It is one of those conundrums which tend to befuddle even the most ardent of foodies: What are the main differences between sparkling wine and Champagne? If you want to be the perfect host, you do not want to be caught out on the ignorant side of this great divide. This guide offers an in-depth examination of this question by providing detailed information about both varieties of drinks.
The most often quoted cliché in any discussion about the similarities and differences between Champagne and sparkling wine is that all Champagne is sparkling wine but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. Indeed, any discussion of what the differences between the two are should start with this acknowledgment. From there, it becomes easier to come up with proper definitions and outline what the essential differences between the two are.
These are the essential differences between sparkling wine and Champagne:
The easiest way to tell if the bottle of bubbly wine in your hand is a plain sparkling wine or a genuine Champagne is to check the label. Only those bottles of Champagne bottled within 100 miles of the region of Champagne may legally include the name ‘Champagne’ on the label.
All genuine bottles of Champagne come from the Champagne region of France. The region is to the northeast of the country near the city of Paris. Sparkling wines, on the other hand, are made with grapes grown anywhere in the world. The Champagne region has a distinct mild climate and its chalky, mineral-rich soils allow the grapes used for Champagne to produce the bubbly’s distinct flavor profile. Check out a list of the “Best Grapes for Making Wine” to see where the best grapes for winemaking come from.
For well over a century, most sparkling wines, especially in continental Europe, were referred to as Champagne. However, in the 1970s, the French wine industry campaigned hard for international backing on regulating and enforcing laws on the use and misuse of the name “Champagne”. Backed by international law, new regulations made it illegal to use the name ‘Champagne’ on the label of any wine bottles other than those originating from the specific region and made using the certified method.
After restriction on the use of Champagne for the branding of sparkling wine originating in places other than Champagne, France, new names were designated to refer to the distinct varieties of from other parts of the world. Of these, the most popular were Spanish sparkling wine, which became Cava and Italian sparkling wine, which became Prosecco.
Spanish Cava & Italian Prosecco
Spanish Cava is mainly produced in the Spanish province of Catalonia, with the biggest production centered around the small town of San Sadurní de Noya near the city of Barcelona. While about 90% of Spanish Cava is made in Catalonia, today some varieties of the sparkling wine are produced in other regions such as Valencia, Extremadura, and Aragon.
Italian Prosecco is mainly produced around Veneto as well as the neighboring area of Friuli Venezia Giulia. This area has a much warmer Mediterranean climate compared to Champagne. As such, the Italian vineyards produce much leaner grapes with high acidity. This feature lends a distinct flavor profile to Prosecco.
Other popular sparkling wines include German sparkling wine known as Sekt, American sparkling wine, and Austrian sparkling wine. There are also some French sparkling wines produced in regions other than Champagne.
There is a select group of grapes that can be used to produce the base alcohol blend, “cuvée”, that is matured to make Champagne. Of course, they can only be grown in the Champagne region. There are three major varieties of grapes used to make Champagne. These are ‘Pinot Noir‘ (the one most widely used), Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier. Other grapes often used in making the Champagne blend include Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier, and Arbane. Check out ”How Many Grapes are Used for One Bottle of Wine?” to see what kind of grapes go into that bottle of yours.
A Champagne winemaker must choose the best blend of fermented grape juices to achieve the best flavor profile. Each of these highly-prized grapes have specific flavor profiles in terms of structure, body, fruitiness, aroma, freshness, and delicateness.
Cava, the most popular variety of Spanish sparkling wine is made from Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo variety of grapes. While the area the grapes used to make cava sparkling wine is decidedly warmer than in Champagne, the grapes themselves have a lot of essential similarities to those ones grown in northeastern France.
Italian Prosecco is made almost exclusively Glera grapes. However, DOCG, the organization which regulates the production of sparkling wines in Italy, allows that some varieties of prosecco may contain other grapefruit blends provided these do not exceed 15% of the content.
4. Production Method
Champagne is made using a production method known as “ Méthode Champenoise”. This is often referred to as the traditional method (method traditionelle) or “fermented in a bottle” method. The grape juice is first fermented in tanks or wooden barrels to produce alcohol which is then bottled for years to allow the production of bubbles of carbon dioxide in the wine. This second fermentation process is the defining event in the production of Champagne. The wine bottles are stacked on their side between thin layers of wood in what is known as aging sur latte.
The cooler the temperatures are during aging of Champagne, the better it is for the final product. This is because it will take much longer for fermentation to take place, producing tinier bubbles and a more consistent flavor. During aging, the winemaker has to keep adding sugar, yeast and yeast nutrients using carefully designated methods. Moreover, the dead yeast cells must be removed using the Le Remuage or riddling process.
Unlike both Champagne and Spanish Cava, which are usually aged in individual wine bottles, the secondary fermentation of Prosecco is almost exclusively done in tanks. This is known as the Charmat or Italian Method. As a result, Prosecco sparkling wines tend to have larger bubbles than Champagne or Cava. Prosecco winemakers put a greater focus on the fruit compared to other sparkling wines. This is the reason why Italian sparkling wines are the preferred choice for making cocktails.
Take a look at “List of Four Best Italian Table Wines” to see if Prosecco or another Italian sparkling wine made it on the list.
There is a considerable price difference between classic Champagne brands and those of generic sparkling wine brands. One of the reasons why Champagne commands a far pricier tag is that the method of producing the bubbly is more time and labor-intensive. However, the major reason for the difference in prices lies in market demand and brand positioning. For many decades now, Champagne brands have managed to position themselves as luxury commodities, which consumers are willing to pay more for. That said, there are some select sparkling wine varieties (especially vintage ones) which cost a lot more money than your typical bottle of genuine Champagne.
Whether you only have a passing interest in sparkling wines and Champagne or this is a subject that fascinates you to a degree, the five essential differences between these wine varieties as discussed here will be of great value. With this knowledge, you will be able to understand why there are considerable differences in terms of pricing, perception of luxury and sense of occasion where sparkling wines and Champagne are concerned.
Thanks for reading with us! Do you have a better understanding of the differences between a bottle of sparkling wine and Champagne? Let us know in the comments below if you ever cracked open a bottle of Champagne. Also, be sure to head to Wine on My Time to find more content on all things wine.
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