SOLVING THE SPARKLES – sparkling wines simplified


Sparkling wine takes all forms, with a confusing array of brands, production methods and labelling on offer – champagne, champagne “method”, sparkling wine, cava, the ubiquitous prosecco,  doux, brut……..on it goes. Here’s some clarity from Hilary Waller of Eastcott Vineyard near Okehampton in Devon, UK. They specialise in sparkling wine, and although small, 6 acres, have won international awards. Each year Hilary & Richard Waller decide which wines to make, when they see what each year’s harvest brings, so their range varies.

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Over to Hilary………Ed.


Sparkling wine, like other fizzy drinks, contains dissolved carbon dioxide (CO2), which releases bubbles when poured out. The way you get the gas in and how much of it there is, can determine which type of sparkling wine it becomes. Other factors are where it’s made, sweetness and the level of pressure in each bottle. So you could be forgiven for not knowing the difference between Champagne and Prosecco.

The best wines are produced by making a still wine as a base and then re-fermenting it in a way that captures the CO2 produced. This can either be in a tank using the Charmatt method and is relatively quick or inside the bottle using the Champagne (Traditional) method, which takes longer, produces more pressure and includes a lengthy maturation process. The cheapest wines are carbonated by bubbling CO2 through a still wine until some of it dissolves, the way that lemonade is made.


Across Europe wines made by the Champagne method are distinguished from all other sparkling wines and the alternatives are split by how fizzy they are. The number of bubbles is determined by the amount of sugar added for re-fermentation, with more sugar producing more pressure.

Champagne method wines are the fizziest and may have 5 to 6 atmospheres (bar) of pressure i.e. twice that of a car tyre. Champagne itself, only comes from the region of that name in France.

Any wine labelled as Traditional Method or Methode Champenoise, is the equivalent to Champagne and has undergone the same lengthy process and maturation. In the UK, only sparkling wine made this way from home grown grapes can be called ‘English’ or ‘Welsh’. Watch out for ‘British’ which is made from imported fruit.

Other wines made this way are named according to where they come from. The most popular one sold in the UK is Cava, from Catalonia, in Spain. This is made in the same way as Champagne, but usually without such a lengthy maturation process.

EU regulations define a ‘sparkling wine’ as having over 3 bar pressure, for example Italian Spumante.

Semi-sparkling is 1-2.5 bar, which means that there is little risk that the cork will fly across the room. Our most popular Italian wine, Prosecco is a semi-sparkling wine and has a lot less bubbles than Champagne. It is usually made by the Charmatt method, which is much quicker and the wine is designed to be drunk young. So it has a different taste and feel on the tongue to Champagne and is often sweeter.


The labelling rules do no one a favour. Styles vary from Brut (French for raw) for dry to Doux (French for sweet), with many others in between. A 75ml bottle of ‘Brut’ has up to 9 grams of residual sugar, whereas ‘Doux’ is over 50 grams. The level of sugar is there to balance the acidity derived from the fruit and according to the winemaker’s chosen style. Of all the terms used, the most confusing is ‘Extra Dry’, which is actually sweeter than Brut.


Consider the style of wine you like by sweetness and how fizzy you want. Look out for NV (Non-Vintage) which are made from blending wines together from different years. Weather variation can make each year’s wine taste different and NV is a way to even this out. Vintage wines are made from a single year’s grape harvest and often more expensive.

And all this before you even think about which variety of grape…

Hilary Waller

Co-owner of Eastcott Vineyard