Top 7 Sparkling Wine Terms

Sparkling wine labels are full of terms that can be a little confusing. So here are 7 terms and definitions that can help you find what you are looking for:

Methode Champenoise

Sparkling wine make in the traditional style of Champagne. It’s made from three grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The juice of these grapes is initially fermented in stainless steel tanks. This juice is then poured into individual bottles along with some sugar and yeast for a secondary fermentation which creates the bubbles. Through a process called “riddling,” these bottles are tilted with the neck pointed slightly down and turned slowly for weeks to consolidate the sediment in the neck of the bottle. Then someone dips the neck of the bottle into liquid nitrogen and blasts off the frozen sediment. A little wine is poured in to top-off the bottle and it is corked and sent off to sale.

NV

Stands for non-vintage. Unlike still wine, most sparkling wines are not made from grapes all grown in the same year. This allows the winemaker more flexibility to achieve a more consistent blend. The big-bucks Champagnes (Dom, Cristal, Krug) are often vintage specific, but most of the Champagne and sparkling wine on the market is NV.

Brut

Dry wine with a low level of residual sugar. The most popular type of sparkling wine.

Demi-Sec

Semi-sweet wine with some residual sugar. Surprisingly, you can pair demi-secs will food better than you think. Try one with salty food like most hors-d’oeuvres or with french fries. A little sugar never hurt anyone.

Doux

Sweet wine with a lot of residual sugar. Best saved for dessert or drinking by itself.

Blanc de Noirs

Literally, “white from black.” White sparkling wine made from only the Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes (both red wine grapes usually). There is no Chardonnay used. Blanc de Noirs is fruitier because it doesn’t get any of that serious bready flavor from the Chardonnay.

Blanc de Blancs

Literally, “white from white.” White sparkling wine made from Chardonnay only. Blanc de blancs tends to have a stronger bready, yeasty flavor. However, watch out for green apples and grapefruit.

2 comments

Genevieve wrote 5 years 9 weeks ago

Do you have any recommendations for a good Demi-Sec? I’ve never heard of it, but it sound intriguing!

jon's picture
jon wrote 5 years 9 weeks ago

There are no demi-sec Champagnes or sparkling wines at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. They are not big sellers. People are just not into dessert wines anymore (were they ever?). But I have had a few that were quite good.
1) Laurent-Perrier NV Demi-Sec: Probably $40 at your local Champagne store*.
2) Veuve-Cliquot NV Demi-Sec: Also $40 at your local Champagne store.
3) Scharffenberger NV Cremant Demi-Sec: $35 at the winery in Mendocino, CA. I had it a few months ago and I loved it. Unfortunately, I think it was very limited production so they weren’t selling it beyond the winery.

*Champagne Store: This is a small wine shop that is dedicated to Champagnes and sparkling wines. Look for giant Champagne bottles (3L bottle is a Jeroboam; 15L bottle is a Nebuchadnezzar) in the windows. There is D&M in San Francisco (3 blocks from my house), so I am set. But for the rest of you, this is a challenge. I tried Wine Library and Gary’s Wine (the two largest online wine retailers in the U.S.). Gary’s just had the Veuve for $40, while Wine Library did not have anything.

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