As if you needed another excuse to pop a bottle of bubbles -- it's Global Champagne Day (AND Friday) -- need we say more?
To celebrate, The Huffington Post Australia decided to talk to two champagne experts to find out more about everyone's favourite bubbly drink. (Sorry, Coke. There's a reason you don't get handed out to race car drivers when they win.)
First up -- what's the difference between champagne, prosecco and good ole sparkling wine?
"I would say sparkling wine is the more general term, so basically every wine that has carbon dioxide or bubbles in it can be classified as a sparkling wine," said Gustavo Kroneis, head sommelier at the Urban Purveyor Group.
"In terms of the types of sparkling wine, there are very specific rules of production. There are regions they can be produced from and also where the grapes must come from."
Many champagne-lovers will already know that, in order for bubbles to be classed as "champagne", they must come from the Champagne province in France. However, what you might not know is that to be termed "champagne" it must also be made by the traditional process of secondary fermentation in the bottle.
"To be called champagne it has to be fermented in the bottle with the yeast. That's what gives it that bready, brioche-y, vegemite-y complexity and that power and interest," Peter Nixon, Head of Dan Murphy’s Wine Panel, told HuffPost Australia.
"It differs from the Charmat Method -- which is how prosecco is made -- in which you have to transfer the liquid into the bottle after it ferments. You still ferment it, to create the bubbles -- it's not carbonated -- but fermented in a separate vessel."
"The Charmat method is whereby the secondary fermentation happens in a tank -- it's a cheaper process," adds Kroneis. "It means you don't have to document every single bottle -- you ferment in the tank and then transfer into the bottle."
Maybe because it tends to be cheaper, or maybe because it's just delicious, prosecco is on the up-and-up in terms of popularity. From the northern Italian region of Veneto, prosecco tends to be a "lighter and fresher" drop than champagne, according to Nixon.
"It doesn't have as much yeast [as champagne] so the flavour tends to be citrusy and light and fresh," Nixon said. "I believe prosecco now outsells champagne globally.
"It’s more affordable and you know what you’re getting. It doesn't have that diversity that champagne does. It's a bit like sauvingnon blanc -- there are degrees of style but really you know what you getting when you order it.
"Champagne is about diversity and complexity, whereas prosecco is about lightness and simplicity."
This sentiment is echoed by Robert Dessanti, director of Euro Concepts. Dessanti predicts that, like in the UK (where prosecco sales have exceeded champagne) Australians will see a boost in prosecco popularity over the warmer months.
“My prediction is that this trend will be emulated here in Australia, over spring and summer this year. To coin a popular phrase, we like to say it’s time to 'keep calm and drink prosecco this summer,'” Dessanti said.
“At trade shows, we see this trend in action. We consistently outsell champagne with our premium prosecco -- it’s the drink people seek us out for.”
OK, next question. What's the deal with vintage versus non-vintage champagnes?
"Vintage is made from one specific year," Nixon said. "Not every vintage is declared to be 'vintage' in champagne -- only the best years.
"Non vintage can be a blend of any vintage.
"The reason behind this is so you can build up stocks of better years, and in the lighter years you can blend them in to create a consistent house style.
"Champagne producers will tell you that a vintage should be consistent.
"Vintage champagne tends to be more complex and powerful. It's generally 'bigger' than non vintage and richer."
And what about those letters written on the bottle? What does NM and RM mean?
"There is a range of codes on every bottle of champagne, probably about five of them in total," Nixon said.
"NM -- which is on most champagne bottles -- is Négociant-Manipulant, meaning the champagne house sources grapes from across the region, which is fairly traditional.
"RM stands for Récoltant-Manipulant which means the house grows their own grapes and makes their own champagne."
According to Nixon, we are seeing a rise in popularity of the "RM" variety, as more grape growers are trying their hand at making their own product rather than selling the grapes to larger houses.
"It's interesting because when you make [a wine] from one site, you have a more unique style than if you blend it across a large area," Nixon said.
"Then again, if one area gets hailed on in a wet year, it can be problematic for the grower. Smaller producers are more susceptible to vintage variations but they also can make unique individual wines.
"The bigger houses are more about consistency, whereas regional styles tend to be more about individuality."
In terms of what you're looking for in your sparkling, Kroenis dropped the bombshell that your glass of bubbly shouldn't actually be too, well, bubbly.
"Personally, I associate quality with fine bubbles -- tiny and persistent on the palate," Kroenis said.
"Even champagne can be quite foamy, which I think is not as pleasant as those tiny persistent bubbles.
"I think it really comes down to personal taste -- everybody knows how much they want to pay for something -- but the producer is the key thing. I'd recommend trying different wines but knowing the producer is key.
"If you know many producers, and that these makers make the style you like, it's a good rule of thumb whenever you are trying to purchase a wine, whether it's champagne or otherwise."
To assist you getting started on your champagne celebrations (because let's be honest, you definitely should pop a bottle of bubbles today), we also asked Kroenis to send through his top picks, listed below.
Now, bottoms up!!
- Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition
- Ruinart ‘R de Ruinart’ Brut
- Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve
- Louis Roederer Vintage 06
- Agrapart Minéral Blanc de Blancs 07
- Dom Perignon 04
- Pol Roger ‘Sir Winston Churchill’ 04
- Charles Heidsieck ‘Blanc des Millenaires’ 95
Australian and New Zealand Non-Vintage Sparkling wines
- Pirie Tasmania
- Jansz ‘Brut Rosé
- Stefano Lubiana ‘Brut Reserve’
- Deutz Marlborough ‘Cuvée Brut’
Australian and New Zealand Vintage Sparkling wines
- Any vintage wines from the House of Arras
- Stefano Lubiana ‘GrandVintage’ 07
- Quartz Reef ‘Methode Traditionnelle’ Vintage 09
- Deutz Marlborough ‘Cuvée Blanc de Blancs’ Vintage 07
- Perlage ‘Col di Manza’ Rive de Ogliano DOCG
- Perlage ‘Quorum’ Prosecco Superiore Extra Dry DOCG
- Canella Prosecco Superiore Brut DOCG