A Sparkling Wine Quick Guide
Nothing is better than winding down with a glass of wine after a long day. It's even better when you get to relax and enjoy a vinito with a girlfriend(s). I recently did a sparkling wine blind tasting with Wine Specialist and Wine Director, Alessandra Esteves with the Florida Wine Academy. We had only met a month before on social media, but after meeting over coffee (it was too early for wine), we quickly became friends. Now my wine mentor, Alessandra inspires me to uncork more wine knowledge. Excited to share what I learned with you, so you can do your own tasting with your girlfriend(s).
Sparkling Wine 411
Before we get started, here's a brief 411 on sparkling wine. Sparkling wines vary from sweet white, pink moscatos to rosé, and red wines, but sparkling white wines, including Prosecco and Champagne make up the majority of sparkling wines. There are two methods of production.
Tank Method: Both the first and second fermentations are done in a tank. The resulting bubbles tend to be large and aromas and flavors are apparent, but they are less complex. These sparkling wines tend to be sweet and fruity. Prosecco is known for this style.
Traditional Method: This is a lengthier process. Wines have more complexity (aroma and flavors) and are more expensive. Bubbles are finer. First, grapes are gently pressed to avoid any color extraction from the skins. Next, the grape juice is fermented and wines are blended to create a desired wine. Lastly, the wine, yeast, and sugar is put in the bottle and capped for the second fermentation. All Champagne is made in this method. Sparkling wines using this method will tell you on the label.
I've included this sparkling wine quick guide from Whole Foods (love their wine department), so you have something to refer back to when shopping for sparkling wine.
So, let's go! Head to your nearby Whole Foods to pick up sparkling wine and grab your girlfriend(s) to unWINEd. Don't forget to have fun!
What you’ll need:
- Blank white sheet of paper
- Stemmed wine glass(s)
- Tasting partner(s)
- Sparkling wine(s) of choice
- Bread and crackers
- Notebook to take notes
- As per Alessandra's advice, any items found on the wine label (winemaker’s notes), such as: fruits, spices, flowers, etc. This will help you identify aromas when getting started.
Begin Your Tasting
Hold the glass at a 45-degree angle over a blank white sheet of paper.
Color Depth: Unlike red wines, white wines tend to get darker with age.
Note: watery | pale | medium | deep | dark
Color Hue: From green to amber in whites, color gives you some indication of the grape variety it came from, such as: Riesling is pale green. With age, white wines become more amber and rosés become more copper colored. Side note, it’s rare to find aged wines. Most wines in the market are youthful.
Note: greenish | yellow | straw yellow | gold | amber
Clarity: Lack of clarity can sometimes indicate spoilage, but some winemakers choose not to filter their wines, so a wine can be good, even when it is cloudy. Natural and bio wines may look cloudy on the glass.
Note: clear | slight haze | cloudy
Lastly, note the amount and size of bubbles. If you are comparing more than one sparkling wine, note the difference.
This can be challenging when getting started, which is why Alessandra recommends smelling everything, so your brain starts to program different aromas. When you purchase your sparkling wine(s), purchase items listed on the wine label: fruits, spices, flowers, etc. to help you compare and recognize aromas.
Aroma intensity: Some wines are more aromatic than others
Note: low | moderate | aromatic | powerful
Aromas: Note the aromas. White sparkling wines typically have aromas of white, green, yellow, and orange fruits, as well as white flowers. You won’t smell black fruits. For traditional method sparkling wines, you smell yeast notes. And as mentioned above, the tank method will be fruit straightforward. Have fun!
Body: Here’s a trick Alessandra taught me using milk: whole milk, low-fat milk, and skim milk. Feel the body of milk in your mouth. It's the same with wine.
Note: full-bodied | medium-bodied | light-bodied
Acidity: How your mouth waters. The more your mouth waters, the more acidity it has. Sparkling wines are typically high in acidity, because grapes are harvested earlier.
Note: tart | crisp | fresh | smooth | flabby
Tannins: Are found in grape skins. Most white wines don’t have tannins. Tannins is a drying effect (bitter tasting) in your mouth.
Balance: Keeping the alcohol, acids, tannins, and sugars in perfect balance is a winemakers goal. Note here if anything is in excess. Excess alcohol feels hot, excess acidity is sharply tart, excess tannins are very rough, and excess residual sugar is overwhelmingly sweet.
Note: good | fair | unbalanced (excess)
Flavor Intensity: Aroma intensity is similar to flavor intensity
Note: weak | moderate | flavorful | powerful
Flavors: The flavors sensed here will usually be similar to the aromas perceived on the nose. As mentioned above, read wine label and winemaker’s notes and compare.
Finish: Note the finish. The length of a wine is often an indication of quality; the longer the better.
Note one: short | medium | long
About Alessandra Esteves
Alessandra acquired the WSET level 3 advanced certificate in 2013 and passed the French Wine Society’s Champagne Master Level program with honors in 2015. In 2016, she earned her Diploma in Wine and Spirits from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, the highest qualification that this renowned organization awards. While over 61,000 individuals pursued WSET qualifications last year, only 8,519 people in the world currently hold the Level 4 Diploma.
Alessandra's articles on wine and related subjects have been published in three books. She has written a 40-page treatise about the Chinese wine and spirits market which is available online. Ms. Esteves has also served as an Associate Judge of Italian Wines at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London. Alessandra also has a wine blog for wine lovers, Florida Wine Lover. Impressive right?
About Florida Wine Academy
Recently opening its doors in Miami, the Florida Wine Academy caters to both wine lovers looking to learn about wines in a private setting and wine professionals who want to perfect their skill. Offering WSET Miami Courses in their Downtown Miami offices, the Florida Wine Academy is your go-to destination for wine education. For more information, classes and courses, click here.
Hope you enjoyed this sparkling wine quick guide.