Amongst all the champagne quotes, Lily Bollinger’s is probably the most famous: “I drink champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad…” But this was 59 years ago. Today, there are sparkling wines of all forms around the world, and we can easily replace “champagne” with “bubbly” in the quote.

Before you embark on the bubbly journey, let’s take a look at how champagne bubbles come about.

Champagne begins life from still wine, when a mixture of sugar and yeast (called tirage) is added to the wine in a bottle in order to induce secondary fermentation. Once the bottle is sealed, carbon dioxide produced during this secondary fermentation cannot escape, thus dissolving in the wine and creating bubbles when the bottle is opened. The pressure inside the bottle is around six bar.

This method of producing sparkling wine is called the traditional method, or méthode champenoise. The bubbles are very fine, with a tingling sensation when sipped. Each bottle consists of an average of 49 million bubbles. The wine is also complex, with bread and biscuit notes, because of the amount of time the dead yeast (called yeast autolysis) have spent inside the bottle (a minimum of 12 months). The longer this period of time, the more pronounced the yeast character is. The dead yeast cells in the bottle are eventually removed through the process of riddling and disgorging, after which dosage (a mixture of wine and sugar) is added to the bottle before it is corked. Since only sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France can be called champagne, all sparkling wines made by the same method outside Champagne are labelled “traditional method”, “méthode champenoise” or “bottle-fermented”.

Sparkling wine method

This traditional method of producing sparkling wine is the most expensive, but champagne is particularly costly partly because of marketing. Many sparkling wines produced outside Champagne have the same finesse but are more affordable, such as those from Australia (Tasmania, in particular) and New Zealand. Some countries also have their own names for sparkling wines made in this method, including cava from Spain, espumante from Portugal, Winzersekt from Germany and Austria and Cap Classique from South Africa. Crémant is French bottle-fermented sparkling wine made outside Champagne. At a recent blind tasting, most consumers thought a South African non-vintage Cap Classique was a vintage champagne!

Sparkling wine varieties

Speaking of South Africa, Cap Classique is the fastest-growing wine category, with production doubling every five years. Even so, its production is less than 3% of champagne’s, and only about 30% is exported because South Africans love their bubbly. In fact, they love it so much that 1 September is designated Cap Classique Day (#CapClassiqueDay).

I love bubbly too, and Cap Classique is my favourite. With most priced between HK$150–300 per bottle, it has a high price-to-quality ratio. No wonder they are often out of stock in Hong Kong. If you haven’t tried Cap Classique yet, get a few bottles to share with your friends on Cap Classique Day.

Cap Classique brands available in Hong Kong include Boschendal from Sarment, Colmant and Stony Brook from Value Vigilantes, DeMorgenzon and Krone from Watson’s Wine, Ken Forrester from Kerry Wines, Longridge from FoodWise, Simonsig from Golden Gate Wine and Villiera from wine’n’things. Graham Beck is the new kid on the block and will be available in Hong Kong in the next few weeks.

Sparkling wine varieties

Not many people will say no to a glass of bubbly. Just remember that sparkling wines are not restricted to champagne. Next time you crack open a bottle of bubbly for a celebration, to relax with friends or to just chill out, have a look beyond champagne.

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A marketer turned winemaker, I make, promote, judge, write about and drink wine.

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