When you’re gazing down a rack of costly, name-brand bottles at the liquor shop, it’s easy to forget that sparkling wine is intended to be enjoyable. And, according to Zachary Sussman, author of Sparkling Wine for Modern Times, it’s enjoyable after you get beyond some of the old-school beliefs and conventions.
The graphic book demonstrates that the world of sparkling wine is far larger than the more well-known French Champagne, and that there are lots of feisty, personality-packed wines out there for a lot less than a bottle of Veuve Clicquot or Dom Pérignon. That bubbly world, according to Sussman, who has written extensively on the subject for PUNCH and is also the author of The Essential Wine Book, is just as vast.
If you stepped into a wine shop 20 years ago and looked through the sparkling wine area, you’d see the typical huge Champagne brands, along with a scattering of the affordable Cavas and Proseccos that served as “Champagne alternatives.”
This old paradigm, however, has split wide open in the last 10 to 15 years. There is currently a market for sparkling wines from all over the world prepared according to a variety of styles, colours, and procedures, ranging from Californian pét-nat to bottle-fermented Lambrusco to Hungarian Pezsg.
For the record, I’m not a stemware connoisseur, and I’ve been known to sip Champagne from a plastic Solo cup when the circumstance calls for it. For the most part, any glassware you have on hand will suffice. However, if ditching the conventional Champagne flute has become fashionable among “wine lovers” (some believe the tiny opening makes it harder to pick up the underlying smells of what’s in the glass), then the coupe risks overcorrecting in the opposite way by being too diffuse. In my experience, it also doesn’t help the wine’s carbonation, although I do love the Gatsby-esque glitz.
There are far too many to name, but Catalonia, notably Penedès, the traditional home of Cava, comes to mind. The category is still associated with cheap supermarket cliches, but the region’s closeness to Barcelona’s natural wine culture has converted Cava county into a laboratory for some of the most thought-provoking and creative sparkling wines available today. There’s a whole new generation of winemakers who are rejecting the high-volume, mass-market approach that has long defined the region’s output. Together, they’re shining a light on their one-of-a-kind assortment of native grapes via a variety of styles that provide a significantly more nuanced knowledge of the region.
To counter what I just wrote about Champagne no longer being the exclusive bubbly benchmark, I still believe that nothing screams “fancy” or “celebratory” like a bottle of superb Champagne. But instead of the Veuve Clicquots and Dom Pérignons you named, I’d go with one of the numerous small-scale, independent, family-run estates supporting the “grower” revolution that has upended the region’s traditional balance of power. Rather of selling their grapes to major Champagne houses, these individual grower-producers are producing miniscule amounts of their own estate-grown and bottled Champagnes. You’ll get something lot more unique for your money.