Sparkling Wines - United States of America
In the United States, there are two main methods for producing sparkling wines: the traditional method (also known as the champenoise method) and the tank method. The more affordable sparkling wines, such as André, Cook’s, and Tott’s, are often produced using the tank method, while the more expensive ones are made using the traditional method. The production of high-quality sparkling wine in California began in the Russian River Valley, Sonoma County in 1892 when the Korbel brothers started producing sparkling wine using the traditional method. Initially, they produced Riesling, Muscat, Traminer, and Chasselas.
The quality of California sparkling wine improved with the introduction of traditional grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Blanc, with the help of foreign influences. Although US legislation does not regulate the level of sugar and sweetness in wine, most producers follow European norms of less than 1.5% sugar in brut wine and more than 5% sugar in sweet wine. As the sparkling wine industry in California developed, foreign investment from Champagne houses such as Moët et Chandon, Louis Roederer, and Taittinger led to the creation of wineries like Domaine Chandon, Roederer Estate, and Domaine Carneros.
In the United States, major sparkling wine producers often use traditional methods, although the winemaking techniques employed by these producers vary significantly and have a notable impact on the taste of the wines. For example, Champagne blends often incorporate 30 to 60 wines from 4 to 6 different vintages, while California blends usually consist of 20 wines from one or two vintages. Additionally, Champagne laws require non-vintage Champagnes to age on lees for at least 15 months, while vintage Champagnes must age for at least 3 years. In some cases, top-quality Champagne is left to age for at least 7 years before being released to the market. However, in the United States, there are no established standards, and aging periods can range from 8 months to 6 years. The California climate is particularly advantageous for producing vintage sparkling wines almost every year, especially in California.
In the United States, it is prohibited to use the designation “Champagne” on wine labels unless certain requirements are met. A label can use the term if it was used before 2006 or if the wine is produced in the Champagne region. After 2006, no new label will be approved that uses the term “Champagne” for wines made outside the Champagne region, except for “protected labels” that can use the term along with the designation “actual place of origin.” Nevertheless, nearly half of the sparkling wines consumed in the United States continue to be illegally sold under the name “Champagne.”
In the state of New York, the Finger Lakes wine industry has experienced significant growth in the production of Champagne-style sparkling wines using grape varieties such as Riesling, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir following the traditional method. Swedish Hill Vineyards is one of the producers that has been successful in producing sparkling wines using up to 100% Riesling grapes. Other producers in the region, such as Glenora and Casa Larga, have also followed this trend.