Champagne and sparkling wine: same same, but different.
By Anita Zaror
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We had to dedicate this month’s page to sparkling bubbles, which are such a good fit for these end-of-year celebrations, and so versatile that they can be paired with aperitifs as well as with desserts.
Here’s a little something you’ll find useful next time you go shopping for them and serve them.
Originally from France’s northernmost winemaking region, an hour and a half from Paris, the term “Champagne” sometimes is wrongly used to refer to any type of sparkling wine. Truth be told, Champagne can only be called that if it comes from the Champagne region, and if it is produced from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay grapes, and with the “méthode champenoise.”
If you purchase a bottle that is labeled “Champagne,” and it was produced in a different region than this one, it will taste completely different simply because it won’t be the real thing. The major types of Champagne are non-vintage or multiple vintages, from two or more harvests; vintage, from a single vintage; and prestige cuvée, also from a single vintage, but aged longer.
To buy Champagne—and this is applicable for sparkling wines too—you first need to determine if you would like it dry (go for a brut nature, extra brut, or brut) or on the sweeter side (go for an extra sec, sec, or demi sec). You can open a bottle of Champagne as soon as it reaches your hands, although prestige cuvée bottles can be kept for about 10 to 15 years.
Serve it in a flute or tulip-shaped glass, so that it doesn’t lose its bubbles so fast.
Any bubbly that was not produced in the Champagne region in France can be called a sparkling wine. In Spain it’s called cava, Sekt in Germany, and spumante in Italy, while in the U.S. it would just be called “sparkling wine.” When the Champenoise method has been used to make a sparkling wine anywhere in the world other than in Champagne, it is said to have been made with the classic method.
And how can you tell you’re drinking sparkling wine and not Champagne, besides knowing the region where it comes from? Sparkling wine is much cheaper, because it doesn’t use the costly Champenoise method for its production. And Champagne has smaller bubbles, and many more, than sparkling wine.
Madame de Pompadour used to say that Champagne was the only drink that could leave women still beautiful after drinking it. Ladies, you might want to try that for yourselves.