Is Champagne Wine?
A special occasion is just around the corner, and what better way to celebrate than by popping a bottle of the finest Champagne? Or is it sparkling wine without the fancy label?
As France’s prized bubbly, there are many strict requirements for Champagne, leaving us to wonder if Champagne is like other wines or is something entirely different.
In this article, we’re breaking down what makes a sparkling wine Champagne.
History of Champagne
The Romans were the first to plant vines and craft regular still wines in the Champagne region. Monks used these fruity, herb-infused Champagne wines in church ceremonies in medieval times. French kings were also known for enjoying these wines and serving at coronation.
In 1531, Benedictine monks in the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire became the first to invent sparkling wine. It was documented that they added sugar to a finished wine and let it sit for secondary fermentation, resulting in a carbonated wine.
By 1662, the Royal Society published the méthode traditionnelle or Traditional Method, which remains one of the current standard practices for producing Champagne today. This was one of the first formal recognitions of the secondary fermentation process.
Now that we know about Champagne’s origins, let’s look at Champagne’s production.
How is Champagne Made?
Here are the two methods used to produce this distinguished bubbly.
Also known as the Champagne method, this process can only be referred to as the traditional method outside the Champagne region for legal reasons. This method is incredibly labor intensive and is accomplished by the following steps:
- Creating a Base Wine: All Champagne production must start with a base wine, which involves the harvesting, pressing, and fermentation of grapes. Natural sugars from the vine are converted to alcohol, resulting in a still wine.
- Bottling and Secondary Fermentation: After the first fermentation process and the base wine is complete, the wine undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle. The remaining yeast in the wine converts the sugars to alcohol and carbon dioxide. This process can take anywhere from several months to five years.
- Removing the Lees: All traditionally produced sparkling wines undergo the “riddling” process, which involves rotating the bottle on the rack over time. This causes the “lees” or dead yeast to move to the neck of the bottle.
- Disgorging: To remove the lees from the bottle, the neck is frozen, creating a little plug that traps all the dead yeast. The plug is then removed, ridding the bubbly of the lees
Also known as the tank method, this form of Champagne production is less extensive. After the base wine is created, the wine undergoes a second fermentation in a tank instead of individual bottles. It is then filtered before bottling, resulting in minimal contact with the lees.
Now that we understand how Champagne is made, let’s compare it to other sparkling wines.
Is Sparkling Wine the Same as Champagne?
All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne.
What makes Champagne unique is its traditional production process and the regions of France in which it is made. The Madrid system has legally protected the name " Champagne " since 1891.
Champagne exclusively comes from the Champagne appellation and is produced under Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne regulations. A wine can only be called Champagne if it is made in Champagne, France.
Other “Champagnes” produced outside of its namesake appellation are only allowed to be labeled “sparkling wine.” However, “California Champagne” is a permitted label for sparkling wines produced in the United States.
Now that we understand what makes Champagne unique, let’s compare it to other famous sparkling wines.
Types of Sparkling Wine
Champagne may be at the top of its class when it comes to sparkling wines, though there are several bubblies that are close, if not equal, to Champagne’s delightfully crisp taste.
Here are several famous wines similar to Champagne.
Blanc de Blancs
A French sparkling wine made from white grapes only. Blanc de Blanc usually consists of 100% Chardonnay. This wine is slightly sharper on the palate, with crisp acidity and bright citrus notes.
Blanc de Noir
Translated to “white from black,” Blanc de Noir is Champagne made from black-skinned grapes. This usually consists of the traditional Champagne grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Bland de Noir is full-bodied and fruity with apple, lemon, and honey notes.
This French bubbly is crafted using the same traditional method as Champagne. However, it is produced outside of the same appellation. Like Champagne, Pinot Noir is one of the main grape varieties included in the blend. Additionally, this wine is made with other grape varieties like Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, and Cabernet Franc.
The most significant difference between this wine and Champagne is its creamy texture and subtler flavors. It boasts notes of lemon, pear, quince, chamomile, and honey.
Prosecco is a softer Italian sparkling wine than Champagne, with less acidity and slightly more sweetness. This sparkling wine is made from Glera grapes and boasts delicate green apples, peaches, and honeydew melon notes.
Produced primarily in Italy’s Piedmont region, this white bubbly comes from Muscat grapes and bears crisp, tropical fruit notes like pineapple and citrus.
A Spanish sparkling wine, this bubbly can either be white or Rosé in hue. It is produced from myriad white and red grape varieties like Macabeu, Xarello, Parellada, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Grenache, and Monastrell. Cava boasts floral aromas, citrus flavors, and pear and melon notes.
A Wine Above the Rest
With its crisp flavors, pearl-like bubbles, bright citrus, and toasted almond notes, it’s no secret why Champagne is one of the most popular sparkling wines for celebrating and why its name is so protected.
If you’re looking for the best affordable sparkling wines from around the world, shop our collection here.
For more deep dives on wine, read our Wine Blog.
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