Updated: Aug 2, 2020
When you look on the supermarket shelves, there is an abundance of different bottles of bubbles, from your Moet (usually on the top shelf), to your Bernadino (most definitely on the bottom)! Layouts in alcohol stores are based on price as well as popularity, but is the more expensive always mean it is better? And because the wine is a 'Champagne' does this mean the quality outshines all of the others?
Short answer - No. With all wine it depends on what your taste preferences are and there's a few things to know about why a Champagne is a Champagne but why a Lindauer is a sparkling wine.
Champagne, sparkling wine? What's the difference? We're going to get a bit geeky here for a minute...
CHAMPAGNE - WHY THE NAME
For anyone not in the know, Champagne is a sparkling wine, however it has it's own set of rules for it to be classified as Champagne. First of all, it is made using the three traditional grape varieties - Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. Any combination of these varieties could be used but for the end product to be classified as 'Champagne', the grapes used in the wine all have to be grown in the Champagne region in France (penny dropping a bit...).
Champagne is also made in the traditional method with specific processes for fermentation, riddling and disgorging.
TRADITIONAL METHOD - A QUICK LESSON
To create a sparkling wine you need carbon dioxide (CO2) and there are a couple of different ways this can be produced.
When producing a sparkling wine, it will undergo two rounds of fermentation. The first is after the fruit is picked and pressed, where the yeast eats the sugar that is present in the juice, and the by-product being alcohol and C02, which is allowed to escape. This is the base wine that the winemakers will then use to blend with others from different vineyards, or varieties to create the final blend. Once this has been settled on after a lot of tasting, the wine will undergo a second fermentation however instead of it being in large tanks, it is in bottles exactly like the ones you buy in the supermarket but picture a crown cap like you see on a beer bottle. Fermenting the wine this way ensures that any C02 produced during this second round doesn't escape and instead produces delicate bubbles that you find in the finished product. This second fermentation is called 'Maturation on lees' and the process can take anywhere from 2 years to 6 or even 10 years.
Once the second fermentation is complete there will be sediment within the bottle; mostly dead yeast and no one wants that in their bottle of champers! Winemakers go through a process called riddling to get this out. This happens by someone slowly turning the bottle while simultaniously tilting it so the neck eventually points towards the ground. This process takes a ridiculous amount of time - about 6 weeks if manually turned while using A framed racks (google it) If you do it too quickly it will disrupt the sediment and the whole process may need to start again. Once the sediment has settled in the neck of the bottle it is plunged into a cold solution which freezes the sediment, and the crown cap is taken off. Because of the pressure in the bottle, the sediment shoots out with minimal spillage of the wine.
If you want to learn a bit more about this process there is an awesome link here.
NEW ZEALAND METHODE TRADITIONELLE
The cool thing is, there are wines being made in this traditional method right here in New Zealand! They are called Methode Traditionnelle and they are bloody brilliant!
Although they are made in the exact same way as those with Champagne on their label, they can't be called Champagne purely because the grapes were grown here in New Zealand. When comparing a NZ Methode to a Champagne, it will of course have differences in taste because every wine making region has their own specific soils, climate, and sunshine hours, which will affect the tasting of the grapes. Just to add on top of that, oak barrels and percentage use will differ, winemakers aren't all the same, and the flavour profile they want to bring forward are all unique and different. This is why wine is so awesome.
In Marlborough there is a group of wineries who produce sparklings in the traditional method who have created 'Methode Marlborough' making it easy for consumers to find other producers of the quality wine. They have their own rules - it must be made using the traditional grape varieties, and the wines must be on lees for the second fermentation for at least 18 months, however most are for longer. All of them are brilliant, too. Each has their own unique flair for hitting home on those breedy and sumptuous flavours (we are big fans of all of them)! No.1 Family is one of the best that you'll find as it is the personal label of the individual that started the craze in Marlborough - Daniel Le Brun (not to be confused with the Le Brun label produced by Wither Hills).
If you're looking for local Central Otago producers, we love Akarua and Maude, although there are many more we haven't indulged in yet - Peregrine, Wild Earth, Gibston Valley to name a few (we will update this as we taste!).
OTHER WAYS TO CREATE A SPARKLING
There are many other ways to produce a sparkling, they take less time and are less expensive than the traditional method. the wines on the cheaper end of the spectrum will either artificially carbonate their wine in a large tank, and others might filter the wine after the second fermentation to get rid of the sediment.
WHY THE PRICE DIFFERENCE
Traditonal method wine making can take anywhere from 2.5-10 years+ from first picking to final bottling. This is not only man power but time and space in the winery under consistent temperature (12 degrees), and also specialised equipment. This all increases the production price, so you won't usually find a NZ Methode Traditionnelle under $30 per bottle.
As for Champagne, the name itself as well the time and skill it takes to make a wine using the traditional method is the reason for their prices.
Those wineries producing sparkling without using the traditional method will have less winery costs and a faster turn around time so they are able to price their product at a lower tier. It doesn't mean their wines are not as good, it is just a different wine making style and can be an excellent choice for wedding budgets, especially during wine week!
Whether you want to go for a locally produced bubbles, a Champagne, or a sparkling that is on special at the supermarket, the sound when that cork pops is magical, and your day will be amazing!
One last tip - don't go near the Bernadino, trust me on that one!