Distinguishing Champagne and Sparkling Wines

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Champagne is a sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France. Sparkling (bubbly) wines are produced in just about every country that makes wine, and they come in a wide range of tastes, quality levels, and prices.

Sparkling wines are distinguished (and distinguishable) from other wines by the presence of bubbles — carbon dioxide — in the wine. In the eyes of most governments, these bubbles must be a natural by-product of fermentation in order for a wine to be officially considered a sparkling wine.

In many wine regions, sparkling wines are just a sideline to complement the region’s table wine production, but in some places, sparkling wines are serious business. At the top of that list is France’s Champagne region (where sparkling wine was made famous). Italy’s Asti wine zone is another important region, as is France’s Loire Valley, northeastern Spain, and parts of California. Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa are also making some interesting sparklers.

[Credit: Photo © iStockphoto.com/Hal Bergman]
Credit: Photo © iStockphoto.com/Hal Bergman

Champagne, the sparkling wine of Champagne, France, is the gold standard of sparkling wines for a number of reasons:

  • Champagne is the most famous sparkling wine in the world; the name has immediate recognition with everyone, not just wine drinkers.

  • A particular technique for making sparkling wine was perfected in the Champagne region.

  • Champagne is not only the finest sparkling wine in the world, but also among the finest wines in the world of any type.

Within the European Union, only the wines of the Champagne region in France can use the name Champagne. Elsewhere, because of Champagne’s fame, the name champagne appears on labels of all sorts of sparkling wines that don’t come from the Champagne region and that don’t taste like Champagne. Wineries call their bubbly wines “champagne” to make them more marketable, and despite tighter regulations regarding the use of the term, many wineries in the United States may still use “champagne” on their labels. Many wine drinkers also use the word “champagne” indiscriminately to refer to all wines that have bubbles.

Ironically, much of the sparkling wine sold in the United States that’s called “champagne” is not even made with the same techniques as true Champagne. Most imitation champagnes are made by a technique that takes only a few months from beginning to end (compared to a few years to make Champagne), is less costly, and works more effectively on an industrial scale.

The term Champagne refers to true Champagne, from the region of the same name in France. The generic term sparkling wine refers to bubbly wines collectively, including sparkling wines other than Champagne. So, Champagne is a sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wines are Champagne!


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