The Differences between Sparkling Wine and Champagne

The Differences between Sparkling Wine and Champagne

The Differences between Sparkling Wine and Champagne

The term Champagne, in general, goes hand in hand with celebration. It is a type of wine produced especially in the champagne region of France. Sparkling wine is a tasty beverage for many. One may confuse sparkling wine with a typical bottle of Champagne. However, one might also find it interesting to know that Champagne is a type of Sparkling Wine. At the same time, the opposite is not valid. Thus, it is the primary difference between Sparkling wine and Champagne.

Sparkling wines produce fizz. It is due to the presence of carbon dioxide. As a result of which, it escapes in the form of bubbles when poured into a glass. In this process, fermentation occurs naturally through the creation of carbon dioxide.

How are Sparkling wine and Champagne made?

The process of winemaking in Champagne is an incredibly elaborate and careful operation.

Champagne is naturally produced with the traditional method. The process is also termed as ‘méthode champenoise’ in the Champagne region. Wine producers outside the Champagne region cannot use this term. Instead, they use méthode traditionnelle. It is the traditional process of making sparkling wine anywhere outside Champagne.Besides, the production process of Champagne is quite similar to the winemaking process.

Many producers and regions worldwide have adopted method champagne or méthode traditionnelle as their go-to method of producing sparkling wine. Also, when it comes to the maturity period, it takes a long time. The main difference is that the process of making sparkling wine involves a Secondary Fermentation.

Another thing to consider while talking about the difference in the process of production is carbon dioxide. Sparkling wine is the result of manually adding yeast to the wine. Also, the addition of sugar is a must to activate the yeast. Thus, an intentional addition of the gas takes place to kickstart the process.

What are the different types of grapes used?

Like all winemaking, Champagne starts with harvesting. Thus, it happens when the grapes have reached their optimal ripeness. Also, it requires an optimal balance between sugar and acidity levels. There are three kinds of grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Meunier, and Chardonnay. The types account for most champagne grapes.

Pinot Noir and Meunier are red/black variety whereas Chardonnay is a white variety of grapes. Based on the sort of grapes used, Champagne is of three types. Blanc de Noirs Champagne is made entirely of black grapes (Pinot Noir, Meunier). In contrast, Blanc de Blanc Champagne is made entirely of white grapes (Chardonnay). Adding a small amount of red wine to Blanc de Blanc is a popular way to make rosé wine.

Though, when it comes to Sparkling wine, the varieties may be a bit more. Besides, you may indeed use the same types of grapes to produce the wine. Also, you can make use of a totally different variety. There are also many more methods to produce Sparkling wine. The various processes are the Classic Method, the Ancestral Method, and even the Tank Method.

Moreover, the Ancestral Method is also known as thePétillant Naturel. It is an orthodox process of wine fermentation that involves extremely low temperatures.

Ways to Differentiate between Champagne and Sparkling Wine

Assess the bubbles

  • You want to look at these two wines and check if there is a bubbly rim on one of them. Also, try to see if the bubbles are bigger.
  • Suppose the wine starts bubbling up vigorously and quickly and dies just as quickly. It is probably a sign that you have a lower-quality sparkling wine in place.
  • The quality of the bubbles shows the class of wine. It’s one way to tell the difference between higher quality wine and lower quality wine. In Champagne, the bubbles fuse into the wine. They are part of the Champagne itself. In contrast, in a bottle of sparkling wine, it is as though somebody added them. Also, the bubbles do not last as long in your glass.

The Fragrance of the Wine

  • The sparkling wine has a grapey aroma that hits you over the head. However, if the wine has a layered aroma, it is a sign that you are drinking Champagne. The different layer of smell is what you call the complexity in a wine.
  • A wine can have more complex smells. It is also one of the tell-tale signs of expensive Champagne versus Sparkling wine.

The Taste of the Wine

  • Take a small taste and pay attention to the bubbles again. From step number one, go back and confirm that high-class quality. And then concentrate on the length of the wine. You can do this by checking how long the flavor lasts in your mouth after sipping the wine. 
  • After you swallow the wine, pay attention to how long the taste lasts in your mouth. Champagne will have a flavor that lingers around longer than it does for sparkling wine.

These are the differences between a bottle of Champagne and an average bottle of Sparkling wine.

More Details about the Winemaking Process of Méthode Traditionnelle

In Champagne, all producers must harvest their grapes by hand. Also, they use small buckets to crush the grapes before being pressed. The harvested bunches of grapes will then go through a rigorous sorting process. Also, using the best berries ensure the production of only the most delicious wine. Thus, once the grapes are ready, the producers initiate the process of pressing. They press a whole bunch of grapes which in Champagne is traditionally a Coquard, or basket press. Though many producers now use a pneumatic press.

After the careful handpicking of grapes, pressing marks the beginning of méthode traditionnelle. It is vital to press the grapes for extraction instead of crushing it. Thus, through this exact process of pressing black grapes, you get white wine.

Champagne’s appellation laws ensure that the grape pressing process is strictly protected. The producers are only allowed to extract 2550 liters of juice from every 4000 kilograms of grapes. Vin de Cuvee forms one of the parts of the resultant liquid. It is the first 2050 liters of pressed juice. Also, the remaining 500 liters of the extracted juice is the Vin de taille. Thus, the concentrated Vin de taille is the premium juice. Besides, Champagne houses reserve it to create the best wine from the Vin de taille.

Méthode Traditionnelle produces fruitier, smoother wines that are perfect for lunch or cocktail parties. Consider the level of dryness when selecting a bubbly wine, whether sparkling or processed Champagne. Look for keywords on the labels as a simple tip. People use the phrases brut, fresh, extra dry, and demi-sec. The driest style is brut, while the sweetest is demi-sec.

The quality of sparkling wine all over the world has become higher and higher. Many producers who make Cava and other sparkling wines are starting to use the Méthode Champenoise. It is in line with the champagne producers in France.

The Difference in the Fermentation Process

In the case of Champagne, move the resultant juice into stainless steel vats. However, in a few other instances, small oak barrels may also be used. This unfermented grape juice is known as a must. Besides, it will settle with any sediment resting at the bottom. Once the residue settles, it is then separated. The process is known as Debourbage.

During the storage, the wine undergoes alcoholic fermentation. It is, in most instances, a natural process. However, it may also happen through the addition of specific yeasts to the vat. Alcoholic fermentation is the process of yeast consuming the grapes’ natural sugars. It creates the natural by-products of ethanol or alcohol, carbon dioxide, and heat.

Some producers may then allow malolactic fermentation to occur. During this process, the microorganisms naturally found in grape juice transform malic acid. Fruits such as green apples contain Malic Acid. The acid turns the apple into soft, lactic acid found in milk.

The fermentation process softens the wine. Also, it helps to give it a round and creamy texture. A lot of producers in Champagne prefer to prevent malolactic fermentation from occurring. The reason is that they wish to maintain fresh and crisp acidity in their wines. Besides, adding sulfur dioxide may also help preserve the texture. Also, keeping the wine at a low temperature prevents fermentation from taking place.

In contrast, Sparkling wine is a wine fermented twice. The first fermentation is like any wine in the world. The fermentation process takes place in barrels or a tank, under the influence of the addition of yeasts.

After alcoholic fermentation, the wine will undergo critical blending. The process is known as assemblage. Wines of different varieties, villages, and vineyards all get blended to create the desired wine. Non-vintage wines also have a variety of vintages.

Producers taste every single vat individually. If the wine stays for one more year of storage, the producers may use it for the following season.

Wine Bottling

Once the blending is complete, the still wine will be bottled. After that, each bottle gets a dose of the liqueur de tirage. It is a blend of sugar and yeast. In a cold cellar, bottles are preserved or aged horizontally. The temperature is usually 55F-60 F. This is where the second fermentation starts for the sparkling wine.

Bottles are capped with a crown cap, similar to beer bottles, and placed in a cellar or Champagne’s typical chalk tunnels.

The added yeast in the wine mixes with the sugar. It creates alcohol and carbon dioxide in the wine. It is because if the wine gets sealed, the gas cannot go out of the container. Also, it dissolves into the wine causing it to become fizzy. Once all of the sugar finishes mixing, the dead yeast or residue will settle in the wine. It is known as the Lees. Over time, these lees will impart bready and toasty characteristics to the Champagne. The mixing of yeast and sugar to activate the process is known as autolysis.

Besides, it is also the natural process of making bubbles in other sparkling wines. In contrast, during the second fermentation, the strength of wine increases through the production of alcohol. Most fine sparkling wines will spend at least two years on their Lees. Besides, some vintage bottles spend up to five or six years.

The second fermentation process is aging. Naturally, it causes the maturing and the division of the lees into smaller pieces. Thus, the aim is to generate more delicate wines with smaller bubbles.

During the riddling process, the Champagne will slowly rotate upside down. Doing so allows all of the dead yeast cells to gather in the bottle’s neck. The bottlenecks will be frozen. Also, the process involves the removal of the bottle cap. Besides, the pressure from the carbon dioxide will eject the remaining yeast cells. The process of ejection of the gas because of pressure is known as disgorgement.

Finally, during the disgorgement process, the blend loses some carbon dioxide. Also, it loses a bit of wine. So, to restore the level of wine and carbonation, the winemaker adds a dosage liqueur also called ‘Liqueur d’expédition.’

Besides, the dosage consists of refrigerated reserve wine (white wine or brandy) combined with some amount of sugar. Also, the blend varies depending on the type of Champagne or Sparkling wine.

Thus, it balances the acidity of the wine. The champagne bottle is corked and wired down after refilling to ensure high internal pressure due to carbon dioxide in the Champagne. Before it is ready for sale, it will be allowed to settle for a few months.

The process has been tweaked and perfected over hundreds of years. However, the essence of the Méthode Champenoise is still the same.


Remember that Champagne is really about your own personal taste. You will sometimes find that there are going to be sparkling wines that may stump you. Indeed, they would probably confuse the majority of wine connoisseurs too. It is truly a lovely thing that the quality of winemaking is improving over time.

Hopefully, these tips will help you discern what a high-quality wine from a lower quality wine is. You will taste wine like a wine connoisseur and get more and more enjoyment out of every way you taste.

The Differences between Sparkling Wine and Champagne
“Champagne has had a long history of being used in celebration of events such as the launching of ships.” source Wikipedia.

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