Champagne or Sparkling Wine? Know the Difference


A glass of champagne is one of the most popular ways to celebrate an important occasion in style. Whether it’s to ring in the New Year or toast a newly wedded couple, a glass of the sparkling stuff has become a long-held tradition. However, there’s an age-old debate as to what to actually call the beverage: is it champagne or is it sparkling wine?

The truth is that there’s a crucial distinction to be made here. Sparkling wine in all its forms – whether it’s called champagne or not – is made using the same methods, which includes not allowing the carbon dioxide that’s created by the fermentation process to escape. Instead, these CO2 bubbles will infuse the wine and remained trapped within it until someone opens the bottle, which will cause the bubbles to rise to the top and create frothing foam. The iconic image of an expelled cork popping off into the air from a shaken bottle of the bubbly stuff is because agitating the wine will increase the pressure inside the bottle; this pressure, when released, has enough energy to propel that cork several feet – and possibly put an eye out if it hits an unfortunate soul standing in the wrong spot.

While all champagnes are sparkling wine, not all sparkling wines can be called champagne. That’s because there’s a very distinct definition: sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France – where the wine gets its name – is the only type that can be given the appellation in an official capacity. Additionally, there are only three distinct types of wine – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier – that authentic champagne is made from.

The distinction may seem academic, but the truth is that if you want to be known as a wine expert you need to know this distinction. Remember, unless it’s made in France – and in a very specific region of France – it’s simply not champagne.