The Difference Between Champagne and Sparkling Wine
You’ll be the toast of the town when you brush up on your bubbly knowledge.
Bubbles make everything better. Whether you’re enjoying your favorite cava, Prosecco, Champagne, or any other sparkling wine while toasting an anniversary or a big promotion, these light-and-airy drinks can make everything infinitely more special.
When it comes to certain wines and spirits, a little knowledge can go a long way. It’s important to know the right way to serve a sparkling wine, the right glass to serve it in, and the proper way to hold your wine glass. Above all, you need to know the correct name for the carbonated concoction you’re drinking – and serving. Long story, short: If you’re referring to all “sparkling wines” as “Champagnes,” you’re doing it wrong.
What Is Champagne?
When it comes to determining whether or not you’re actually drinking Champagne, it all comes down to how it’s made and, more importantly, where it’s made. Is your bottle of bubbly made in the Champagne region of France with a special two-step, in-bottle fermentation process using mainly Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, or Pinot Meunier grapes? Cheers, mon ami. You’re drinking Champagne. If it’s produced anywhere else, you’re sipping sparkling wine. It’s as simple as that.
Is Champagne better than other kinds of sparkling wines? Not necessarily. There are plenty of really delicious sparkling wines out there. Champagne may be a little more expensive because that wine-making process can take longer and be more intensive, but there are expensive domestic sparkling wines, too.
If you want to be accurate about what you’re drinking, (and, y'all, you do!), just take a close look at the bottle. It should tell you everything you need to know. In fact, the EU has made it illegal to label wines as “Champagnes” if they’re not made in the designated region.
What Is Sparkling Wine?
If you’re sipping a deliciously fizzy libation made in Napa or Sonoma or really anywhere but the Champagne region, then you’re drinking sparkling wine. Many U.S-made wines use the same kinds of grapes and even get their bubbles using the same méthode champenois (also known as the traditional method) fermentation process used to make Champagne, but because they’re made stateside, they’re called “sparkling wines.”
Extra Credit: What About Cava, Prosecco, and Lambrusco?
The easy answer: All of these bubby drinks are sparkling wines. But each is made in a different European region and many are made via different processes and with different grape varietals. Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine, and while it shares the same fermentation process as Champagne, it’s mainly made with Macabéo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo grape varietals. Prosecco is produced in Italy, using only the Glera grape varietal. Rather than an in-bottle fermentation process used to make Champagne, it’s produced in tanks. Lambrusco is a sparkling red wine made in Italy with Lambrusco grapes, and its secondary fermentation activity also happens in steel tanks.
Now that you have the right names for a sprawling selection of sparkling sips, it’s time to sample the goods and say “cheers” to the power of knowledge!