I have a real respect for French Champagne, not just because of the enormous amount of
trouble it takes to manufacture, but for the sheer physical power inside the bottle; at about
five atmospheres, there is twice as much pressure inside a bottle of Champagne as in a
properly inflated automobile tire, which leads me to want to invent a device I can attach to a
Champagne bottle just in case I get a flat in the middle of nowhere; talk about impressing
your friends! The French term for this powerful level of carbon dioxide content is
mousseux. Another French term for similar in-bottle pressure is crémant, a
quick nickname for most French sparkling wines manufactured according to the méthode
traditionelle though not under the Champagne appellation.
The Spanish used to call their sparkling wine Champaña, but changed the name
several decades ago to Cava, literally “cellar,” to avoid offending the French. The
Spanish use the terms método tradicional or método clásico to describe the
process they are no longer allowed to call, using French, the méthode champenoise.
The Spanish term for this full level of tire-popping carbonation is espumoso; Italy
uses the well-known spumante. The Treaty of Versailles after the First World War, in
addition to imposing crushing financial obligations on the Germans, forbade them from ever
calling their sparkling wine “Champagne;” the German bubbling equivalent is called
Sekt. The German term Schaumwein (the word Schaum means “foam”)
is usually reserved for low quality products. Qualitätschaumwein is equivalent to
Many fine sparkling wines weigh in at lower levels of fizziness (such that they do not require
the protective wire retainers so familiar in the Champagne opening ritual). The delightfully
fruity Moscato d’Asti, at about 1.7 atmospheres, is merely frizzante (or
frizzantino); it is understandably often confused with Asti Spumante, a fully sparkling
offering from the same famous wine town in Piemonte. The French adjective for this type of
light sparkle is pétillant, while the Germans use the term spritzig.
Not to be outdone in linguistic precision, the French employ the term perlant for an
even lower level of fizziness; German Perlwein brings the same point across. The
Spanish term aguja refers to a slight natural effervescence in the wine. The Italian
vivace connotes a pleasant light sparkle.
The European Community considers a wine sparkling if it has pressure of more than three
atmospheres, semi-sparkling if it is between one and 2.5 atmospheres. American regulations
(promulgated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco) are not as scientifically
specific. According to the ATF
“Sparkling grape wine” (including “sparkling wine,” “sparkling red wine” and “sparkling
white wine”) is grape wine made effervescent with carbon dioxide resulting solely from the
fermentation of the wine within a closed container, tank or bottle.
It is clear that even the ATF shies away from precise English-language terms apart from
“sparkling,” because other than “fizzy,” that's all we've got.
“Crackling wine,” “petillant wine,” “frizzante wine” (including cremant, perlant, reciotto, and
other similar wine) is sparkling light wine normally less effervescent than champagne or other
similar sparkling wine, but containing sufficient carbon dioxide in solution to produce, upon
pouring under normal conditions, after the disappearance of air bubbles, a slow and steady
effervescence evidenced by the formation of gas bubbles flowing through the wine.
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In addition to my food and wine writing, I act as North American representative for
Dialogue language schools. If you've always wanted to do an intensive session in French,
Spanish, Italian or German in Europe before your wine tour, here's more information.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman
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