Everybody doesn't like something. . . but nobody doesn't like Champagne! That's why it's the perfect bottle to bring to a big, festive gathering around the holidays. But real Champagne with a capital "C" can put a huge dent in your pocketbook. Working in a wine shop, I get loads of customers asking for Champagne, and the first thing I ask is if they want "true Champagne" (capital C) or just something bubbly. What's the difference, and is Champagne better than everything else?
To the latter question, the answer is simply "No!" Sparklers are all different, but one isn't inherently better than the other. As for the differences. . .
True Champagne must come from Champagne, France, and it must be made in a very specific way. There are only three grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier) allowed to be used alone or blended. Also, the secondary fermentation (the process that creates the bubbles) must happen in the bottle. In other forms of sparkling wine, bubbles can be created by the secondary fermentation occurring in large tanks before bottling; or, still wine can be injected with carbon dioxide to create sparkling wine. Champagne's labor-intensive process and its limited, prestigious point of origin are what make it more expensive.
That said, other "champagne" — or, more appropriately, sparkling wine — can come very close to the real thing, and often with a much more approachable price tag. Excellent sparkling wine can be made in a "Champagne style" from the same grapes as Champagne and in the same traditional "Champagne method" but can come from somewhere else entirely. Or it can be from different grapes, a different place, a different method — or really any combination of factors! Besides Champagne, some other common sparklers you might run into and enjoy drinking include Prosecco, Cava, or "Champagne-style" sparkling wine from elsewhere in the world — most commonly France or California.
- Comes from the Prosecco grape
- Made in the Veneto region in Italy
- Bubbles come from fermentation occurring in large, pressurized tanks (this is known as the “Charmat” method)
- Often has slightly fruitier notes and perhaps a tiny touch of sweetness despite still being technically dry
- Three Spanish grapes (macabeo, perellada, xarel-lo) plus chardonnay can be blended into cava
- Made in the Penedes region of Spain
- Bubbles created using Champagne method (secondary fermentation in bottle)
- Most commonly a white sparkler but can also be rose
Other words you might see on bottles of sparkling wine?
Blanc de Noirs
- Literally means "white of blacks," meaning a white wine created from "black" (red) grapes. For sparkling wine, this will usually mean from Pinot Noir. To get the white juice, dark-skinned grapes are pressed gently, and then the skins (which give reds their color) are quickly removed from the juice. Often, this still results in a slightly pink-hued wine.
Blanc de Blanc
- Means "white of whites" indicating that the sparkling wine is 100 percent Chardonnay, which will generally result in a lighter, more delicate wine.
Methode Champenois/Methode Traditionelle
- Indicates that the secondary fermentation happened in the bottle, as it would in Champagne
And what should you drink sparkling wine with? This answer is easy: Anything! It's the most versatile wine when it comes to food pairings, so don't be afraid to pop the cork at any time, but I like it most as a celebratory aperitif before a big holiday feast or as an accompaniment to a fat slice of apple pie. . . and then the couch.
Stevie Stacionis, Wine Blogger