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How Does Champagne Differ from Sparkling Wines?

What is the difference between champagne and sparking wine? For that matter, is there really any difference between champagne and sparkling wines? These are questions I get asked all the time. I figured they are a worthy blog subject, so here goes.

Champagne and sparkling wine are different.

Champagne is different from sparkling wines. The difference between them may not seem very “significant,” but the difference – however slight – remains. Remember that the term Champagne refers to an AOC (geographic region) of France. This wine region undoubtedly produces the world’s best sparkling wines.

So what exactly is champagne, the wine? Only sparkling wines that have come from the Champagne AOC, been made through the traditional sparkling wine production method (méthode champenoise) and been produced following the strict guidelines of the Champagne AOC can be called champagne.

Champagne is a type of sparkling wine.

Champagne, therefore, is a specific type of sparkling wine. Again, remember that champagne refers exclusively to sparkling wines that have come from Champagne and have been produced according to that AOC’s strict sparkling wine production method. All other sparkling wines that do not fit the Champagne Appellation guidelines may simply be designated as non-champagne sparkling wines.

Champagne Making – Some Particulars

Champagne can only be made from six types of grapes. The following are the most commonly used varietals or wine grapes in champagne production:

The following varietals or wine grapes are also used in making champagnes, but they are used less often than the above-mentioned grapes:

The wine grapes used for making champagnes must be handpicked. They are also pressed as whole clusters; that is, they are not destemmed. Champagnes must also rest a minimum of 15 months on lees for non-vintage crus and 36 months for vintage crus. It is not uncommon for the best cuvee to rest for up to a decade. Chaptalization is permitted, but this is mostly used when making non-vintage crus.

Trellising is also an important factor in the Champagne Appellation. Four methods are authorized and they are Chablis, Cordon, Guyot, and Vallee de la Marne. I will not elaborate on these methods as they are an entirely new subject. Some of Champagne’s finest vintages are 2002, 1996, 1995, 1990, 1985, 1982, 1976, 1975, and 1971.

Non-Champagne Sparkling Wines

There are so many different styles of non-champagne sparkling wines. Sparkling wines are produced in numerous wine-producing regions and from so many different varietals of grapes. The sheer number of sparkling wine variants worldwide prevents me from talking about them further in this blog post. Perhaps, non-champagne sparkling wines will be a future topic in this wine blog; who knows?