Champagne and Sparkling wines are used for special occasion toasts or a fabulous brunch, but people often ask: is there a difference between the two? The short answer is YES. The terms Champagne and Sparkling Wine are sometimes used interchangeably in conversation, when in reality they are very different!
All around the world, there are a variety of ways to make sparkling wines. In this post, we will explore the basic understanding of what champagne is, how it’s made, the different kinds of sparkling wines, and where the best place is to buy them.
There are two main methods in which sparkling wines are made. All Champagne is made using the traditional method; also known as Méthode Champenoise. Other sparkling wines can be made using the traditional method or tank fermentation.
All wines go through alcoholic fermentation. The fermentation process is created by the simple formula: sugar + yeast = CO2 + alcohol + heat.
In the traditional method, wine grapes are first fermented separately. After their first fermentation, the mixture of grapes is added into the bottle along with yeast and sugar. During the second fermentation inside of the bottle, the carbon dioxide is trapped, and bubbles are formed.
Since this second fermentation happens inside of the bottle, the dead yeast particles need to be removed. The bottles are slowly rotated on their side to allow the yeast to fall towards the neck of the bottle over a period of time, this is called riddling.
The neck of the bottle is then frozen in a bath. This causes the dead yeast cells to freeze and they are then disgorged from the bottle. The final step is to add a dosage of a small amount of wine and sugar. Adding this final mixture helps to balance out the wine and add back a little liquid that was lost to disgorging. If a wine is Brut it will have 0 – 12 g/L residual sugar. Extra dry is actually sweet than brut, and will contain 12 – 17 g/L residual sugar.
This whole process is very fascinating and takes a long time to complete! The complexity of the process is why Champagne is considered to be sophisticated and of great quality. It can all sound confusing just through a description. For my visual learners, check out the photo below from Wine Folly.
The tank method for fermented sparkling wine is often much cheaper than the traditional method. It also not does involve aging the wines with yeast, so it doesn’t impart those flavors (things like bread, biscuit, dough).
This method takes places in large pressurized tanks where the CO2 does not escape, thus creating bubbles during the second fermentation.
The tank method typically creates wines that are not as carbonated and have larger bubbles. Wines that are meant to be more aromatic and floral such as Prosecco and Lambrusco use this method!
Champagne is a sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region of France. Champagne is located in the Northeastern corner of France. In order for a bottle to legally use the name “Champagne” it must be grown and bottled within 100 miles of this region.
Champagne is most commonly made from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier grapes. This wine is always produced using Méthode Champenoise. In Champagne, the rules are strictly regulated by the AOC: Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC)
Most Champagnes are classified as non-vintage. Non-vintage is when the grapes that are used to create that bottle of wine are from different harvest years. Non-vintage Champagne is aged for 15 months. Vintage Champagne is when the grapes are from a single harvest year and they are aged for longer at 36 months.
Sparkling wine is basically every other wine with bubbles that is not champagne! Even other sparkling wines from France, that are not from within the Champagne region, would be labelled differently.
Cava is sparkling wine from Spain. It is aged for at least 9 months, and 15 to 30 months for higher quality. Cava typically has a fruity, acidic flavor profile.
Prosecco comes from Northeast Italy and is always made using the tank method. There is no aging involved which keeps the wine light, fruity and floral!
Lambrusco is another sparkling wine from Italy. This is a red sparkling wine with flavors of dark fruit, floral and acidity. Similar to prosecco, it is always made using the tank method.
Sekt is the German sparkling wine. This sparkling beverage can range from dry to sweet and is made from Riesling grapes.
American Sparkling Wine is being made many different ways. Some producers make sparkling wines just like champagne using the traditional method and similar grape varietals, whereas some make lighter, fruitier styles using tank fermentation.
You can find sparkling wine pretty much anywhere in the world where regular wine is being made! Wine is always fun to experiment with, and I have heard of some fun things happening in places like South Africa, Australia and New Zealand (a sparkling Sauvignon Blanc say whaa?!).
The great thing about any kind of sparkling wine is it pairs so nicely with foods! I love to either start my meal with a sparkling or enjoy it throughout because it can be a nice palate cleanser.
Sparkling wine goes super well with any kind of cheese. One of my favorite pairings is Champagne and oysters! The freshness and bubbles of the Champagne enhances the salinity and light meatiness of the oyster. It is such a refreshing pairing! For more wine and food pairings, check out my blog post on how to pair wine with food.
When buying any kind of wine, I will always suggest shopping local. Shopping at a local wine shop will typically give you a better selection of unique wines with help from the merchant. If you don’t know how to read labels, describe what you are looking for.
Another great way to get your hands on bubbles is to have them delivered to your house! I recently discovered the amazing company, We Drink Bubbles. We Drink Bubbles is great because they bring farmer’s market style bubbles to your doorstep when you want them, and as often as you want them! It can be SO hard to find boutique, clean-farmed Champagnes and sparkling wines that are not over priced.
You can sign up for a monthly subscription, quarterly subscription, one time gift box, or just one bottle! I love this company so much that they have given me a discount code for my readers! For 10% off of your first purchase, use code AMERICANWINEGIRL on their website.
Do you prefer Champagne or a particular type of sparkling wine? Let me know in the comments below!