Sparkling Wine: 5 Most Popular Sparkling Wines in New Zealand
Having a house-warming? Friends just got engaged? That dorky friend finally got into university? All these things call for a celebration — and nothing says party quite like popping the cork of a bottle of sparkling wine.
But you don’t need to save your bubbly for New Year’s Eve or life-changing moments. Sparkling wine has become popular as a casual get-together drink to share with friends for any occasion. It goes brilliantly with platters and a range of different foods, and adds a bit of sparkle to a midweek dinner.
You don’t have to fork out money on fancy French Champagne either — there’s a heap of delicious and affordable options. You’ll find cheap pink fizz right through to high-end bottles.
But that’s what makes shopping so confusing. What do all those French words mean, like methode traditionelle? How can you be sure you’re going to like what you buy? A lot of people just shop on price and hope for the best, but there’s a much better way of going about it.
To make things super simple we’re going to give you a run down of the 5 most popular sparkling wines in New Zealand.
We’ll also give you a bit of a crash course in ‘bubble speak’ that’ll help you understand the fancy French words they insist on putting on the labels. That way you’ll be able to shop like a pro, choosing the perfect bottle to add fizz to any occasion.
The Basics of Sparkling Wine — A Fizz Bang Crash Course
Firstly, Why is Sparkling Wine Bubbly?
There are two main ways of creating bubbles in sparkling wine — both of which rely on secondary fermentation. That’s when a little bit of extra sugar and yeast is added at the end of the winemaking process, trapping the bubbles inside the wine bottles.
1. Méthode Traditionnelle
Méthode traditionnelle is the super complicated, time consuming and expensive way to make wine sparkle that was made famous by the French, in a place called Champagne.
In New Zealand and places outside of France we call this méthode traditionnelle — you’ll see those words on the label if the wine has been made in this classic way.
The painstaking méthode traditionnelle involves leaving the residue yeast sediment (lees) inside the bottles for a while. Then you have to rotate the bottles at an angle, really slowly over weeks or months, so the sediment shifts to the neck.
Then you’re finally ready to freeze the neck. Crazy right? Getting the now-frozen plug out of the bottle is called ‘disgorging.’ It’s a gross name, but the result is nice clear wine. All you do then is ‘dose’ your wine with a tiny bit of sugar and yeast before sealing with a cork to let the bubbles do their thing. That’s why Champagne bottles are so thick — because the bubbles build up so much pressure inside the bottle.
Then you have to wait… For ages. In France, vintage Champagne must be aged for a minimum of 3 yrs. It’s no wonder that these wines are so much more expensive.
2. Tank method
The Tank Method is pretty much what it says. Instead of processing each bottle individually, the winemakers use special tanks for the secondary fermentation. They still add that extra bit of sugar and yeast, but this all happens in a large tank. The wines are then bottled under pressure without aging. The finished wines have fresher flavours and larger bubbles than Champagne. They are also much cheaper to make.
A Guide to Sparkling Wine Sweetness
The sugar left in the bottle (the stuff not eaten up by the yeast) is called residual sugar. The French have given us some slightly confusing terms to describe the different levels:
- Extra brut: The driest of dry sparkling wines
- Brut: the most popular, because these sparkling wines are dry with a hint of sweetness
- Extra dry: Still fairly dry, but, weirdly, not as dry as the two above.
- Demi-sec: A sweet sparkling wine variety that you’d drink with dessert
- Doux: The very sweetest style — usually served as a dessert wine.
The trick is to remember that ‘extra dry’ is actually the medium one.
The Difference Between Vintage and Non-Vintage
Unlike cars, the word vintage has nothing to do with the age of the wine. Vintage just means the wine has come from grapes picked in ONE year.
When you see N.V. (non-vintage) on the label, that means the winemaker has blended wine from different years.
Sometimes the label will say cuvée, which means that it is a blend of grapes or wines.
Other Fun Stuff that you Might See in the Tasting Notes
The bubbles are called the bead, and the foaming head at the top of your glass is called the mousse.
Time on the lees, just means the time the wine has spent in contact with the yeast sediment.
Okay. Now that you’re armed with some fancy French terms — let’s pop the cork on some of these lovely wines!
The Most Popular Sparkling Wines
A fantastic gift to spoil somebody, if you’re showing off, or if you’re ‘popping the question.’
These days if you see the word Champagne on a label you know that the wine always comes from France. It’s illegal to call it Champagne if it’s made anywhere else. The French are also very bossy about how Champagne is made. It must be made from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes.
French Champagne has very fine bubbles and a creamy texture. It often tastes nutty — a bit like almonds with a hint of orange zest. The aging process gives Champagne a toasty or biscuit-like smell.
Most people only buy French Champagne to drink on really special occasions. You definitely don’t want to be mixing it with orange juice or using it to make cocktails. It’s too expensive for one thing, but also the yeasty flavours will clash with other mixers.
Although it can’t be called Champagne, New Zealand does make plenty of wines in the Champagne style, using méthode traditionnelle. New Zealand wines in this style tend to taste crisper and fresher than French Champagne. But they still have teeny weeny bubbles and that same creamy texture and nutty smell.
Fresh, fun and affordable — one to get the party started
Prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine, made from Gera grapes. More Prosecco is made in the world than any other sparkling wine, and a lot of it still comes from Italy.
Because it’s crazy popular, a few winemakers in New Zealand have begun to plant Gera grapes. Keep your eye out for some Kiwi styles.
The tank method gives this wine a fresher character, without the yeasty flavours of Champagne. The bubbles don’t last as long, but they are lighter and larger. This, and the much cheaper price, makes it a great cocktail mixer. Prosecco is usually light, dry and fruity. It tastes of honeysuckle, green apple, honeydew melon and pears, which makes it seem sweeter than it actually is.
Pronounced: muh skaa tow
The Perfect Sparkler for Picnic and Fun in the Sun
Moscato is another Italian wine, made from Moscato (Muscat) grapes this time. This variety is thousands of years old and grows all around the world. While we don’t have many Moscato vines in New Zealand, this grape really thrives in Australia. You’ll see lots of Aussie Moscato on the shelves.
Moscato is produced using a version of the tank method, called Asti. These wines are designed to be enjoyed straight away.
Moscato tends to be sweet and perfumed. It might remind you of honey, rose or frangipani petals, lychee and nectarine. It is a really popular brunch wine because it usually has lower alcohol — around 5-6%. That’s less than most beers.
Moscato is also a pretty colour, ranging from light straw to quite dark pink.
4. Blanc de Blancs
Pronounced: blahnk deh blahnk
’Posh as’ and Ever so Elegant, Darling!
Blanc de Blancs is a sparkling wine that means ‘white of whites’ in French. That’s because it’s only made from white grapes, usually Chardonnay. If you like Chardonnay, you’ll probably love this one. It’s made using méthode traditionelle, so it’s going to cost you a bit more.
Like Chardonnay, Blanc de Blancs is pale yellow with a crisp texture. A young bottle will taste of citrus and grapefruit. Older wines get buttery and creamier. New Zealand makes some fantastic Blanc de Blancs. And check out some from cooler regions in Australia, like Margaret River in WA, and Tasmania.
5. Sparkling Rosé
Pronounced: Roh zay
Pretty in Pink and Super Trendy Right Now
Sparkling Rosé is very much on trend. This is a super fun wine. It manages to be light, dry, fruity and floral all at once. It’s also a blushing pink colour, making it a favourite wine for romantic dinners and Valentine’s Day.
These are fruity wines with berry flavours with hints of peach or cherry.
Sparkling Rosé is most often made using the tank method, but there are Champagne styles using méthode traditionnelle. That means the prices and styles vary a lot.
Rosé in New Zealand, including sparkling Rosé, is usually made from Pinot Noir grapes. You can find out more about Rosé and blush wines here.
Serving and Storing your Bubbles
Keep your Cool
Sparkling wine needs to be well-chilled, at 8-10°C (47-50°F). Either pop it in a bucket with some ice and water for half an hour, or stick it on its side in the bottom of your fridge for 4 hours. Try to avoid the ‘rush job’ in the freezer — the wine will lose some of its sparkle, and you might forget it.
The key to long-lasting bubbles lies in keeping the wine cold. So keep your warm little fingers firmly on the glass stem where they belong.
You should pour sparkling wine with the glass on its side, just like you would a beer — that’s the best way to make your bubbles last longer. Watch where you aim the cork and don’t shake shake the bottle – unless you’ve won the Grand Prix and can afford to lose half the contents
Every op shop seems to sell those old-fashioned ‘Gatsby’ style Champagne bowls. They are fun to hold, and if you grab enough of them you can make cool pyramids, but these glasses have gone out of fashion for a reason.
Flute shaped glasses or even ordinary white wine glasses will help your bubbles last longer.
Storing Sparkling Wine
In the unlikely event of having an unfinished bottle of sparkling wine on your hands, you can use a plastic wine stopper. Sealed wine will last for up to 3-5 days in the fridge.
If your mate tries to tell you about the trick of placing a teaspoon handle-down into the neck, don’t bother. It’s been debunked as a myth.
You’re probably better off getting your mates to help you drink the rest up.
Food Matching with Sparkling Wine
While sparkling wines are often enjoyed on their own or before a meal. They are brilliant with finger food — especially antipasto platters or fried nibbles.
We’ve organised some food suggestions by the style of wine, because the sweetness of the wine makes a big difference to what foods will work.
Classic choices for very dry wines include: french fries, fried chicken, oysters and sashimi.
This is a classic choice for Champagne breakfast, especially if smoked salmon is involved. All sorts of seafood work really well with dry sparkling. For a vegetarian choice, try a creamy mushroom risotto.
Remember these wines have a hint of sweetness compared to the two above. Prosecco is often extra dry and pairs brilliantly with appetizers like: cheese and antipasto platters, stuffed eggs and asparagus. Moscato goes super well with Asian food. These fragrant sparkling wines cut through the richness of pork and are great with Chinese dishes.
Demi-Sec or Doux
You can either drink these wines as a dessert, or serve them with dessert. Strawberries, dark chocolate, cheesecake and lighter fruit-based desserts are all fantastic choices.
Adding Sparkle has Never Been Easier
Sparkling wine really is a fun drink, especially if you know a little bit about how it’s made and what to look out for on the label. A special bottle makes a fantastic gift for a mate — especially if they decide to share it with you!
Popping the cork of a bottle of Champers is the classic way to celebrate life’s big moments. But sparkling wine adds fun to any occasion, whether it’s a picnic on the beach, a lazy Sunday breakfast or a casual meal with friends. A bit of extra sparkle is the perfect way to brighten up somebody’s day.
You can learn a heap more stuff about different brands of sparkling wine on our website. We’ve set up our wine descriptions to make it easy for you to find the perfect bottle for any occasion. If you need some extra help to find the perfect bottle from our in-house experts, just flick us a message or give us a bell on 0800 BRINGA (0800 274 642).