What’s the Difference between Champagne and Sparkling Wine?
When it comes to special occasions, everybody likes a glass of bubbly to celebrate in style. Champagne is the first thing that comes to mind when milestones are reached and nothing evokes the image of luxury more than sound of a champagne cork popping. However, there are some misconceptions about Champagne and sparkling white wine. Ask a person on the street if there is a difference, and the typical answer will be that sparkling white wine is cheap and inferior while Champagne is the more refined beverage. This is not necessarily true, and here we will explain why.
Champagne is a sparkling wine that comes from the French region named “Champagne”, hence the name. Standards of wine labeling in France are a little bit different than in other wine regions of the world: while other countries will use the name of the grape varietal, French wines will use the name of the region where the grapes were grown.
In almost all countries of the world, “Champagne” must be made from grapes grown in the Champagne region and fermented using a prescribed method which is based on international trademark agreements outlined in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles.
Sparkling wine is the exact same thing as Champagne; it is simply produced in other regions of the world. Many times, the method used to produce sparkling wine is exactly the same that is used in Champagne, France. However, as mentioned above, the name or “appellation” Champagne is legally protected; hardly any other countries are allowed to call their product Champagne.
However, in the United States, due to national labeling laws, it is legal for wine producers to call their sparkling wines “champagne”.
Is There a Difference in Quality?
While at first glance, many people might say no, all sparkling wines are the same, but the truth is that quality can range from terrible to absolutely sublime. First of all, there are many reasons why Champagne is considered to be the King of All Wines. All Champagne is basically made the same way and all production is held to an incredibly high standard; furthermore, any Champagne, even one that is relatively inexpensive, will be considered to be the finest of the fine wines.
This means that no matter what bottle of Champagne you choose, you’re going to be happy; and even though the entry-level Champagnes are great, the more expensive ones simply get better the higher the price is.
On the other hand, sparkling wines, because they only need to be “fizzy” and aren’t held to the same high standards, can range from truly awful to simply beautiful. One of the reasons why some sparkling wines can taste so bad is that they are not made by the same methods as Champagne. The French product takes years to make, while imitation champagne and inferior sparkling wines only need a few months.
Therefore, in general terms, Champagne is a sparkling wine, but not all wines that sparkle are Champagne.
How do I Select a Good Sparkling Wine or Champagne?
First of all, avoid half bottles or the tiny single serving bottles of champagne or sparkling wine. They are simply not worth it; they’re usually not fresh and won’t taste good. Always get a full-sized bottle or better yet, get a magnum, which is the equivalent of two bottles. Larger bottles let the Champagne age more gently. Some of the best Champagne and sparkling wine will come in a double magnum.
Champagne comes in a range from bone-dry to super-sweet. As a rule of thumb, any Champagne with the word “Brut” on the label will mean that it is dry to extra dry; “Sec” means medium dry, while “Doux” means sweet. As mentioned earlier, due to high production standards, all Champagne will be expensive but well worth the money.
Cava is sparkling wine from Spain. Although it is very good quality, it is not produced with the same hand-made method; the process is mechanized. This means that the price will be a fraction of those of French Champagnes. Cava tends to be dry with a hint of green apples and smoke. If budget is a concern, then Cava might be the best sparkling wine for you to try.
Prosecco from Italy is a sweeter sparkling wine that is also made differently from Champagne and Cava. This is a very good wine for casual sipping, and is very affordable. Professional wine reviewers like the fruity flavors and state that this is an excellent alternative to Champagne if price is a concern.
Asti is another Italian sparkling wine that is sweet, affordable, and quite low in alcohol content. For those who like sweet wines, Asti is a balanced sparkler that is never cloying. It only contains half the amount of alcohol that Champagne has.
Crémant sparkling wine from France is the one you want to try if you can’t afford Champagne but still want something of superior quality. Basically, it is the same as Champagne, made with the same methods but the grape varietals used may be different. The average price for a bottle of Crémant is about $20 USD, an absolute bargain for the quality of wine you get.
Sparkling Wines to Avoid
A good rule of thumb is that there are plenty of good sparkling wines that are under $20 USD. You don’t need to spend a fortune to get good quality. You do however, need to spend something. Dirt-cheap sparkling wines usually have a low alcohol content and will taste like fizzy soft drinks, cloyingly sweet and pinkish in color. They are made with the lowest common denominator when it comes to quality. With all the affordable and beautiful-tasting sparkling wines on the market, there’s no reason to select something that will leave you unsatisfied and unhappy!
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