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Not all Champagne is Champagne, and if you’re a Brut, you’re anything but sweet

Bubbly basics

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'TIS the season for haunting the sparkling wine section of Manitoba Liquor Marts and private wine stores, whether it’s for Christmas morning mimosas or for ringing in the new year.

Buying bubbly can be a bit confusing to those who don’t drink it regularly, as there are a lot of terms red and white wine lovers may not regularly encounter. What follows are a few common key terms to remember when you’re bubbly shopping. And no, there won’t be a test.

Whatever you pick, bubbly is fun to drink — so pop that cork, raise a glass and enjoy.


  • Asti: An Italian sparkling wine from southeast Piedmont, Asti is typically quite sweet and lower in alcohol (often around seven per cent by volume), and as such is often enjoyed by those who either don’t drink wine regularly or don’t like dry bubbly. Formerly known as Asti Spumante, the latter word was dropped as it became synonymous with cheap, low-quality fizzy wine made in North America.
  • Blanc de blanc/blanc de noir: The former term means "white from white," while the latter means "white from black;" they refer to the colour of the grapes used to make the sparkling wine. Blanc de noir bubbly sometimes brings a hint of pink, but is still usually dry.
  • Brut: This term is found on sparkling wine from most corners of the world. Quite simply, brut is the term commonly used to indicate a sparkling wine is dry.
  • Cava: Cava: Spain produces some of the best-value sparkling wine in the world — it’s the reason you’ll see a lot of it on local shelves. Most of it is sold labelled as Cava — Spanish white or pink bubblies from the Catalonia region. They’re typically produced from indigenous Spanish grape varieties, and are crisp, fresh and delicious. Great for mimosas but equally good on their own.
  • Champagne: This seems like a nobrainer, but Champagne is sparkling wine that comes from the French region of the same name. There has historically been some cheap, bad bubbly made in North America that has sported the word "Champagne" — it’s anything but. In fact, Canadian producers have been told they need to remove the word "Champagne" from their label by the end of next year.
  • Demi-sec: This term literally translates into "half-dry," which is about right — a sparkling wine labelled "demi-sec" isn’t as sweet as Asti, but isn’t as dry as a brut.
  • Prosecco: Italy’s Prosecco region makes piles of bubbly, much of it very good value wine. It’s typically dry but usually softer and fruitier than Spanish Cava.
  • Sec: Yes, it’s the French word for dry, but bubbly labelled sec is still sweeter than brut, albeit not by much. Confused yet?
  • Sekt: German sparkling wine is called sekt. That’s it.
  • Spumante: Now that the word has been dropped from wines made in Italy’s Asti region, spumante is most often associated with cheap, sweet, insipid North American bubbly.

However, spumante is Italian for "sparkling" and is still used by some Italian producers to indicate the wine is sparkling (as opposed to the more lightly carbonated frizzante).

  • Traditional method/méthode traditionelle: This term refers to the way in which the sparkling wine is made. It’s a tip of the hat to producers in Champagne, where the wine undergoes secondary fermentation (and becomes bubbly) via the addition of yeast in the bottle (rather than in the tank, called the Charmat method, or via the injection of carbon dioxide).
  • Trocken: This German word means dry, but a sparkling wine from Germany labelled trocken is still usually a touch sweeter than a brut.



ANNA SPINATO NV PROSECCO (Prosecco, Italy — $4.99/200ml bottle, Liquor Marts and beyond)

The Anna Spinato comes in a trendy little goldish coloured bottle. Very pale straw in colour, there’s not much going on aromatically here — some pear, a hint of peach, a quick flash of perfume and that’s it. It’s just barely off-dry, with pear and red apple flavours most prominent but still muted. If you want prosecco, try the Santa Margherita or the Mionetto in 750ml bottles — if you really need smaller-format bubbly, there’s the always-reliable Freixenet Cordon Negro.


JAUME SERA NV CRISTALINO BRUT (CAVA, SPAIN — $12.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)

Medium gold in colour — fairly dark for a Cava, actually — the Cristalino brings ripe red apple, lemon candy, light herbal and toasty aromas. As Cavas go, this one’s fairly fleshed out — there’s a hint of sweetness, more body and more ripe apple and lemon flavours than some of this wine’s leaner counterparts. The bubbles are intense and there’s a peppery note to the finish like many other Cavas, but there’s a relative subtlety to this one that’s surprising and attractive. 88/100


Updated on Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 5:50 PM CST: fixed

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