What is the truth behind Champagne vs. Sparkling Wines. This question can leave you scratching your head! Then we add Prosecco and Cava, and the confusion will only deepens. Let’s take a minute to pull back the curtain and simplify this mystery.
Champagne vs. Sparkling Wines
The fact is Champagne can “only” be called Champagne in the Champagne of France and this term is protected by the European Union. This region is about 45 minutes outside of Paris and is the only place this term can be applied to a wine that uses a prescribed method of production.
“In victory you deserve Champagne, in defeat you need it” Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)
Sparkling wine is made in many different countries and regions around the world. Grape varietals and production techniques can differ from region to region. Some producers continue to use the term Champagne in their labeling of sparkling wine. The European Union has ban those wines from importation.
The difference production methods to make our bubbly favorites:
Champagne, Sparkling Wines, and Cava are all made using the Traditional Method, more formally known as “Methode Traditionelle”. This method uses the principle of a second fermentation in the bottle. This method is used in other regions of France to produce sparkling wine, but can not use the term Champagne. In Spain to produce Cava, Portugal to produce Espumante and in Italy to produce Franciacorta.
Prosecco is produced using the Charmat Method. This is a single fermentation method using a closed tank which is quicker and cheaper. The name Prosecco comes from an Italian village near Trieste where the grapes and the wine originated.
Let’s outline the steps in the Traditional Method
- Press – In the first step the grapes are pressed quickly in order to avoid oxidation or skin color bleed from the grapes.
- Primary Fermentation – Next the fermentation process begins in stainless steel or old oak barrels. It goes through malolactic conversion and the base wines will high in acid and low in alcohol.
- Blend or Assemblage – This step allows for the blending of grape varieties from different vineyards and vintages.
- 2nd Fermentation in the bottle or “Prise de Mousse” – Is the heart and soul of the traditional method. Bottles are closed with a crown cap (plastic capsule). This process can last up to 12 weeks.
- Sur Lie Aging and Elevage – This is done in the bottle, allowing for autolysis which is the breakdown of dead yeast cells which forms sediment.
- Riddling – Remuage – This is the moving of the sediment to the neck of the bottle. Today this process is done by machines called Gyropalete. They turn and move the bottles allowing the sediment to move into the neck.
- Degorgement – Dosage – When the sediment is in the neck of the bottle then crown cap can be removed and the sediment expelled. Then bottles are then topped off with a mixture of wine and sugar syrup.
- Cork and Bottle Age – This last step is corking the bottle, adding the wire cage enclosures and foil.
Let’s outline the steps in the Charmat Method
The Charmat Method can be known as the Tank Method or Cuve Close. This method is less labor intensive, quicker and cheaper than the traditional method of production. These are the steps involved.
- First step – Wine undergoes primary fermentation in a pressurized tank.
- Second step – Next a liquid solution of yeast, sugar, and wine which is referred to as “liqueur de tirage” is added to the wine to start the second fermentation all in the same pressurized tank.
- Second step continued – Fermentation takes only about 4 to 5 days.
- Third step – Once the wine reaches 5 psi atmospheres of pressure the wine is chilled down to stop fermentation.
- Final – The wine is then filtered and bottled straight out of the tank.
This method does not produce the high quality wine styles of the traditional method. However, it will allow for a sparkling wine to preserves the aromatics and fruit qualities. The bottling of Prosecco is done with the Charmat (or tank) Method.
Noticeable differences between the Traditional vs. Charmat Methods in Taste and Bubbles!
Traditional Method wines have more contact with the lees this allows this bubbly to have aromas and flavors of nuttiness, toast, and caramel. Their texture will be creamy and smooth. The bubbles will be uniform and have a tinier mouth feel. Every bottle is unique due to the secondary fermentation, disgorging and dosaging occurring in each individual bottle. These wines will be under greater amounts of pressure. Typically around 6-7 atmospheres of pressure.
Charmat Method sparkling wines are fruitier than the traditional method wines. This is due to the shorter fermentation period. The tank method typically makes the bubbles to be larger and have a coarser mouth feel. Each bottle that comes from the same batch and will be uniform and the same. These wine are typically under less press than the traditional method, around 2-4 atmospheres of pressure.
When it is time to celebrate you can never go wrong with the bubbly of your choice! Look for additional future posts from us on bubbly styles.
Our favorite glasses: