Champagne, Prosecco, and Cava
Sparkling wine, a common feature in brunch and during special occasions: various sparkling wines tend to be used interchangeably in cocktails. A lot of times when people order champagne, or a champagne based drink like a mimosa, they’re really getting prosecco. But there are important differences between different types of sparkling wine.
Champagne, prosecco, and cava are all made in a similar fashion. But the type of grape, the yeast that’s used, and the region in which the production happens, all impart unique qualities to their respective beverages. Champagne is only produced in the champagne region of France. Prosecco is produced in Italy. And Cava is produced in Catalonia. They all have different flavor profiles, because of differences in growing conditions and the type of grape selected.
Making Wine Bubbly
Obviously one of the main distinguishing traits of these three wines is that they’re sparkling wine. These wines aren’t carbonated the way soda is carbonated. Instead, the process relies on natural fermentation. After the wine is complete, some sugar and a specialty yeast is added and the product is bottled. The yeast is able to tolerate the higher alcohol content and completely consumes the sugar, converting it into more alcohol and carbon dioxide. This process gives these wines a higher alcohol content but also their characteristic bubbly nature.
The more sugar that’s converted into alcohol, the drier the final product will be. Dryness is usually measured in grams of residual sugar per liter. The categories range from Doux, which has 50 grams or more residual sugar, to Brut Nature, which has almost no residual sugar left.
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Bottling of these sparkling beverages is very important. The added sugar that’s consumed during the bottle fermentation produces a good amount of carbonation, which results in a lot of pressure in the bottle. And normal glass bottles would be prone to shatter under that pressure. Indeed, when the product was first made, the end result was shattering in some occasions. This risk made the job of turning bottles of the wine very dangerous. One shattered bottle could set off a chain reaction throwing glass everywhere.
Luckily glass making improved and over time people learned how to make extra thick glass bottles that could properly contain this wonderful elixir.
People are often seen drinking champagne and other sparkling wines out of coupes, like the ones shown in the featured image of this post. But those glasses aren’t made for champagne. Champagne glasses are made for champagne. Wide mouthed glasses cause the champagne to go flat much more rapidly than very narrow mouthed flute glasses do. So why do people use coupes? It’s for aesthetics. To drink out of a flute, you have to raise your head. It’s not fancy or becoming.
While these three drinks are great on their own, there are a bunch of cocktails that use campaign, and can be adapted for these other drinks. Probably everyone is familiar with at least one champagne based cocktail: mimosas. They’re simple. It’s just champagne and orange juice. These drinks are light and refreshing. Unfortunately a lot of people use orange juice that’s from concentrate and/or pasteurized. To make the best version of a mimosa, use fresh squeezed orange juice.
Another classic is the French 75, which is made with gin, champagne, some lemon juice, and sugar. The cocktail dates back to WWI and is pretty easy to make. All you need is a half ounce of lemon juice, an ounce of gin, and a barspoon of simple syrup. Mix the ingredients in a champagne flute and top with champagne or one of the other dry sparkling wines mentioned in this article.
One of my favourite cocktails is the Kir Royal. It’s a drink with an interesting history. The basic version of Kir is made with crème de cassis and white wine. Crème de cassis is a sweet and slightly tart liquor made from black currents. It was largely popularized by the French mayor, Félix Kir (Wikipedia). One possible reason for his interest in the cocktail was the lower quality wine of the region, which when mixed with the sweet liquor, became more palatable.
Eventually people started using champagne instead of white wine, and this version became known as the Kir Royal. There’s also Kir Imperial, which uses a raspberry liquor, such as Chambord, instead of the cassis. Both of these drinks are light and refreshing.
But perhaps my absolute favourite cocktail in this group is the “Violette Royale” which uses creme de violette, a once popular liquor that went out of fashion and has only recently become available again. The drink is light and floral and has a beautiful color to it as well. There’s also a liquor called Creme Yvette. While it has violets in it, there’s also a combination of other ingredients including fruit, which give it a more reddish hue and has a flavor profile somewhere between creme de violette and Chambord.
All of the above cocktails can be made with any of the three sparkling wines that I’ve discussed. Once mixed, the base wine loses some of its defining characteristics though, so don’t go with anything too expensive.