What the fizz: How to tell the difference between all the sparkling wines

sparkling wine
With so many options to choose from, how do you pick the right bubbles? Photo credit: Getty.

We're firmly in the midst of January, arguably the longest and laziest month of the year, filled with beaches, baches and bubbly.

Even if you're dipping your toes back in at work, weekends away and after-work drinks mean this month is just about as celebratory as the one before it.

But what, exactly, is 'bubbly' and what style should you be drinking in 2020? It can be tough to separate one bubbly beverage from another, as the term could refer to several different varieties of wine, each with quite different qualities and flavour profiles.

Firstly, let's take a look at the overall category, referred to as sparkling wine, which is essentially any wine with carbon dioxide bubbles, created by putting still wine through a second fermentation process. Sparkling wine comes in white to red, dry to sweet, single or multiple vintages and grapes - so there's plenty of options to suit any palate.

There's also a couple of other pieces of important terminology to cover off before we get started - technically, the bubbles in sparkling wine are referred to as the 'bead', while the bubbles around the top of the glass are known as the 'mousse', or the head of the wine - similarly to beer.

When it comes to actually creating sparkling wine, there's a couple of different methods. Méthode traditionelle/champenoise is one way, executed by putting still wine inside the bottles where the second fermentation occurs. It creates the most persistent and fine bead of any method, and results in wines that can be aged and enjoyed years later.

It's the time of year where Champagne is regularly drunk, especially during summer weddings.
It's the time of year where Champagne is regularly drunk, especially during summer weddings. Photo credit: Getty.

The Tank Method or Charmat Method is a different way to make sparkling wine, which involves putting still wine in a tank for the second fermentation before it's bottled. Wines made using this method tend to be less bubbly and are generally designed to be drunk 'young'.

From these methods, several different types of sparkling wine can be created. Champagne is the most famous sparkling wine, and only comes from the Champagne region of France. It's made using the méthode traditionelle and usually with chardonnay, pinot noir and/or meunier. Good champagne has a vigorous mousse, and a fine bead that lingers well after being poured.

Prosecco is Italy's answer to Champagne, which originated from the Veneto region of northeast Italy. In Italy, it's made with the tank method using a grape called glera. It's a lighter style with a fruity character and slight sweetness.

Prosecco grapes are now also grown in other locations, including New Zealand and Australia - despite a recent attempt by Italian lawmakers to declare Prosecco a geographical indication (GI) of northeast Italy, rather than a wine varietal. This ruling doesn't stand in Australia or New Zealand, but does prevent the exporting of any wine named Prosecco to Europe or other supporting regions.

Prosecco wine is remarkably versatile and with a more affordable price point than Champagne, makes it the ideal wine for an everyday celebration. Of the sparkling wines, prosecco is also the most likely to be enjoyed as an element of a mixed cocktail.

"Prosecco is a beautifully light and zesty drop, ideal for enjoying on its own during any occasion that calls for a glass of sparkling - but it's also beautiful in cocktails, such as a classic Aperol Spritz or even Prosecco Kombucha cocktail," says Caroline Brown, Brown Brothers communications manager.

Cava is from Spain and usually made using the méthode traditionelle, resulting in a light wine with beautifully fine bubbles. Grapes include chardonnay and pinot noir, or Spanish varietals such as parellada, macabeo and xarel-lo.

Brut, sec and doux are terms indicating the sweetness created during the second fermentation. Brut wines are the driest - with Brut Nature the driest of the Brut styles - and doux the sweetest, with sec sitting in the middle - so pick according to your palate!

Cuvée means "tank" in French, but doesn't mean the tank method has been used. Cuvée can refer to the grapes being the first press producing the best juice; or can refer to the blend of wines used.

So, there you have it. All that's left to do is pick a style and pop a bottle - salut!