ALL CHAMPAGNES ARE SPARKLING WINES, but NOT ALL SPARKLING WINES ARE CHAMPAGNES.
Champagne is a region in France where some of the best sparkling wines in the world are produced. Everywhere else in the world, wineries produce sparkling wines. Confused yet? All wines produced that have bubbles are sparkling wines. In order for the label to state Champagne, it must be from the Champagne region of France. You will find some California sparkling wines that state “California Champagne,” but they are required to say California!
So what is the difference…nothing really! Champagne and sparkling wines typically undergo a secondary fermentation to create the bubbles and they both typically use Pinot Noir or Chardonnay grapes.
There are three main methods of sparkling wine production:
- Simple injection of carbon dioxide (CO2), this process is used in soft drinks and produces big bubbles that dissipate quickly in the glass.
- Metodo Charmat, in which the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in bulk tanks, and is bottled under pressure. This method is used for Prosecco and Asti and produces smaller, longer-lasting bubbles.
- Traditional method or méthode champenois. With this method the effervescence for more complex wines are produced by secondary fermentation in the bottle.
Now that we now know the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine, the toughest part is figuring out what is in the bottle! The most noticeable difference is the level of sweetness between the different types.
The level of sweetness can be determined by two things:
- The residual sugar in the grapes.
- The sweetness of the “dosage” added to the sparkling wine after secondary fermentation. Dosage is a mixture of wine, sucrose and sulfites. In addition to sweetening the wine, the dosage also “tops off the bottle” before corking.
The following list of sparkling wines is in order of driest to sweetest.
BRUT: Brut is ALWAYS the driest style of sparkling wine produced.
EXTRA DRY: Extra Dry is actually in the middle of the scale when we are talking about sweetness. As confusing as it may be, BRUT IS DRIER THAN EXTRA DRY!
BLANC DE NOIR: Blanc de Noir translates to white on red, which means it is made with Pinot Noir grapes. This style will have a soft pink color and be similar in dryness to an extra dry.
BLANC DE BLANC: Blanc de Blanc translates to white on white, which means it is produced with Chardonnay grapes. Blanc de Blanc is similar to Extra Dry.
PROSECCO: Prosecco is a semi-dry sparkling wine from Italy
CAVA: Cava is a semi-dry sparkling wine from Spain
SEMI-SECO or DEMI SEC: A slightly sweet sparkling wine
ASTI: Asti is a region in Italy that produces a sweet sparkling wine produced from Moscato grapes. Similar to Champagne, the wine must be produced in Asti to have the Asti name on the bottle. Always one of the best sellers, Asti is commonly referred to as Asti Spumante. A few years ago, Asti producers removed “Spumante” from their label so that Asti would not be confused with the Spumante that was being produced in other parts of the world. California wines labeled Spumante are very similar to Asti!
BRACHETTO: Another sparkling wine specific to Italy, Brachetto is a sweet, red sparkling wine.
MOSCATO D’ ASTI: Almost exactly the same story as Asti, but Moscato d’ Asti has smaller bubbles and has more of a soda pop fizz texture. This small difference gives Moscato d’ Asti a richer flavor and tends to taste a little sweeter than Asti.