What’s the difference between Sparkling and Champagne?

Most sparkling wine is sealed in the same way, with a crown seal and foil in a heavier bottle to normal wine so many people might be forgiven in thinking that Champagne and Sparkling are the same. However there is a difference between Sparkling and Champagne. One of the major factors is the place of origin. Put simply, if a wine is not made in Champagne according to the laws of that region, it is not legally allowed to be labelled and sold as ‘Champagne.’

Sparkling wine can be made from a wide range of grapes; Prosecco/Glera in Italy and in Spain, the famous sparkling is Cava. This is made from; Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarello and since the plantings of Chardonnay began in 1986, it has been added to the blend in some Cavas.

Only Champagne can be called ‘Champagne’ if it is made from any of the three permitted grape varieties; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, made in the region in France and using the traditional method as well as adhering to other viticulture laws of the area including yield, irrigation, harvesting (by hand or machine).

Some people might be surprised to learn that sparkling wine can actually be made in 6 different ways; Méthode Champenoise/the traditional method (as is made in Champagne), the Charmat/cuve close/tank method, the transfer method, the Russian Continuous Method, Méthode Ancestrale and Carbonation.

  1. Traditional Method: once the vines are picked and fermented (all separately), blending of the different grape varieties follows. Second fermentation in bottle is next (which gives the wine the bubbles), then maturation with ageing on the lees (dead yeast cells) followed by riddling, disgorgement and finally the dosage then after several months or years the wine is shipped off to market.
  1. The Charmat method: when the grapes are fermented in large pressurised containers which helps to speed up the process, compared to if it was fermented in a bottle. Once the grapes are hand picked, the stalks are removed and crushed. The grapes are pressed and the first fermentation occurs in a vat. Then the second fermentation also occurs in a vat, it Is then filtered and ‘centrifugation’ then refrigerated and then filtered and ‘centrifugation’ again then bottled. Followed by corking and labelling. This process is ued for bulk production.

The second fermentation occurs when the yeasts and sugars are added to the wine and the yeast changes the added sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. By having the second fermentation occur in a bottle or closed container, it means the carbon dioxide can’t escape and is trapped as bubbles.

  1. Transfer method: when the second fermentation occurs in bottle and once finished, it is transferred into a vat where it is then filtered and put into another bottle for selling. The only time this is used in Champagne is for the smaller bottles (quarter size) where are too small to riddle and in some houses, the larger Jeroboam bottles as they have a tendency to break when fermentation occurs in bottle.
  1. Russian Continuous Method: Yeast and sugar are added to the wine in the tank continuously (hence the name) where it is mixed and then fermentation starts in this first tank. Then this wine goes through many tanks which contain wood shavings that collect the dead yeast cells from both the current and past fermentations.
  1. Méthode Ancestrale: There is no secondary fermentation for this wine; just a continuation of the first fermentation which occurs in the bottle. There are different styles of this method, mainly in the south of France; Limoux in Languedoc, Die in the Rhône, Bugey in Savoie and Gaillac in southwest France.
  1. Carbonation: This is the cheapest and quickest way to create a sparkling wine, by adding carbon dioxide to the wine.

You’ll find plenty of different sparkling wines available to buy in stores. If you’re on a tight budget you can still experiment with the range of styles available between $15-$30 per bottle. Drop into Swanny Cellarsand have a look at what we have to offer.



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