Champagne and sparkling wines all have the same effervescence and make the same sound when the bottle is uncorked; however, there some key differences that go beyond the name of the wine.
The first thing to note about Champagne is that it is a sparkling wine. The second thing is that it comes from the Champagne region of France. The name “Champagne” is used only for wines from this specific region. There are many other kinds of sparkling wines, but those other types are not called Champagne since they are not made in the Champagne region. The Champagne region has a mild climate along with a chalky soil that is rich in minerals. The result is that the grapes grown in that soil are uniquely flavorful.
Another important fact that separates Champagne from other sparkling wines is that it has to be made in accordance with the appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) designation. This designation ties a product to its region of origin and regulates numerous aspects of the production process including climate and technique. Along with Champagne, calvados and armagnac also have AOC status.
Méthode Champenoise is the term for the process of making Champagne. Méthode Champenoise involves two-step fermentation. The grape juice is fermented prior to bottling and then it is bottled to trap CO2. That trapped CO2 is what forms the bubbles that make Champagne effervescent.
Another important fact about Champagne is that it can only be made with six grape varietals. The most commonly used grapes are Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Champagne can be made with Pinot Blanc, Petit Meslier and Arbane grapes; however, these are not as commonly used as the first three.
Grapes for making Champagne must be handpicked and the clusters must be pressed whole without being destemmed. The AOC dictates that the grapes can only be pressed twice. This is how the concentrated cuvée is made.
Other Sparkling Wines
Sparkling wines are made all over the world with different methods formulated to bring out different qualities in each wine. For instance sparkling wines can differ in terms of the size of the bubbles and the level of fruitiness. The different varieties of sparkling wines include:
Prosecco. This is a dry (or very dry) Italian sparkling wine with larger bubbles. Prosecco is widely used for making mixed drinks.
Cava. Made from Macabeu grapes, this Spanish sparkling wine is said to have a very similar flavor to Champagne. Cava production was modeled after champagne production though the grapes used are mostly indigenous Spanish grapes. Similar to champagne, cava can only come from a few specific regions in Spain and must be made using a specific method. The Spanish equivalent of Methode Champenoise is called “Método Tradicional.”
Sekt. This is Germanys’ sparkling wine. In most cases, it is sweeter and contains less alcohol than Champagne. It can also contain other aromas including that of pears and apples.
In order to determine whether a wine should be classified as Champagne or sparkling, you need only to look at where it was made.
In most cases, sparkling wine will be much less expensive when compared to champagne. If you are trying to choose between the two types, think about how you expect to use the wine. If you want to drink a quality wine, go with Champagne or one of the higher-rated sparkling wines. Choose a prosecco or other lower quality sparkling wine if you plan to make mixed drinks.