Sparkling wine vs champagne – the ELLE mini guide

Stocking up with fizz for New Year's Eve? Let us help you pop the right cork

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Prosecco, cava, champagne, sparkling wine… what's the difference? Florent Buci from Somerset House's Pennethorne's can enlighten you

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Champagne

To be called champagne, sparkling wine has to be produced from grapes grown in the Champagne area and made according to the 'methode champenoise'  guidelines. This means fermented to be naturally bubbly (rather than being artificially carbonated, like some sparkling wines), and so kept in the bottle with the lees (sediment) for at least 15 months, three years plus for vintage.

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The grapes most commonly used for making champagne and sparkling wines are pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay. Blanc de Blancs uses 100% chardonnay and Blanc de Noir uses pinot noir and pinot meunier.

Styles

Brut:  is the driest and goes with most food.

Extra Dry:  slightly less dry and more fruity: good as an aperitif or after-dinner drink.

Sec:  a little higher in sugar content

Demi-Sec:  slightly sweet wines which go well with dessert

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Sparkling wine

Other regions (and countries) produce sparkling wines, some made by the same methode champenoise, but not always using traditional champagne grape varieties. In France some of the best of these are labelled 'cremant'.

Prosecco vs cava

Prosecco may be way more popular (at the moment) but cava is actually closer to champagne, being made from a blend of grapes (often chardonnay, pinot noir and subirat) using the 'methode tradicional'.  Made from one grape variety, glera, it is  usually fermented in steel tanks (not bottles), A few years ago Prosecco came exclusively from Valdobbiadene and Conegliano, now the area covers the whole of Treviso, but the best ones have DOCG Prosecco Valdobbiadene on the label. Generally less alcoholic than champagne (around11% abv rather than 12/ 12.5% abv), prosecco is also slightly sweeter (15-16g of sugar per litre to champagne's 9-10g).

Top Bubbles

At Pennethorne`s Café Bar, below (New Wing, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 1LA, 020 3751 0570), we have a delicious Vaporetto Prosecco NV, which is soft, fruity and refreshing, with citrus, pear and floral flavours.

Peckham Bazaar, 119 Consort Road, London SE15 3RU, 020 7732 2525), source their sparkling wine from Bulgaria: Edoardo Miroglio- Brut Rose 100% Pinot Noir, which has fine bubbles and floral notes of wild rose.

Barrafina (10 Adelaide St, London WC2N 4HZ, 020 7440 1450), serve a crisp Pares Balta- Brut Cava, with fine bubbles, and hints of white peaches, apples, pears, melon and lime.

From Waitrose,  Nyetimber Classic Cuvee, £31.99 is the perfect example of a great sparkling wine: fresh melon, tiny bubbles, and sweet pea flowers with a hint of vanilla and bread.

Whole Foods, 20 Glasshouse Street, London,W1B 5AR,  020 7406 3100, have one of my favourite champagnes, Bruno Paillard-Brut-Premier Cuvee: aromas of nectarine, pear skin and chalky minerals.

ELLE's FAVOURITE FIZZ

We are always on the look out for good bubbles, and here are some of our top picks

Champagne Method Sparkling wine

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Chapel Down Three Graces : made with the  traditional champagne method (bubbles created naturally in the bottle), with the classic blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier,  this is one of our  favourite  sparkling wines. It beats a lot of French champagnes hands down, and we would drink it all night if we could.  Pricey – RRP £26.99 - but so worth it. 

Nyetimber

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 Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2010

It is hard to believe that Nyetimber, another British success,  has been producing first class Methode Champenoise sparkling wine for 25 years, and yet it has only cropped up on most people's radars relatively recently.  Nyetimber was the first English producer to grow  (exclusively) the Champagne grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.  At around  £31.99, it is more expensive than some of the French greats – but you won't regret it.

Cava

Freixenet, Cordon Rosado

There is a lot more to Freixenet than just the classic black bottled Freixenet: for a more rounded, fuller flavour,  there is the Elyssia range,  and the vintage, which is delicious, but for parties we love the  Cordon Rosado, which is fruity and light, very drinkable,  and perfect in cocktails, too.  RRP £10  (currently 2 for £14 at Sainsbury's

Prosecco

Premier Estates

The world's bars are awash with prosecco at the moment, and a lot of it is actually not that great, tasting a bit too acidic and pear drop-like for our liking. Premier Estates  produce one that is fresh and zingy, which also comes in cute little mini bottles (currently at £30 for a  case of 12). These minis are brilliant to have in the fridge for when you fancy a quick tipple  but don't want to open a full-size bottle and risk drinking it all.

Full size RRP £7.99, currently on offer at £36  for a case (six bottles). They also make a very good rosé,  also £36 a case. See here for details

Other good prosecoo producers' names to look out for are:

Adami 

Bisol

Carpene Malvolti

Col dei Salici

Col Vertoraz