Champagne vs. Sparkling Wine

Champagne is a magical phrase that evokes luxury and sophistication the moment it's uttered. While Champagne is a sparkling white wine, the inverse is not always true. Not everything with bubbles is Champagne. So what's the difference?

Don't Call it Champagne!

The major differences between sparkling white wine and Champagne are appellation and method. Champagne is a designated region in the country of France esteemed for its production of sparkling white wine. All bottles referred to as "Champagne" must be made from grapes grown in this specific region. Wines produced here typically favor a style, so it's important to understand what's inside a bottle of the world's most famous bubbly.

Inside the Bottle

Champagne is typically made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes. Most winemakers in Champagne favor a method of winemaking referred to as the Methode Champenoise relying on secondary fermentation in the bottle, not the tank, and a process of remuage that involves removing dead yeast (called lees) and re-corking the wine. In terms of taste, this close contact with the yeast cells in the bottle tends to add rich notes of brioche and biscuit. If a sparkling white wine is made with the exact same grapes and method but is from a different geographically designated area, it may taste similar to Champagne but cannot be called as such. Also, sparkling wine is often made from other grapes, using different methods. For example, Italian Prosecco is made from Glera grapes using the Charmat method, in which the secondary fermentation happens in a sealed tank, trapping the bubbles inside the wine.

Not all sparkling white wine is Champagne, but when sipping a glass of Champagne you can expect your bubbles to be imbued with light body, few tannins, high acidity, and notes of citrus, orchard fruit and almond.

Affordable Alternatives

If what you crave is the sparkling bubbly taste of Champagne, but are on a budget, you can still enjoy a few affordable alternatives. Look for a Spanish Cava, which is made in the same Methode Champenoise, but is often half the price of Champagne, with a similarly delicious taste. If you are open to a slightly sweeter wine, try Italian Prosecco made in the Veneto region. While much more affordable than Champagne and showing fresher flavors of tart orchard fruits, such as green apple and pear, and a touch of honeydew and honeysuckle, it's still revered by wine drinkers worldwide.