The most well known types of sparkling wine are Champagne, Cava, and Prosecco. There are also four levels of sweetness. The level of sweetness of the wine will be printed directly on the bottle. They are as follows:
Extra-Brut: This is the driest kind of sparkling wine you can buy. In this type of sparkler, the yeast has eaten absolutely all of the sugar, so there is a complete absence of it in the wine.
Brut: This is the most popular type of sparkling wine. The wine is dry, but there is just a hint of sweetness. In this sparkler, the winemaker stopped the fermentation process just before the yeast ate all of the sugar, leaving a tiny amount behind in the wine. Champagne is the most common sparkler to be labeled Brut.
Extra Dry: This type of sparkler is dry, but not as dry as Brut or Extra-Brut, meaning it retains a slight sweetness. It’s not sugary sweet, although they are noticeably sweeter than Brut wines. Prosecco is most often Extra Dry.
Demi-sec: This is a sweet sparkling wine. One would usually drink Demi-sec with dessert, as there is a prevalent amount of noticeable sugar.
As you probably know Champagne comes solely from the Champagne region of northeastern France. It’s made from any or all of three grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. It gets fizzy via a labor-intensive process called méthode Champenoise: First, a winemaker ferments grape juice into base wine, which is still, just like any other wine. That wine is bottled with sugar and yeast, then closed up to ferment a second time. Since the bottle is sealed, carbon dioxide produced during that second fermentation dissolves into the wine, making it sparkle.
While that’s happening, the bottles are gradually tipped forward so that the lees (dead yeast and sediment) collects in the bottle’s neck. Winemaker’s flash-freeze the bottle’s neck, remove the cap and a plug of lees pops out. Before it’s corked, each bottle is spiked with the dosage—a mixture of sugar and wine that determines the bottle’s final level of sweetness. Common flavor descriptors include yeast and brioche.
Cava is Spain’s most popular sparkling wine and it undergoes the exact same production process as Champagne. Upward of 95 percent of Cava is produced in Catalonia in northeastern Spain, and the most common grapes are Macabeu, Parellada and Xarello. However, some Cavas may also include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Garnacha and Monastrell. More frequently than is the case with Champagne, Cava’s flavors can veer toward earthy.
Prosecco comes from the Veneto region of northeastern Italy, where it’s made from a grape varietal now known as Glera (which, confusingly, used to be called Prosecco). Unlike Champagne or Cava, Prosecco’s secondary fermentation occurs in tanks rather than individual bottles. This process, known as charmat, is cheaper and faster than the méthode Champenoise.
Prosecco tends to be sweeter than the average Champagne or Cava, and its flavors are usually simpler and fruitier.
Use this information to help choose the sparkling wine that is right for you.