What are the differences behind Champagne vs. Sparkling Wines?
This question can leave you scratching your head!
Add in Prosecco and Cava, and the confusion only deepens. Let’s take a minute to pull back the curtain and simplify this mystery.
Champagne vs. Sparkling Wines
Champagne can “only” be called Champagne in the Champagne region of France and this term is protected by the European Union. The region is about 45 minutes outside of Paris and is the only place the term Champagne 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 however the European Union has banned those wines from importation.
Different production methods used to make Champagne and Sparkling Wine:
Champagne vs. Sparkling Wines:
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 they cannot use the term Champagne.
The secondary fermentation method is used in Spain to produce Cava, in Portugal to produce Espumante, and in Italy to produce Franciacorta.
What is Prosecco?
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.
Steps for the Traditional Method of producing Champagne:
- 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 are high in acid and low in alcohol.
- Blend or Assemblage – This step allows for the blending of grape varietals from different vineyards and vintages.
- 2nd Fermentation in the bottle or “Prise de Mousse” – This 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 occurs while the wine is in the bottle, allowing for autolysis which is the breakdown of dead yeast cells that 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 the crown cap can be removed and the sediment expelled. The 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.
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 – The wine undergoes primary fermentation in a pressurized tank.
- Second step – Following fermentation 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. This all happens in the same pressurized tank.
- The Second step (continued) – Fermentation takes place for about 4 to 5 days.
- Third step – Once the wine reaches 5 psi atmospheres of pressure the wine is chilled down to stop the 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 that preserves the aromatics and fruit qualities. Prosecco is an example of sparkling wine produced in the Charmat (or tank) Method.
Noticeable differences between the Champagne vs. Sparkling Wines Methods
Let’s explore the differences between Champagne vs. Sparkling Wines:
Traditional Method wines have more contact with the lees which allows the bubbly to have aromas and flavors of nuttiness, toast, and caramel.
- The texture will be creamy and smooth.
- The bubbles will be uniform and have a smaller 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, and it is 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 larger and they will have a coarser mouth feel.
- Each bottle that comes from the same batch and will be uniform and have all of the same characteristics.
- These wines 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 Champagne!
Our favorite glasses for Champagne and Sparkling Wines:
The correctly shaped glass is essential. Our favorite Riedel Champagne Glasses are linked here.
Great cocktail recipes using Champagne or Sparkling Wine:
- Prosecco Cocktails with Pomegrante are elegant and festive
- Mimosas are a classic way to use Champagne and we have an entire guide to creating the perfect Mimosa Bar
- We’ve added Champagne to our Cranberry Orange Liqueur to create a gorgeous Champagne cocktail
- Just 4 ingredients needed to make our Blackberry Champagne Cocktail!