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Sparkling Wine vs. Champagne: What's the Difference?

What would a brunch, Christmas, Thanksgiving or a treat yourself session be without a tall glass of something fizzy? It brings that added touch of glamour to any occasion. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the fizzy liquid gold you’re sipping on or adding to your orange juice is always Champagne, but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes it’s Cava, sometimes it’s Prosecco and sometimes it’s a sparkling wine hailing from the sun-drenched hills of California. But what’s the difference?

Sparkling wine vs Champagne

It’s important to remember that Champagne is always sparkling wine but not all sparkling wine is Champagne, although it is arguably the best known of all the sparkling wines. It’s had the monopoly both in the media and on the shelves of our favorite stores for years. After all, what would Breakfast at Tiffany’s be without Holly Golightly regularly popping open a bottle or two?


Why is it so important?

Like Parma ham, Gorgonzola, Roquefort or Cognac, Champagne is a protected property. Only wine produced in the Champagne region of France can bear the name. Its mineral-rich, chalky soil gives the grapes their distinctive taste, and what’s more, there are only around six different grapes that can be used within the blend. Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay are the most widely used grapes, but you may also find Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Petit Meslier as well.

There is also a specific, and very strict, production method that must be followed if the wine wants to be labeled as Champagne. The Traditional Method, or Méthode Champenoise, is the process of fermenting the wine for a second time within the bottle using sugar and yeast. This process creates CO2 which is trapped in the bottle, eventually carbonating the wine and creating those effervescent bubbles we all know and love. To say that it is a time consuming and labor-intensive process is an understatement. But quality takes times.

A traditional method for all

Yes! The Traditional Method is used by winemakers all over the world, and even other parts of France, to craft sparkling wine. They even use the same grapes and harvesting methods, but because they’re not based in Champagne their product can’t take the name.

However, another popular way of fermenting sparkling wine is the Tank Method which is frequently used in Italy for producing Prosecco. The Tank Method places the wine in a large sealed pressure tank with yeast and sugar. Then it’s fined, filtered and bottled. This process is less labor intensive, much less expensive, and produces a much larger yield of sparkling wine in the end.


Is there a difference in quality?

It’s true, the Tank Method produces much more sparkling wine in comparison to Champagne and the Traditional Method but that’s no indicator of quality. The Tank Method is excellent for preserving the freshness of aromatic grapes and allows winemakers more control over the consistency of the finished product.

In the end, the main difference between sparkling wine and Champagne comes down to where and how they’re produced. Both are delicious and when you need to raise a glass on that special occasion, there’s no better option. Cheers!