If wine appears on your eatery’s menu, then put “get know your bubblies” at the top of your to-do list! Although more global wine varieties exist than you or your bartender can count, the good news is that becoming familiar with the top three in-demand sparkling wines (aka sparklers) will put you and your restaurant, catering business, or other eatery in good standing. The mighty threesome are: Champagne, Cava, and Prosecco.
Wine Quick Facts
Let’s begin our wine wanderings with some basic facts:
- Sparkling wine is a broad term that encompasses any wine with bubbles.
- The prize for the most famous name in the ‘biz (consumed by millions globally every day) goes to champagne. However, as the industry adage goes: All champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is champagne.
- Champagne is an exclusive variety of wine made only in the Champagne region of France.
- Ranking second on consumers’ favorite bubbly list is Spanish Cava, which hails from the Penedes area of Catalonia in northeastern Spain. It is made via the same process as champagne called the Traditional Method. (In Spanish, “método tradicional)”
- Following closely in third-place is Italian Prosecco. Its fruity wine comes exclusively from the Veneto region of north-eastern Italy and it is made via a process called the Charmat Method.
- Making bubblies entails a second fermentation process. Here is how it works: Yeast and sugar are added to wine in a closed container and left to ferment. Fermentation produces carbon dioxide gas and alcohol. The carbon dioxide then dissolves into the wine and makes it fizzy.
- The traditional wine-making method, aka in-bottle fermentation, creates the most bubbles and the second fermentation occurs inside the bottle itself. These wines get better with age.
- During the Charmat Method, wine goes through second fermentation in a large stainless steel tank, rather than in individual bottles. The wine is then filtered for impurities and bottled under pressure. These wines are cheaper and are designed to be drunk young.
Types of Wine-Making Grapes
Here are some more differences between champagne, cava, and prosecco.
Champagne is typically made with chardonnay, pinot noir and/or meunier grapes. Varieties with the label “blanc de blancs” are made exclusively from chardonnay; those labeled “blanc de noirs” are made exclusively from pinot noir.
Spanish cava is also made with chardonnay and pinot noir, in addition to native grapes parellada, macabeu. and xarello. Italian prosecco uses a grape called glera.
How to Decode the Sweetness on Wine Labels
An important element of getting to know the wines your bar or restaurant offers is learning to decipher their sweetness classifications. The most common labels on sparkling wine are “brut” or “sec”, meaning dry, or “extra brut.” Ironically, while brut is dry with no perceived sweetness, extra dry is actually sweeter with a softer mouth-feel. Sweet wine varieties are labeled “doux.” What determines the level of sweetness is the amount of sugar or dosage added before the wines are bottled.
Differences in Flavor and Taste
The best way to educate yourself and your staff about the wines your establishment serves is to taste them all! In terms of flavor, keep in mind that customers’ taste preferences will differ. Here is what they can expect:
Champagne’s bubbles are finer and more persistent than those of its counterparts due to being produced under higher pressure. Its taste is described as more acidic, and depending on the manufacturer, champagne can feel light or heavy, boasting citrus or mature apple flavors with a yeasty tone.
Cava has more citrus notes with hints of pear in particular, but it is also more savory with less fruity sweetness. Finally, prosecco tends to be lighter in bubbles with a more refreshing, fruity, or flowery taste described as super-fresh or fragrant.
How to Store Red and White Wines
The experts recommend storing all wines in the fridge but avoiding drinking them too cold. As the wine warms up, it allows drinkers to experience the flavors more intensely, so be sure to remove bottles from the fridge about 10 minutes before serving. And if you are storing leftover wine, the pros recommend investing in a special pressurized bottle stoppers that preserve the bubbles.
Finally, sparkling wines should be served shortly after purchasing or they lose their distinctive flavor. In the words of Christina Sherwood, a Sommelier Association-Certified Silver Pin Sommelier and wine director: “If you want to buy a really great bottle of Champagne to commemorate a really special occasion, go out to your best liquor store or wine shop and buy it then. Don’t save something for 20 years because likely, you’re going to kill its flavor.”
Vintage vs. Non-Vintage Bubbly
Most sparkling wines, including Champagne, are non-vintage. This means they are made from a blend of grape juices from several different years. This allows the wine to keep a consistent flavor profile from year to year.
Vintage sparkling wine, on the other hand, is made from one grape juice variety that has had a spectacular year and that the makers deem represents their winery’s highest quality.
The important difference for your business and customers is the price. While a non-vintage champagne, for example, typically costs about $50 a bottle. a vintage variety from the same winery will cost between $100-$150.
Invite Your Customers to Travel the World with Global Wine Varieties
Wines from all over the world proliferate, so an opportune way to cater to your adventurous customers is to invite them on an exciting bubbly taste journey around the world. Providing a great fizz, some of these countries, regions, and varieties include:
- Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Gruet Brut, boasting a sophisticated green apple and grapefruit flavor, with a toasty finish (approximately $15 per bottle)
- Spain’s Jaume Serra Cristalino Extra Dry Cava, slightly sweet with rich citrus, peach, and green-apple flavors and fresh pear and apple aromas (approximately $8 per bottle)
- Pierre Moncuit Blanc de Blancs Champagne, described as a crisp minerally wine with lemon and tangy citrus flavors (approximately $40 per bottle)
- Moet and Chandon Nectar Imperial Champagne, described by some wine-lovers as the ‘nectar of the gods’! Soft and sweet with smooth pear, vanilla, and almond flavors. (approximately $50 per bottle)
- Italian Franciacorta, made from chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot blanc grapes that are grown in the superior vineyards of the province of Brescia (Lombardy). In fact, this wine has been granted DOCG status – the highest designation of quality among Italian wines (DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita)
- There are also English sparkling wines from England, premium Methode Cap Classique (MCC) wines from South Africa, sparklers from Macedonia, Greece, Australian and New Zealand sparkling wines bearing an over 200-year history, Canadian sparkling wines (made primarily via the traditional method although charmat-method production is increasing), sparkling wines from Germany known as Sekt, and many more
Wine Connoisseur Exclusive
Here is a bonus Insiders’ Tip for all budding wine connoisseurs: Be sure to check out sparkling wines hailing from Italy’s Le Marche region! Referred to by some mavens as ‘Italy’s Hidden Gem,’ this is where you will find some of Italy’s finest grapes. Located on the eastern side of central Italy, this recent discovery consists of 24,000 hectares of vineyards with an array of regional styles and grapes such as the Sangiovese, Trebbiano, Verdicchio, and Montepulciano.
And if you want to add a real feather to your bartender’s cap, drink in this priceless piece of wine trivia: The red sparkling wines of Vernaccia di Serrapetrona are the only varieties in the world created via a three-fermentation process.
Rosé Sparkler Popularity on the Rise
And here is some more wine industry news that can help ‘biz thrive: Rosé sparkler popularity is on the rise, especially in the summer. Rosés are among the oldest types of known wine varieties. Their signature feature is their color. They incorporate some of the grape skin hues they are made from, but not a sufficient quantity to qualify as a red wine. Hence depending upon the grape varieties and wine-making techniques used, rosé sparklers range from a pale onion-skin orange to a vivid deep purple.
If all this talk has whet your appetite for a drink, pamper yourself and your customers with this easy, breezy summer cocktail recipe for Raspberry and Lemon Rosé Sparkler: In a pitcher, smash raspberries with some sugar and lemon juice. Top with sparkling rosé and serve over ice with sliced lemons and raspberries.
Promotional Wine Pricing
How you promote and price the wines you offer can go a long way in business success. The good news is that while holidays and special celebrations used to account for almost all sparkler sales, today’s consumers are much more likely to order a glass or a bottle of bubbly at any time of the year. On the flip side, however, although champagne has historically been the golden standard among sparkling wines, its luxury image and higher price point have prevented drinkers from ordering it casually.
So how can you entice customers to dabble in all wines, even the more expensive choices, year-round? Here are some tips from one industry pro:
One way to cut through the barriers is in the way wines are presented. For example, at Air’s Champagne Parlor in New York City’s Greenwich Village, champagnes and other sparkling wines on the menu are listed by flavor instead of by varietal or region—which are typically meaningless to the average drinker. Promoting wines by flavors such as Green Apple, Lemon Zest, Toasted Almond, and Smoked Strawberries, owner Ariel Arce explains: “A lot of times, especially with champagne, it gets very technical. [This approach] takes away the fear of price and the fear of not recognizing the winemaker.”
Another strategy is to offer smaller-ounce pours that don’t create a large dent in customers’ budgets but that offer them a quality bubbly experience. In Arce’s words: “Champagne already has the stigma that it’s expensive… We’re appealing to a consumer who has the general misconception they can only have champagne on a special occasion or New Year’s…I’d rather give people an opportunity to try something and move some wonderful product.”
Bubbly Business Success: Summing Up
We hope you have enjoyed this trip down ‘Sparkling Wine Lane’ and that your business is on the road to cork-popping success!