Saturday, November 26
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Champagnes and Sparkling Wines: The Lowdown

You’ve probably heard it said. “All Champagnes are sparkling wines, but not every sparkling wine is a Champagne.”

This could be confusing for someone who grew up celebrating the New Year and all sorts of occasions by popping open a bottle of Champagne, which – as it now turns out – was not Champagne at all!

No worries. Read on to clear matters up once and for all. So, the next time you’re in a sparkling wine online UK shop, you’ll know exactly which among the sparkling wines in the shop are Champagnes and which are not. 

What Sets Champagne Apart From Other Sparkling Wines?

It’s an easy enough rule to remember. 

Champagne is wine made and bottled in the Champagne wine region of France and made according to the strict rules of the Champagne Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (Controlled Designation of Origin).

In other words, the winemaker must have made it:

  • Using the appellation’s approved grape varieties.
  • Using the grapes harvested from vines grown in the Champagne wine region through the appellation’s prescribed viticultural methods.
  • Using the appellation’s approved winemaking methods.

In short, even if a winemaker from California makes sparkling wine from grapes he got from the Champagne wine region and makes it exactly like a winemaker from Champagne would, the wine he’d make still wouldn’t be Champagne.

In short, only wine from Champagne can be called and thus bear the appellation or the name Champagne. And yes, the letter C is capitalized because Champagne is a proper noun. It is both the name of a wine region and the wine from that region.

What Gives Sparkling Wines Their Sparkle? 

Sparkling wines are effervescent wines. They are fizzy and bubbly, a bit like soda and other carbonated drinks. And just like soft drinks, they get their fizz from their carbon dioxide content. But this is typically the extent of their similarities.

Soft drinks manufacturers forcibly incorporate carbon dioxide into the sugary mixture through high pressure. The high pressure causes the carbon dioxide to dissolve into the liquid.

In most sparkling wines, the carbon dioxide is a natural byproduct of yeast fermentation instead of being externally introduced. As the carbon dioxide accumulates inside the tank or bottle, the pressure slowly builds until the carbon dioxide dissolves into the wine.

When you open a bottle of sparkling wine, you release the pressure that’s keeping the carbon dioxide trapped in the wine. Consequently, the gas separates from the wine.

 Some of the carbon dioxide accumulates at the neck of the bottle and violently escapes when the bottle is opened. That is what causes the loud, forceful pop you hear when you open a bottle of sparkling wine.

The rest of the carbon dioxide, however, escapes a bit more gradually as bubbles. It’s responsible for the foam that forms on top when you pour sparkling wine into a glass, the stream of bubbles that form a ring of bubbles at the edge of the glass, and the bubbles that gradually traverse and rise up the sides of the glass.

How Is Sparkle Added to Sparkling Wines?

All sparkling wines begin with still wine or non-effervescent wine. Winemakers give them their effervescence through at least one additional step.

Méthode Traditionnelle or Méthode Champenoise

In the case of Champagne, effervescence comes through the méthode traditionnelle, which in Champagne is called méthode Champenoise.

The méthode Champenoise is a laborious process that involves the following specific steps or phases.

  • Secondary, in-bottle fermentation
  • Maturation on lees
  • Riddling
  • Disgorgement
  • Dosage
  • Final corking, shaking, and inspection
  • Bottle aging

In méthode Champenoise, a secondary fermentation, which takes place inside the bottle, creates the carbon dioxide that gives Champagne its signature fizziness.

After the secondary fermentation, the wine is allowed to rest or mature on its lees or the dead yeasts and other deposits inside the bottle. The winemaker eventually removes these deposits and adds more sugary wine solution to the sparkling wine before finally corking it and further aging it inside the bottle before its release. 

Charmat Method

Under this method, secondary fermentation does not happen inside the bottle but inside a pressurized tank. After the secondary fermentation, the sparkling wine is bottled and released. 

Transfer Method

Like in méthode traditionnelle, the wine undergoes secondary fermentation (and gains its effervescence) inside the bottle and proceeds to mature on its lees. After maturation on lees, however, the now sparkling wine is transferred from the bottle into a tank. There, the deposits are filtered out to clarify the wine. 

Carbonation

This is the least expensive method of making sparkling wines. Under this method, the wine is “carbonated,” pretty much like the way a soft drinks manufacturer would make soda. 

Champagnes Are in a Class of Their Own

To sum up, Champagne is a unique sparkling wine from the Champagne wine region in France. What makes it special are all the rigorous appellation rules and requirements that encompass everything involved in the process of making it – from vine growing to winemaking until the final bottling.

So the next time you see Champagne in a spirits online UK shop, you’ll be able to appreciate how much effort goes into making it and understand why it costs so much more than other sparkling wines.

AUTHOR BIO

Alexander Vasilev is Head of Digital Marketing at VIDA UK, the third branch on the fast-growing VIDA family tree, following teams in Sofia & Vienna. Named after the Baba Vida medieval fortress in Northern Bulgaria, VIDA seeks to champion Central and Eastern European wines and spirits in an authentic and innovative light.

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