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What is Sparkling Wine? A Beginner’s Guide

What is Sparkling Wine? A Beginner's Guide

The words “Pop, fizz, clink!” represent opening a bottle of sparkling wine and celebrating life’s special moments. Sparkling wine is popular across cultures and has the power to uplift people’s moods and add excitement to any occasion. But what exactly is sparkling wine? At Thirst, we want to make sure that every person knows the basics so they can enjoy it to the fullest.

In this post, we’ll explain the basics of sparkling wine: what it is and how to enjoy it. By the end, you’ll be able to choose a delicious bottle with confidence. So let’s get started!

 What is Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wine is a type of wine that has bubbles or effervescence due to the presence of carbon dioxide in the liquid, which can be a result of various winemaking processes.

For example, Champagne and Prosecco are both sparkling wines, but each gets its bubbles through very different methods that influence the taste, character, and price of the final product. 

One of the basics of sparkling wine is that there are both white and red styles.

The distinct feature of sparkling wine lies in its name: it has bubbles. Unlike still wine, which highlights the flavors of various grapes, and sweet wine, which can be paired with a wide range of foods due to its added sugar content, sparkling wine stands out through its mousse or bubbles.

There are different varieties of mousse, and the dryness or sweetness of the wine can also vary. This creates a wide range of options within this style. It’s important to note that while people may think of sparkling wine as expensive, there are options available at different price points to suit different tastes and occasions.

How Sparkling Wine is Made

Sparkling wine is distinguished by its carbonation, which is what sets it apart from other types of wine. If you’re wondering how these bubbly little effervescences came to be, we have the answer for you.

Sparkling wine undergoes two fermentation processes, unlike other wines which undergo only one. The secondary fermentation is responsible for creating the bubbles. There are different ways to carry this out, but the two most commonly used methods are:

Traditional method

The classic method of producing Champagne, Crémant, Cava, and Franciacorta is also known as méthode champenoise or méthode classique. In this method, the second fermentation process occurs inside the bottle. During this process, sugars and yeasts are added to the bottle, resulting in smaller bubbles.

Tank method

The tank method, also known as the Charmat method or metodo Italiano, is used for secondary fermentation in a large steel tank, which creates bigger bubbles. This method is commonly used for making Italian sparkling wines like Prosecco.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to which sparkling wine is the best – it’s all up to personal preference. Some people may prefer the subtle bubbles of a high-quality French Crémant, while others may enjoy the intense fizziness of an Italian Spumante or German Sekt or Riesling. Ultimately, it’s best to sample different types and select your favorite based on your own taste buds.

Levels of Sweetness in Sparkling Wine

Champagnes are typically labeled as Brut and have a dry or slightly sweet taste. To better understand the sweetness levels of Champagne, refer to this guide to labeling terms:

  • Brut Nature: Very dry with 0-3g/L sugar
  • Extra Brut: Dry with 0-6g/L sugar
  • Brut: Dry to slightly sweet with 0-12g/L sugar
  • Extra Sec: Slightly sweet to moderately sweet, but not as sweet as a dessert wine, with 12-17g/L sugar
  • Sec: Moderately sweet, but still not as sweet as a dessert wine, with 17-32g/L sugar
  • Demi-Sec: Sweet, perfect for pairing with cake, with 32-50g/L sugar
  • Doux: Very sweet, almost like a dessert in itself, with 50+g/L sugar.

Different Styles of Sparkling Wine

Now that you’ve got a better understanding of the sweetness levels of sparkling wine, let’s dive into some different styles. Sparkling wines come in many styles and are produced all over the world. The most popular types are:

1. Fully Sparkling Wine

For those new to sparkling wine, note that its pressure is measured in atmospheres or bars, ranging up to about six atmospheres. To give you an idea, a car tire typically has two to three atmospheres of pressure.

Sparkling wine is pressurized at a very high level of five to six bars, which is why a specific method has been devised to open such bottles and minimize harm from the flying cork.

2. Semi-Sparkling Wine

Semi is a type of sparkling wine that differs from others in terms of its pressure levels. Specifically, Semi has pressure levels that fall below 2.5 bars. Other types of sparkling wine include Pétillant (France), Perlwein (Germany), and Frizzante (Italy), and are also labeled as such.

Producers use screw cap closures for semi-sparkling wines due to lower pressure, while fully-sparkling styles are typically sealed with a cork and cage.

3. Red Sparkling Wine

Although most sparkling wines are white or rosé, there are also excellent red bubbly options made with red grapes that are worth exploring.

Although red fizz had a poor reputation in the past, its quality has now improved with the availability of varieties from both Old and New World regions.

Red sparkling wine is produced using various methods, similar to how white and rosé sparkling wines are made. Brachetto d’Acqui is a type of sparkling red wine from Italy that has a candied berry flavor and is made using the tank method, resulting in a slightly bubbly texture.

How to Find Your Style

The best way to figure out what style fits you is to get out there and explore. You can start by: 

Bubble Size

Smaller bubbles generally indicate higher quality and a more refined flavor. In Champagne, the finer the bubble, the higher the pressure in the bottle. The same goes for Prosecco and other sparkling wines – look for smaller bubbles.


The best way to find out which type of sparkling wine best suits your taste is to get out there and try as many different wines as possible. Visit your local wine shop or head to a tasting room for an opportunity to sample different styles.

Sweetness level

The level of sweetness plays an important role in your overall experience, so make sure to understand the difference between different types. As mentioned above, Brut is generally on the dryer side of sparkling wines, while Doux is more for those looking for a sweet treat. 


What is the difference between wine and sparkling wine?

The main difference between regular wine and sparkling wine is the carbon dioxide it contains. Sparkling wines contain higher levels of carbon dioxide which gives them the characteristic fizz when you open a bottle.

Is sparkling wine sweet wine?

Most sparkling wines are sweet. This is because they are meant to be enjoyed before dinner. They have extra sugar added to them, and usually, these rules only apply when certain meals are served in a specific order. But you can drink wine however you like! 

Does sparkling wine expire?

Sparkling wines can be kept for about 2-3 years past their expiration date, similar to red wines, and still be enjoyed.

Where do I store my sparkling wine?

The key is to maintain a consistent temperature for the sparkling, ideally between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Is sparkling wine healthier than non-sparkling wine?

Sparkling wine usually has fewer calories than white or red wines. It may also make you feel full faster, so you can eat less food. But just because it has fewer calories does not mean it is healthier. Check the sugar content, too – some low-calorie wines have a lot of sugar.

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