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Champagne or Sparkling? Which is it?

Long story short, all Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne.

There’s no such thing as Australian Champagne, Spanish Champagne or American Champagne. Champagne is such a historic and renowned type of sparkling wine that many people call any wine with bubbles “champagne” even though this is an inaccurate term.

So, what is Champagne? Champagne is a winemaking region in northern France. That’s right. It’s the name of a region. All sparkling wines made in Champagne are governed by strict regulations; only certain grapes and production processes are allowed. It is a labour and cost intensive process.

The Champagne making process most commonly used today is the méthode traditionnelle or traditional method. It involves two separate rounds of fermentation—one in a tank or barrel, and a second in the bottle itself. The second fermentation is where the carbon dioxide is trapped in the wine.

“In Champagne, the second in-bottle fermentation is followed by a minimum aging period of 15 months in contact with dead yeast cells,” explains Gérard Liger-Belair, a professor of chemistry and a sparkling-wine researcher at the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne in France. “The yeasts release different compounds that modify the wine’s organoleptic properties, donating roundness and its characteristic aroma and flavor.” (This is the gist of it. We will talk more about Champagne making process in a separate blog).

Producers around the world use the traditional method to make fine sparkling wines. But each will have characteristics—flavor, texture, richness, depth—that are distinct.

There’s a wider gap between Champagne and sparkling wines that are not made using the traditional method. While there are many different ways to make sparkling wines, one of the most common process is known as the tank method whereby the secondary fermentation takes place in a sealed tank.

The tank method is much faster and less expensive than the traditional method. While it can produce delicious sparkling wines, they’re often a bit fruitier and crisp than Champagne and sparkling wines made in the traditional method. They also tend to have fewer, coarser, less persistent bubbles. Prosecco is the king of this category. But there are many other examples, and most tend to be affordable—especially compared to Champagne.

Long story short, all Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne.