If you carbonate wine, can it be good?

We like to think of sparkling wine as a refined thing. That’s not always good, because it makes bubbles something special, a once-a-year treat, when as any Prosecco drinker will affirm, there’s good reason to drink bubbles all the time.

And yet a generation ago, it was easy to drink American sparkling wine all the time. In 1984, Wines & Vines counted 106 “champagne producers” (their term; the policing of the word “Champagne” was still years away) around the country, with dozens in California — including major producers like Christian Brothers and Almaden who have since faded into the past, and names like Beaulieu and Rosenblum who have since largely wandered away from fizzy wine. That included a lot of brands (André, Korbel) that have since become associated with not particularly refined drinking.

For all the talk about refinement, it’s worth remembering that the vast majority of sparkling wine, particularly in California, is made quickly and on the cheap. It’s perhaps even truer now than it was back then.

I’m not talking about what has come to be known as the traditional method — the laborious in-bottle second fermentaion that’s a trademark of Champagne — but instead the hastier ways to generate tiny bubbles.

There is the Charmat method, which involves a quick second fermentation: adding water and yeast, which creates the resulting carbon dioxide bubbles, into a closed tank, then bottling the finished wine. It’s used on relatively low-grade wines like André, but is also how most Prosecco is made. (André is actually quite forthright about this, describing a small “secondary fermentation before bottling” on the label.)

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