What’s better than wine? Wine with bubbles, of course! The sparkling wine trend is booming. In 2015, Americans consumed over 21 million cases of wine, according to the Wine Institute. For winemakers, this means two things: First of all, there’s a much bigger reward in focusing on producing excellent sparkling wine, since consumers are clamoring for it. But it also means there’s much more knowledge to share from producer to producer and region to region when it comes to making the best bubbly. As prices rise for classic sparklers like Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, and sparkling wine from California, other regions and countries are emerging as new and unusual producers of high-quality bubbles. No longer is sparkling wine solely for special occasions; pop a bottle from one of these regions any day of the week!
New York has not one but two regions to seek out for tasty sparkling wine! Is there a regional face-off tasting in your future? We think so.
Having developed a reputation for high-quality, cool-climate grape varieties like Riesling, it’s only natural for the Finger Lakes to look to sparkling wine for new frontiers. In fact, the history of the Finger Lakes is tied to sparkling wine, as one of the largest and oldest commercial wineries, Pleasant Valley Wine Company, specialized in sparkling wine and earned the surrounding area the nickname “the Reims of America” (though it wasn’t necessarily focused on quality as much as quantity). Winemakers today are experimenting with both the traditional and ancestral methods (a.k.a. pet-nat) to make a host of different grapes into clean, acid-driven sparklers. Nancy Irelan’s just-released 2012 Riesling Sekt from Red Tail Ridge places a definite emphasis on the acidity that the region’s cool climate offers, producing a tart, lemony wine with potential to age.
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While the reputation of Long Island wines has been more tied to tasting rooms and weekend tours by city dwellers than noble, high-end cuvées, in recent years the winemakers on Long Island have been experimenting further and further outside the boundaries of what’s expected. And while risk-taking like this can produce wines that are, well, risky, they can also result in some delicious bottles. Made in the traditional and other methods, Long Island sparkling wines can be made from a plethora of varieties, from classics like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to odd bubbly bases like Cabernet Franc or, in the case of the 2011 Lieb Cellars Reserve Blanc de Blancs, Pinot Blanc. It somehow manages to be tart, clean, toasty, and textured all at once, keeping things interesting but unpretentious.
PS: If you think that New York is the only new state making interesting sparkling wine, think again; Michigan’s Mauby has been lauded for decades, and La Garagista in Vermont (yes, Vermont!) is becoming a cult favorite.
How strange is it that England is not that much of an oddball when it comes to sparkling wine regions these days? A country that couldn’t even grow vitis vinifera until 20 or so years ago is now beginning to be widely recognized for its potential to make excellent sparkling wine. The secret lies in the terroir; the famed White Cliffs of Dover are actually signs of the chalk-rich soil that runs through southern England — the same soil that streaks through Champagne!
The best sparklers are made from the traditional Champagne grapes- – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier — in the traditional method. They can sometimes even be mistaken for the king of bubbly when tasted blind. Sussex’s Ridgeview and Nyetimber are the most prominent producers currently, and the layered, succulent 2013 Ridgeview Estate “Cavendish” is a standout.
Though Portugal is a small country with a fairly recent modern wine history, it produces quite a diversity of wine styles, from dry to sweet, light to heavy, and still to sparkling. Despite the country’s warm to hot climate (excepting the cool northwestern region of Vinho Verde), some excellent sparkling wines are coming out of Portugal’s various wine regions, made unique by the use of indigenous — and often unpronounceable — grape varieties. Filipa Pato makes an incredibly quaffable traditional-method sparkling rosé in the cooler, wetter Bairrada region from a blend of both red and white grapes, local varieties Baga and Bical. In the large, hot, arid southeastern region of Alentejo, the country’s most wide-reaching still wine producer, Herdade do Esporão, makes the 2012 Herdade do Esporão Sparkling Wine, a traditional-method sparkler from the high-acid varieties Antão Vaz and Arinto, a slightly toasty, Champagne-like sparkling wine that’s perfect for channeling warmer temperatures and dreams of festive boat cruises.
Sparkling wine isn’t a new concept in Germany, but for too long the word Sekt, the German term for sparkling wine, was synonymous with cheap, low-quality bubbly. This is both because producers had a tendency to “improve” mediocre wine by making it sparkling and because large companies would purchase cheap, tasteless grapes from other countries, throw some bubbles into it, and turn a quick profit. According to German Sekt producers, however, this is not the true Sekt. The key is to look for bottles labeled Deutscher Sekt, meaning that the wine is a traditional-method sparkler made in Germany from grapes grown in the country.
But even Deutscher Sekt hasn’t been a particularly high-quality category until recently, with Sekthaus Raumland in Rheinhessen leading the charge. Volker Raumland’s cuvées, made from the classic Champagne grapes as well as Pinot Blanc and Riesling, are astoundingly Champagne-like and complex, such as the Cuvée Katharina, which marries brioche-reminiscent, mouth-filling richness with clean, palate-scrubbing acidity. The Mosel is also a hub for modern Deutscher Sekt, much of it made from Riesling, such as those of Peter Lauer.
Yes, that’s right — New Zealand makes more than Sauvignon Blanc! It’s only recently that New Zealand sparkling wine has begun to come into its own. Most of the production centers around classic Champagne varieties from Marlborough, but other regions are emerging as excellent bubbly sources as well, including Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, and Central Otago. In general, wines from the South Island tend to be higher in structure and acidity, due to the cooler climate, while wines from the North Island tend to be richer and fuller-bodied. Some producers even choose to blend grapes from the two islands, believing that the wines then achieve better balance, similar to the thinking of many Champagne producers. The sparkling wines of New Zealand are still slowly making their way to the U.S., but keep an eye out for these bottles in the future.