modelled on, ahem, the anatomy of Marie Antoinette.

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Flute

This traditional shape concentrates and showcases effervescence.

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Tulip

More angles and a wider opening mean bubbles are directed to the palate.

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White Wine

This option is growing in popularity among sommeliers.


Serving smarts

Smashing a bottle against the hull of a ship works for boat christenings, but there are better ways to serve bubbles.

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How to open a bottle

Unless you’ve just won the Stanley Cup, shaking and spraying your bubbly is not recommended. Instead, carefully remove the foil and cage, hold the cork firmly and gently rotate the bottle, easing the cork out with a soft pffft.

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A note on sabering

Slicing off the cork end of a bottle with a sword, or “saber,” looks cool, but always learn from a pro to ensure safety. Tips include selecting a thick bottle, thorough chilling and running the saber along the bottle seam before slicing.

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The right temp

Chill for a few hours in the fridge, 20 minutes in an ice bucket (a handful of coarse salt speeds it up) or 15 in the freezer. Refrigerate for no more than a couple of weeks before opening, as corks can dry out.


Sparkling conversation

A glossary of bubbly wine terms.

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Cava labels note the bottle aging time: Joven, 9 to 15 months; Reserva, at least 15 months; and Grand Reserva, at least 30 months.

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Prosecco with a DOC neck label was made under standards specific to two Northern Italian regions; DOCG wines come from smaller regions with even stricter standards.

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When used on Champagne labels, “cuvée” refers to the first-pressed and highest-quality grape juice used to make wine.

Blanc de Blancs Champagnes are made only from white grapes and Blanc de Noirs only from red grapes, although both are white wines.

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International terms denoting bubbly wine include Frizzante, Spumante, Mousseux, Pétillant, Perlant, Espumoso and Spritzig, plus wine styles like Sekt and Franciacorta.


How sweet it is

Sweetness of sparkling wine is determined at the final bottling stage, when sugar, wine or a combination is added. A wine’s acidity will also influence perception of sweetness, but dry and sweet are at opposite ends of the scale. The lowest in sugar are Brut Nature sparkling wines, then Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Dry (or Sec), Demi-Sec and finally Sweet (or Doux).



Where to find it

Check for sweetness level on a product's page or the shelf tag in stores. Our sweetness descriptors are consistent for all wines—still, sparkling and fortified. Acidity masks the perception of sweetness, so a dry wine with more residual sugar but high acidity may be described as extra-dry.