- Vintage and Non-Vintage: In this case, vintage has nothing to do with age. "Vintage" indicates grapes from a single harvest in a given year. Winemakers won't necessarily release a new vintage each year- it all depends on how the grapes turn out. When a wine is made from grapes that came from different harvests (potentially in different years), it's referred to as NV or non-vintage.
- Cuvee: This means that the bubbly is made from a special house blend. These are typically vintage wines that have spent extra time aging and developing character. They'll be a bit pricier than a regular non-vintage bottle.
- Brut: This is a flavor designation that indicates a very dry sparkling wine. It's the most common type of Champagne and it's the safest bet if you're shopping for a party or a gift.
- Extra-Dry or Extra-Sec: This flavor designation means that the bubbly is slightly sweeter than "Brut."
- Demi- Sec or Doux: These flavor designations mean that you're getting a sweet dessert wine. I once heard that Marie Antoinette and the French Court preferred their Champagne to be very high in sugar, just like this!
- Champagne and Sparkling Wine: The difference between these two really comes down to where it's made. Sparkling wine can only be called "Champagne" if it comes from the Champagne region of France.
- Blanc de Noirs: This is a white wine produced from black grapes. Typically these are produced in the Brut style.
- Blanc de Blancs: This wine is made entirely from Chardonnay grapes, which will age well. This is one to lay down in your cellar!
Regardless of the flavor profile or vintage you choose, always look for sparkling wine or Champagne made from Pinot Noir and/or Chardonnay grapes. These are the grapes found in all of the world's best sparkling wines.
One of my favorite sparkling wines is from Robert Hunter Winery in Sonoma, California. Mr. Hunter also makes a great Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay, and his estate is worth checking out if you're ever in the area.