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For a wine style that is associated with celebration and festivity, it is a remarkably difficult one to understand. Why don’t they all taste the same? Some are very dry, some are sweet and some are somewhere in between.
How to find your sweet spot
Let’s look at four broad categories of sparkling wine styles and give you some insight into how they are made.
Light, Crisp & Very Dry
In the sparkling wine world, dryness is a function of how much sugar is left in the final wine and the amount of acidity of the wine. Sparkling wine with really high acidity will, all other things being equal, taste drier compared to wine with a low acid profile. Grapes with higher natural acidity tend to come from cool places, like Nova Scotia, for example. However, acidity is only one part of the equation.
How much sugar is retained by the winemaker also plays a role? In the case of many sparkling wines, a sweet liquid (known as the dosage) is added just before bottling. This determines the final sweetness level of the wine. For very-dry sparkling wines, look for words including Brut, Extra Brut and Brut Nature (Brut Zero or Pas Dosage). The latter refers to a sparkling wine with no sweet liquid added back.
The final factor is how the wine is made. Wines made with the Traditional Method (Champagne method) gain richness in flavour and texture from time spent in contact with lees (expired yeast cells) during the aging process. Depending on the producer style or amount time on the lees, these wines can be Light & Crisp, but if they have spent a lot of time aging on the lees, they can be Rich & Full.
Prosecco (Extra Brut)
Cremant de Bordeaux
Cremant de Bourgogne
Nova Scotia Cremant
Watch out words: Brut, Extra Brut, Brut Zero.
Light, Crisp & Fruity
Wines made in this style tend to show a little more fruit sweetness, but because of their cleansing acidity still taste fairly dry. In this case sometimes the fruitiness is a result of process. Sparkling wines that have their secondary fermentation in tank (known as Charmat, Metodo Italian) or are simply carbonated often have more pronounced fruit flavours. The winemaker may also add a dash of sweetness via a high dosage. Converse to logic, sparkling wines identified as Dry or Extra Dry, actually tend to be sweeter than those labelled as Brut or Extra Brut. This style could also include Traditional Method sparklers, such as Cava, that have slightly elevated sweetness levels.
Entry-level New World
Word to watch out for: Dry, Exta Dry, Metodo Italiano
Aromatic, Vibrant & Semi-Sweet
Over the last five years, there has been a huge rise in popularity in aromatic, often semi-sweet sparkling and lightly sparkling (frizzante) wines. The models for these wines are Italy’s Asti and Moscato D’Asti wines. The wines abound in floral and fruit aromas and flavours and typically have elevated sweetness levels. Most Moscato based sparklers, whether they are Old World or New are semi-sweet to sweet in nature. A great example is Nova Scotia’s own Nova 7 — a model for this style of wine. In Old World, wine-producing countries watch out for key words such as Dolce (Italian for sweet), Demi-Sec and Doux (France).
Nova 7, Jost Selkie
Moscato Sparkling Wines
Words to watch out for: Moscato, Doux, Demi-Sec, Moulleux, Dolce
Rich, Full & Dry
These are the richest, most full-bodied sparkling wines and are often made in Dry or Very Dry styles. To gain their body and texture, these wines spent a long time aging on their lees (expired yeast cells) following a second fermentation in bottle. This method is known as the Traditional Method (Champagne method) and is used by top-quality producers around the world, including many local wineries, to achieve a Rich & Full style. Most of the wines are made in a Dry or Very Dry style as these compliment their nutty, bread-like, citrus and apple–like flavour profiles.
Traditional Method Nova
Scotia sparkling wines
Top New World sparkling wines
Words to watch out for: Champagne, Traditional Method, LD (Late Disgorged), Brut, Extra Brut, Brut Nature