The New Year celebration is hardly complete without popping a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine. People use the drink names interchangeably, but they are not one and the same. All Champagne can be classified as sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine can be called Champagne. Confusing?
The answer is short and simple: Sparkling wine can be called Champagne if it comes from the Champagne region of France, outside of Paris. Champagne is sparkling wine made only from white Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and black Pinot noir grapes.
Champagne, produced from grapes in the Champagne region, follows strict rules that require secondary fermentation of the wine while in the bottle to create carbonation. The grapes must be grown following specific vineyard practices and sourced only from specific parcels in the Champagne appellation. The grapes must be pressed following the specific techniques that are unique to the region. It is illegal in many countries to label sparkling wine as Champagne if it did not come from the Champagne region and was not produced according to regulations.
Sparkling wine has significant levels of carbon dioxide that make it fizzy. Most sparkling wine is either white or rose, although there are some red sparkling wines such as the Australian sparkling Shiraz, the Italian Brachetto, and the Azerbaijani Pearl. Sparkling wine has a range of sweetness from brut or very dry to doux or sweeter varieties.
The sparkling trait of the wine depends on the amount of carbon dioxide content, which results from natural fermentation (either through the traditional method of using large tanks or in a bottle). Cheaper sparkling wines have bubbly effects caused by the injection of carbon dioxide.
Dom Perignon was a Benedictine monk and a pioneer in the production of sparkling wine. Contrary to common beliefs, Perignon did not discover the method of producing sparkling wines. He pioneered several techniques to make better sparkling wines. He advocated against re-fermentation but in favor of the use of Pinot noir grapes. (He wasn’t a fan of white grapes.) He also argued for aggressive pruning and harvesting in cool, damp conditions. He did think grapes should be trodden but rather flattened under presses to help preserve the integrity of their juices and skins. He is remembered today with the vintage Champagne that bears his name.