Not all sparkling wines are created equal. Some have big, lazy bubbles, others tiny and racy. Some are sweet, others bone-dry. And they come in a kaleidoscope of styles, from young Pét-Nats to fruity, red Lambrusco.
Generally, the lower the alcohol content, the sweeter the wine. That said, here is a rundown of major styles.
Champagne: While this name gets kicked around for all sparkling wines, it really only applies to those from France’s Champagne region produced with primarily chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes, as well as made in the traditional style, aka the méthode traditionelle. This fussy process involves hand-turning bottles and lengthy aging. You’ll pay for that TLC — $40 and up per bottle — as well as the complex, creamy, toasty flavors that develop over years.
Pricey vintage varieties are swell, but you can also score big with elegant blanc de blancs (mostly chardonnay) and blanc de noirs. You’ll see these latter terms applied to sparkling wines made in other regions, too. For instance, some Long Island wineries make blanc de blancs.
Prosecco: Hailing from Italy’s northern reaches, prosecco is usually produced from glera grapes and gains fizziness (via secondary fermentation) in a tank. That simpler production equals lower-cost, less dry, fruitier wines — think melons and apples. They can also have exuberant, lasting bubbles, at least in the spumante style (frizzante indicates a mellower fizz). Look for the initials DOC or, even better, DOCG on the back label as a mark of quality; $15 can buy a pretty decent bottle.
Cava: These dry sparklers from Spain are produced from grapes with exotic names such as macabeo, xarel-lo and parellada. Because they’re made in the traditional method, you can happen upon the finer perlage and biscuity notes of a Champagne, sometimes with added smokiness. Again, $15 will score a good bottle — $25 a great one.
Crémant: Produced in seven sparkling wine appellations throughout France, these comparatively less expensive bubblies (often, $18-$30) can also mimic Champagne. Look to Crémant de Loire for crisp, racier wines and Crémant de Limoux for chardonnay-driven roundness.