Sparkling Wine vs. Champagne: What’s the Difference?
Sparkling wine rarely disappoints. However, not all sparkling wine is created equal. In fact, there’s a massive difference in terms of complexity when comparing the good stuff with low-end sparklers.
Champagne might be a synonym for luxury, but its quality is unmatched. There is a difference between the French fizz and its competitors. Here’s what you need to know about sparkling wine and its most worthy ambassador: Champagne.
All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. Is Champagne worth its price? We think so, and here’s why.
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Is Champagne Wine?
Champagne is a sparkling wine that’s made in the French region of Champagne, which is near the Montagne de Reims and the towns of Reims and Epernay. This is one of the northernmost wine regions in France. This tidbit of information matters because cold weather produces wine grapes with the acidity level necessary to make premium sparkling wine.
All Champagne is made using the time-consuming and labor-intensive Méthode Champenoise, or Traditional Method. During this process, still white wine becomes sparkling wine by re-fermenting in the bottle. The magic happens in the cellars, where the wine ages “sur lie”—or spent yeast—for years and sometimes decades.
Champagne is a sparkling wine made traditionally in a particular region where the style has been perfected for centuries.
Types of Champagne
You can classify Champagne in several ways. Your preferred classification will depend on whether you’re more interested in the type of grapes used, the wine’s provenance, or the wine’s composition.
The Grapes Used: All Champagne is made with at least one of three authorized grapes: Chardonnay, Meunier ,and Pinot Noir. There are other grape types, but they aren’t as important. This results in Champagne styles like Blanc de Blancs Champagne—which is made only with Chardonnay—and Blanc de Noirs—which is made exclusively with red grapes.
The Provenance of the Grapes: The plots with the best sun exposure produce the ripest grapes. These sites are often classified as Premier or Grand Crus. You can find these terms on Champagne labels, meaning the wine was made with the region’s finest grapes.
Vintage vs. Non-Vintage. Most Champagne is made with a combination of wines from various vintages. Even the simplest Champagne combines the traits of at least a dozen vintages. However, when the weather is just right, producers make Champagne from a single vintage. These are amongst the rarest sparklers in the world.
The Sweetness. Finally, you can classify Champagne for its sweetness. Brut Zero or Nature contains no added sugar. Brut is the most common sweetness, containing 0-12 grams of sugar per liter. Then you have Extra Dry, Dry, and Demi-Sec. These are the sweetest types.
Types of Sparkling Wine
The Method. Sparkling wine is like Champagne in many aspects. Some sparkling wine is also made using the Traditional Method, but not all. Most inexpensive sparklers are made with the Charmat method, in which the wine re-ferments in a stainless-steel tank, resulting in less complexity at a lower cost.
The Provenance. People can make sparkling wine anywhere, although the style shows its best when the grapes grow in cold climates. Although producers can’t use the term Champagne unless they grow their grapes in the Champagne region, they can use other terms that often compete with Champagne in quality. Italy’s Franciacorta and Prosecco are good examples, along with Spanish Cava—South Africa’s Cap Classique—and Germany’s Sekt.
The Grapes. Then there’s the grapes. Sparkling wine producers often use the same grapes used in Champagne but can use others as well. For example, German producers might use Riesling while others might rely on Pinot Blanc or Chenin Blanc. Sparkling wine from specific regions, like the Spanish Cava, has its own set of grapes.
Vintage Vs. Non-Vintage. Sparkling wine producers can also make vintage wines or blend different vintages to achieve a house style. However, few (if any) sparkling wine producers outside Champagne have the immense wine libraries that the famous Maisons de Champagne have at their disposal for blending house styles. As a result, sparkling wine made elsewhere is rarely as complex as authentic Champagne.
The Sweetness. As for the sweetness, the world has adopted the same sweetness levels used in Champagne for other styles. In other words, Brut sparkling wine is as sweet as Brut Champagne.
Which Is Better?
The finest sparkling wines in the world can match the complexity of basic Champagne, but the finest Champagne has no equal. Of course, complexity is not all that matters. Sparkling wine can be refreshing and enjoyable, perhaps as much as Champagne, for a fraction of the price.
Champagne is great for memorable occasions, as opening a bottle of the famous French fizz is noteworthy in itself. However, for everyday enjoyment, any sparkling wine will do. There’s no good or bad wine, only wine for certain occasions. Champagne and sparkling wine work together to offer a myriad of experiences that are best enjoyed with friends and family.
Most importantly, how much you enjoy sparkling wine depends on other factors, like the glassware being used. The Grassl Vigneron Series’ Mineralité glass is a multi-purpose, mouth-blown wine glass that can make white wine, rosé wine, and sparkling wine all show their true colors.