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Champagne vs. Sparkling Wine: Differences You Should Know

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Many people do not know the answer to this question: What is the difference between Sparkling Wine and Champagne? Is there any difference between them at all?

Sparkling wine can only be called Champagne if it comes from the region of Champagne, France which is located just outside of Paris. Furthermore, Champagne can only be made using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes. To clarify, all Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne.

We really should think of Champagne in terms of a geographical location as opposed to a winemaking style. Read below for key differences as well as specifics and even serving tips! 

Is Champagne and Sparkling Wine the Same
Is Champagne and Sparkling Wine the Same

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Is Champagne and Sparkling Wine the Same

Champagne and Sparkling wine are not the same. Sparkling wine is a wine that has carbon dioxide added to it. It can be fermented in the bottle or tank naturally or even carbonated like soda. Sparkling wines can be made anywhere in the world. However, Champagne is a special term that is reserved for sparkling wines made in the region of France named Champagne. 

As mentioned above, not all Sparkling wine is Champagne. The French were the first to make sparkling wines and many of the best (and certainly most expensive) are produced in Champagne.

Sparkling wine can come out tasting lean with flavors of flowers, fresh apple, tropical fruit, lime, and lemon zest. Wines tend to be light and zippy on the palate.

One method of making Sparkling wine is to preserve as much of the floral and fruit character of the wine as possible. This means less oxygen is introduced during the winemaking process.

Champagne has effervescent flavors of citrus, almond, and apple, Champagne comes in varying levels of sweetness and has a moderate amount of alcohol.

As alluded to earlier countries restrict the use of the term Champagne to sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region of France. In addition to location-based regulations, Champagnes are produced according to a number of specifications.

In Europe, this is enforced by the European Union under the Protected Designation of Origin status. Because of this, sparkling wines from other countries are sold under other names such as Spumante or Prosecco (Italy), Cava (Spain), and Sekt (Germany and Austria).

Champagnes are renowned for their balanced flavor and texture. While sparkling wines can have similar characteristics for a fraction of the price, buying Champagne from a proven Champagne house guarantees quality.

What is Champagne and Sparkling Wine

Champagne refers specifically to sparkling wine made in the region of Champagne, France. Champagne is a blend of grapes including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, and is made in one of two styles. Sparkling wine is the most technical wine in the world because it undergoes not just one fermentation but two.

Many people like Champagne because of its taste and the way it feels. Oxford University professor Charles Spence has shown that sound plays a major role in what we think about flavor. Some of Spence’s research showed that potato chips taste better if they sound noisier when you bite into them. 

According to Spence’s research, the perceived flavor of a substance can also be influenced by background sounds. For example, bacon tasted better if you can hear the sound of it sizzling in the background! 

Many people like sparkling wine because they perceive it to be a better value, but also because other countries and even other areas outside of Champagne France make some delicious and interesting sparkling wine! 

Champagne: Short Explanation

Champagne is a blend of grapes including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. (If you’re not very familiar with Pinot Meunier, it’s a dark-skinned red grape and it brings freshness, tart, floral, berry, and rhubarb flavors and aromas to the most iconic sparkling wine in the world – Champagne!

How these grapes are used (or not used) gives you a clue about the style of Champagne. 

Champagne often exhibits aromas like toast, raw almonds, and lemon peel. Bright citrus and apple flavors marry with toasty and nutty flavors for a refreshing experience. A hint of cream in the flavor and the texture is sometimes found on the palate. Champagne is high in acidity, balanced by its light body and delicate bubbles. Most are white wines and therefore low in tannins.

Depending on how much sugar (dosage) is added for the secondary fermentation, champagne has varying levels of sweetness. The sugar and sweetness level is indicated by the terminology on the label:

  • Brut Nature: Little or no sugar is added making it almost bone dry. Wines with this label may have up to three grams of sugar added per liter.
  • Extra Brut: Slightly sweeter, this wine may have up to six grams of sugar added per liter. It is still very dry on the palate.
  • Brut: Typically still considered fairly dry champagne, brut may contain up to 12 grams of sugar per liter. The most popular type of champagne is Brut.
  • Extra Dry, Extra Sec: Wines that bear this label are sweeter than brut and contain between 12 and 17 grams of sugar per liter.
  • Dry, Sec, Seco: Although it is labeled as “dry,” seco is considerably sweeter than brut and may contain between 17 and 32 grams of sugar per liter.
  • Demi-Sec, Demi-Seco: On the sweeter end of the champagne spectrum, demi-sec contains between 32 to 50 grams of sugar per liter.
  • Doux, Sweet, Dulce: The sweetest of champagnes, bottles labeled with any of these three names contain 50 or more grams of sugar per liter.

Champagne can also be classified based on the grapes used:

GrapeExplanation
Blanc de BlancThis champagne is made with 100 percent Chardonnay grapes.
Blanc de NoirsOne hundred percent “black” wine grapes like pinot noir and/or pinot Meunier are used to make this champagne.
RoséOccasionally made using skin contact, rosé champagne is more commonly made by adding a small amount of red wine.
Champagne Classification Based on Grapes Used

TIP: If you are interested in storing Champagne properly, these are some of the very best wine refrigerators rated for Champagne available. You really should check it out so you know all the facts.

Sparkling Wine: Short Explanation

Sparkling wine is (arguably) the most technical wine in the world. What makes the stuff so technical is that it undergoes not just one fermentation (to make the alcohol) but a second fermentation to make bubbles! Throughout the entire winemaking process, the winemaker has a lot of choices to make that will greatly affect the way the final wine tastes.

Sparkling wine made can be made in a style that will come out tasting lean with flavors of flowers, fresh apple, tropical fruit, lime, and lemon zest. Wines tend to be light and zippy on the palate.

The reductive technique is a technique used and the ideology behind this method is to preserve as much of the floral and fruit character of the wine as possible. This means less oxygen is introduced during the winemaking process–this is where the reductive term comes from.

TIP: If you are interested in learning more about properly storing sparkling wines of all types, you really need to read this helpful article I wrote. Or check out this complete guide about storing opened & unopened Lambrusco.

Main Differences between Champagne and Sparkling Wine

Main Differences between Champagne and Sparkling Wine
Main Differences between Champagne and Sparkling Wine

Champagne can only be labeled as such if it is made in the Champagne region of France with one exception. American wine producers that used the title “champagne” prior to 2006 are allowed to continue its use, provided it is accompanied by the listing of the wine’s actual origin. Most other domestic sparkling wines are simply labeled as “sparkling wine.”

As noted above, Champagne is made using a mix of grapes, typically chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier, although a few other grapes are allowed. The grapes can be grown in a few regions of France, and thrive in different soil and weather conditions.

While many wines emphasize “terroir,” or the characteristics imparted on the wine by the location, champagne is different. The emphasis is on the champagne house, which expertly blends different grapes to create a consistent, balanced wine.

To produce champagne’s unique bubbles, the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation process within the bottle. There are many champagnes that are still aged in caves and are turned periodically. The sparkling wine must be aged for at least 15 months but many are aged for three years or more.

Does Sparkling Wine Pop like Champagne

Sparkling wine does not pop like Champagne. Each Champagne bottle is under six atmospheres of pressure (similar to that of a truck tire).

With so much pressure behind it, a cork can fly a long distance and make a popping sound as it is extracted. However, once you know how to open it the correct way, this won’t happen!

Let’s learn how to open a Champagne bottle safely and correctly: 

  1. Break and remove the foil (not the wire cage) from around the cork.
  2. Place your thumb firmly on top of the cork, to keep the cork from flying. 
  3. With your other hand, unscrew the wire (it takes about 6 turns) and loosen the cage. You don’t have to take the cage off completely.
  4. While holding the cork firmly, begin to twist it in one direction as, from the bottom, you twist the bottle in the other direction. Actually, a Champagne cork should not make a loud sound or pop. You should ease the cork out so it takes just a light hissing sound. 

TIP: Once you pop the cork, most wines go bad within a day or so. But a Coravin Wine Preservation system (available for a great price on Amazon) can extend the life of your opened wine for weeks or even months. It is awesome. You should check it out and see if it will fit into your lifestyle.

Is English Sparkling Wine as Good as Champagne

Champagne can be wonderful and many people love Champagne. But with all that prestige, often comes a big price tag. Alternate styles of bubbles (Sparkling wines) can provide all the thrill of Champagne at an everyday drinking price. There are instances when English Sparkling Wines can be as good as Champagne. 

Let’s take a look at a few below.

True Champagne entails strict geo-location and AOC designation, but there are loads of other fizzy wines available with the wink of a browser.

  1. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc: Marlborough, the largest wine region in New Zealand, is known for its Sauvignon Blanc. The sparkling version is crisp and light, with notes of citrus and stone fruit. It’s fermented via the Charmat method, the steel tank system used to make Proseccos, resulting in a bright, fruity aroma without too much yeast or funk.  
  2. Sparkling Shiraz: This easy-drinking, ruby-colored sparkler features bright raspberry and cherry flavors alongside subtle hints of pepper and spice. The Champagne method gives these bottles their bubbles, and grapes come from McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek, two of Australia’s top Shiraz-growing regions.
  3. Sparkling Malbec: Inspired by Shiraz, this special-edition Sonoma sparkler combines the traditional Champagne method and grapes from a revered harvest. Dry and bubbly, it has strong plum and blackberry notes with undertones of toffee and leather.
  4. Pétillant Naturel’s, or pét-nats, are made by bottling and capping still-fermenting wine and allowing it to complete fermentation in the bottle—resulting in peak effervescence. Made from Syrah grapes this beautiful, pale-pink sparkling wine is ideal for starting the night: It’s bright, fruity and pairs perfectly with cheese and hors d’oeuvres.  
  5. Sekt: Germany has a rich sparkling wine tradition, as evidenced by this sekt made from Mosel River Valley Riesling grapes. Delicate bubbles and notes of melon and peach make this affordable bottle a real crowd-pleaser.
  6. Italian Lambrusco: Only slightly filtered, the wine has a bright, refreshing acidity that pairs well with charcuterie and oily fish like mackerel.

Other great Sparklers include:

Cava: In Northern Spain, sparkling wine is called “Cava”. This style of Spanish bubbly offers several tiers of quality that mimic the same classification system used in Champagne. That’s particularly exciting because most Cava is available for less than $20, which is an outrageously awesome deal for high-quality sparklers:

TierQuality
CavaEntry-level non-vintage (NV) Cava with 9 months of aging.
ReservaNV Cava with 15 months of aging (identical aging to basic NV Champagne).
Gran ReservaA vintage-dated Cava with no less than 30 months of “tirage”/aging.
Spanish Sparkling Wine Tiers and Quality

There are lots of other high-quality sparkling wines being produced all over France and the rest of the world. Here is a short list of regional names for non-French wines that are made using the same method as Champagne:

CountryRegional Name of Sparkling Wine (Method)
SpainCava and Espumoso
Germany and AustriaSekt
South AfricaCap Classique
Portugal and ArgentinaEspumante
USA, Australia, Chile, etc.Traditional Method and “Méthode Champenoise”
ItalyMethod Classico 
Regional Names of Sparkling Wine & Method in Different Countries

TIP: Some of the best wines are from France and Italy. Would you be able to distinguish one from the other? Find out the answer in this article.

Taste Difference between Champagne and Sparkling Wine

Champagne often has the aromas of almonds, lemon peel, and apples. Bright citrus and apple flavors blend various toasty–like flavors.  A hint of cream in the flavor and the texture is sometimes found on the palate. On the other hand, dead yeast particles called “lees,” give sparkling wines a fuller body, creamier texture, and more nutty flavors. 

Winemakers may extend the tirage period in order to make a richer style of sparkling wine.

Most sparkling wines improve with extended aging called (“Tear-ahj”) or Tirage. Tirage happens after the second fermentation. This is when the wine actually gets bubbly. Wines rest on dead yeast particles and as mentioned above, get a fuller body and a creamier texture. 

In terms of tirage, the longer Sparkling wine has been aged in a cellar, the better. Below find more specific times:

  • 9-month tirage: This should be a minimum and doesn’t really add plenty of new characteristics.
  • 15-month – 2-year tirage: During this period, sparkling wines start to develop richer flavors.
  • 3-8 year tirage: Top-rated sparkling wines use extended tirage.

TIP: We’ve all tried to chill our Champagne in the kitchen freezer and forget it until the next day. Find out if you can ruin your champagne this way. Or vice versa, did you forget champagne in a hot car? Check out simple tips on how to save warm Champagne.

Conclusion

Now that we have explored the key differences between sparkling wine and Champagne, let’s make sure we know how to best serve it.

Champagne and sparkling wine need to be served well chilled. A cold temperature helps maintain the bubbles when it is poured. 

Because Champagne (and often Sparkling wine) bottles are made with thicker glasses than regular wine bottles, the time required to chill them is longer. Allow twenty to forty minutes in a bucket of ice and water. 

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