What do the bells of the New Year, weddings, and parties all have in common? a champagne bottle. Whatever the occasion, we are compelled to crack up a bottle of sparkling wine—or is it champagne? Although these words are frequently used interchangeably, the fundamental query is whether champagne and sparkling wine actually vary from one another.
Although both terms are sometimes used interchangeably, wine drinkers who enjoy a fine glass of bubbly are aware that they are distinct. All Champagnes are sparkling wines, but not all sparkling wines are Champagnes.
Champagne and sparkling wine are both delicious and are made in a similar way. The thing that separates these two beverages is the location in which they are produced. Sparkling wine is made in the United States and other countries, while Champagne is only produced in Champagne, France.
Sparkling wine can only be labelled “Champagne” when produced in the Champagne region adhering to the appellation regulations. For example, Prosecco hails from the Veneto region of Northern Italy, while Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine, hails from the Penedès area in Spain.
Champagne is produced from three main grape varieties: Pinot Noir. Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay or (rarely used grape varieties such as) Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier, and Arbane. Meanwhile, sparkling wine can be a varietal wine or a blend of various international grape varieties.
The Champagne wine is produced from Methode Champenoise, also called Méthode Traditionnelle, outside the Champagne region. With this technique, yeast and sugar are added to the bottle of base wine for secondary fermentation, which produces the distinctive bubbles that are unique to Champagne.
The wine is kept for at least 15 months on lees (deposits of dead yeast cells or leftover yeast) after the fermentation process in order to enhance texture and depth. The dead yeast cells are then removed through riddling, which is a time-consuming and expensive process. The lees are removed by freezing the bottle. The champagne wine is then aged for months.
Sparkling wine can be produced using the traditional method or the Charmat method. In this method, the second fermentation takes place in a steel tank. The fermentation is stopped by cooling the wine and filtering it into another tank to remove the lees. For sweeter wines, more sugar is added in the next stage (called dosage.) Finally, the wine is bottled under pressure and sold off. However, the quality produced is not as reputable as true Champagne.
Champagne wine gets a richer, toastier flavour as it ages on its lees. Toast, brioche, or biscuit scents may be present in a superior vintage Champagne. Depending on the sugar content, champagne can also range from being dry (brut) to being sweet. More residual sugar results in sweeter, fruitier champagne. Champagne’s longer aging process also renders a more refined and elegant texture.
Meanwhile, sparkling wines are more fresh and fruity, and their bubble consistency varies from coarse to fine. Prosecco, for example, has more dominant flavours of apple, honeysuckle, peach, melon, and pear. In contrast, Cava has dominant citrus and orchard fruit aromas: quince, yellow apple, lime, and Meyer lemon.
Making your own wine
Even though Quinta dos Vales’ unique project The Winemaker Experience doesn’t offer the possibility to produce your own sparkling wine, it allows you to create your own still wine: white, red or rosé.
The Winemaker Experience is a hands-on project, which aims to turn wine-lovers into genuine wine-makers, each with a privately owned vineyard. Basically, what they offer is to guide participants through the full wine-production process, offering them their winery and consultancy, but encouraging them to make their very own wine, to their own preferences. You choose the variety, you choose when to harvest, you choose the blend, basically, you choose everything.
Learn all about the project in their website.