The Traditional (Champagne) Method is the oldest and most famous method of producing sparkling wines, and is used in the best quality wines. The production process is split into five steps: the primary fermentation, blending, the second fermentation, remuage and disgorgement. Firstly the normal fermentation takes place, as with still wines. The grape must is fermented en masse, and, especially in Champagne, each individual parcel is fermented separately. The resultant wines tend to be dry, tart and acidic, and would not make good drinking at this stage. As with still wines, some may go through a malolactic fermentation.
The Transfer Method; the Transvasage or Transfer method refers to the transfer of wine from one bottle to another, via an intermediate tank. The wines undergo a second fermentation in bottle, as in the traditional method, but instead of going through the complex and time consuming process of remuage and disgorgement, the wines are transferred under pressure into a tank where they are filtered and re-bottled into a new bottle. This method is used for bulk production in the New World, but is also used in Champagne for the production of bottle sizes that are either too big or too small to be practical for the traditional method (e.g. 20cl bottles and Jeroboams or larger).
The Tank Method also known as the Cuve Close or Charmat method, wines made in this style undergo a second fermentation in a tank, rather than in a bottle. The method is usually used for the bulk production of inexpensive wines, as it is much cheaper than using the traditional method, but does not intrinsically lead to the production of poor quality wines. The wines are filtered and bottled under pressure. This method is commonly used in Italy for wines such as Asti and Prosecco.
Carbonation by far the cheapest and lowest quality method of producing sparkling wines is by injection of Carbon Dioxide. This is the same method used to produce soft drinks such as cola and lemonade and produces large and short-lived bubbles. Such wines are rarely seen in export markets.
Having been perfected in Champagne, the art of making sparkling wines has spread all over the world and has been developed to suit many different methods and many different grape varieties.
Half of all the sparkling wines made in France come from outside Champagne.
High up in the hills of the Languedoc, Limoux is home to some of France's best sparkling wines. Blanquette de Limoux, made from Mauzac, and Crémant de Limoux made from Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc can be very good, but some of the best wines are made from the traditional champagne blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Jean-Louis Denois is amongst the best producers of the region.
Chenin Blanc is used in the Loire to make sparkling wines in an aromatic and floral style. Saumur is the best district for the wines, but they are also made in Vouvray and Touraine.
Germany has a long history of making sparkling wines and many of the famous houses of Champagne were founded by Germans - names such as Bollinger, Deutz, Heidsieck, Krug and Taittinger.The best sparkling wines, known as Sekt, are made from Reisling from the Rheingau, Pfalz and Mosel-Saar-Ruwer.
English sparkling wines are growing in quality and popularity. They are made from a wide range of grape varieties, but the best are made from the traditional champagne varieties.
Italy is home to some of the most famous sparkling wines outside Champagne. The best of these are the sweet sparkling wines of Asti in Piedmont made from Moscato, and dry wines made from Prosecco in the region of Veneto. They are both made by the tank method, rather than the traditional method.
The name Cava is almost as synonymous with sparkling wine as Champagne, and it has soared in popularity over recent years due to its high quality to value for money ratio. The wines are dry in style, and usually made in the traditional method. Cava is traditionally made from the Macabéo, Parellada and Xarel-lo grape varieties, but Chardonnay is also permitted and is becoming more popular. The vast majority of Cava is produced in the Penedés region of Catalonia, and production is dominated by the firms of Codorniu & Freixenet. However, as in Champagne, there are many small growers who produce some excellent quality wines in small quantities.
There are some excellent sparkling wines made in the traditional method from South Africa. The best of these are made from the Champagne varieties of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but there are also some interesting wines made from Chenin Blanc.
California is home to some excellent sparkling wines, and many famous Champagne houses have bought vineyards in the Napa Valley and other districts to tap into its high-quality potential and the domestic demand for the wines. The wines can be made in a wide variety of different styles, but the best wines are made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, sometimes with the addition of Pinot Gris, and using the traditional method. The most famous names are Domaine Chandon, Domaine Carneros, Gloria Ferrer and Roederer Estate.
Argentina has great potential for high-quality sparkling wines, but historically low domestic demand for them, and the popularity of its red wines, means that there has been little focus on the sparkling potential. Domaine Chandon is one of the best producers, but others such as Luigi Bosca are making some good quality wines from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Australia has been a great source of high-quality yet relatively inexpensive sparkling wines for many decades. As with all wines, Australian winemakers have not been shy about trying to make sparkling wines in a wide variety of styles and from a wide variety of grape varieties. Many high-quality wines are made from grapes such as Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Sémillon and even Shiraz to make sparkling red wines. But as with elsewhere in the world, the best wines are made from the traditional Champagne varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Many regions in South East Australia are too hot to make high-quality sparkling wines, and the best wines come from cooler districts within Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia.
New Zealand's cool climate makes it particularly suitable for the production of high-quality sparkling wines, though it has only emerged in the last few decades as a premium producer. Montana and Cloudy Bay were the first producers, and they set the bar for the quality of the wines for others to live up to. The wines are made in the traditional method using the traditional varieties of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.