The Difference Between Sparkling Wine and Champagne

M. Stefan As we roll into the holiday season here at the “playa”, we’ll hear more of the **pop-pop-pop** of sparkling wine bottles being opened. A question often comes up: what is the difference between “Sparkling Wine” and “Champagne”? Here’s an easy and short answer for you.

A sparkling wine should only be called Champagne if it comes from the region of Champagne, France. Period.

Some California producers still attach the word Champagne to their products, but when you think about this it’s odd: if somebody in France produced a wine called “Napa Valley Merlot” it wouldn’t make any sense, would it? Well, a “Champagne” produced just north of San Francisco is just as guilty.

In other words, all Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne.  Sparkling wine is made by taking the simple formula for fermentation (sugar + yeast = alcohol and CO2), and not allowing the resulting gas to escape. When you ferment wine in a closed or sealed environment, the CO2 returns into the wine, only to be released in the form of tiny bubbles after opening.

“Sparkling Wine” is made throughout the world. We’ve had incredible examples recently from Chile, Austria, California and Washington State. There are also many bubblies produced in France but outside the Champagne zone, including gems made under the “Cremant” designation. But there is only one true Champagne, from the beautiful region near Paris, France.

I recently tasted seven sparkling wines available at Felipe Motta Wine Store in Coronado.  These range in price from $6.00 to $64.70.  And I found some real knockout values.  There actually was only one I wasn’t real fond of.  Below are my notes, including the pricing.  All the wines are regularly available at Felipe Motta in Coronado as well as their other stores.

Jacqueline Brut  Blanc de Blanc, (France, Cremant) $6.25 BEST BUY
Nice tiny bubbles with a fruity & citrus nose.  In the mouth it has a creamy feel with hints of green apple.  Interesting nutty finish.  Simple and clean. Excellent value.

Jacqueline Brut Rose, (France, Cremant) $6.00
Nice bubbles.  Hints of strawberries & peach.  Slightly sweet, simple with a sharp finish.  Not as good as the brut.

Martini Prosecco, (Italy) $11.25
Good bubbles.  Nose of citrus.  In the mouth it shows citrus, green apples, mandarin orange and earth.  Off-dry style.  Will hold up to Asian food and other spicy meals.

Codorniu Classico (Spain) $13.00
Earthy nose and taste.  Full bodied.  Notes of earth, fig, almond yeast and mushrooms, but all in harmony. Very well balanced.  Goes great with food.

Chandon Brut (Argentina) $13.50
Good color with a nose of fruit.  In the mouth it is rich, creamy, dry and earthy.  Full bodied but not overly complex.

Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut (California, USA) $19.95  BEST BUY
Mostly Pinot Noir.  Excellent color & bubbles.  Nose with yeast and deep fruit.  In the mouth it shows full flavors of mango, citrus, honey, spices and earth.  Excellent with spicy foods, rich sauces and other full main courses.  

Moet & Chandon Rose’ Imperial (Champagne, France) $64.70
Truly elegant and complex.  Lovely pink color.  Long lasting, tiny bubbles.  Elements of smoked salmon, strawberries, blueberries, cherries and a hint of wood.  When you want one of the best, you can’t go wrong here!

M. Stefan has over 20 years experience in the wine trade and has traveled extensively throughout the wine producing regions of the world.  His column is a regular feature of La Playa Community.