All You Need to Know About Champagne
With New Year's quickly approaching, you'll likely be downing a glass of Champagne or two … or will you? Unless your sparkling wine comes from a region in France called Champagne, it isn't actually Champagne. It could be Prosecco, Cava, or good old American sparkling wine. Let's go over the differences between these wines so you can drop some of this newfound knowledge at your New Year's Eve shindig.
Champagne must technically be made in Champagne, France, so it's helpful to start thinking of the term "Champagne" as a winemaking area rather than a type of wine. It's also typically comprised of three grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Sparkling wines made exclusively with Chardonnay are called blanc de blancs, and those made with just Pinot Noir are called blanc de noirs.
Champagne is just one type of sparkling wine. Italy makes a version called Prosecco using the Glera grape. Spain produces a bubbly called Cava, made from a blend of Macabeu, Parellada, and Xarello grapes. In Austria and Germany, sparkling wines are called Sekt and produced from Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris or Pinot Noir. Even South Africa has gotten into the sparkling wine game with Méthode Cap Classiques (MCCs), a classification for wines made in the same tradition in which Champagne is made. And here in the U.S., we make plenty of sparkling wine called, creatively, sparkling wine. Our recipe is the same three grapes that the French use to make Champagne.
All sparkling wines have one thing in common: bubbles. But how the bubbles get into the bottle is what makes some sparkling wines more impressive (and expensive) than others, and the reason why Champagne remains the creme de la creme of sparklers. The process can be as simple as pumping carbon dioxide into a tank of juice (like using your Soda Stream) or as complicated as trapping the carbon dioxide during the fermentation process, adding sugar and yeast, and later removing the dead yeast (also known as Méthode Champenoise). It's a very time-consuming and labor-intensive affair, which is why people pay thousands of dollars for a bottle of Dom Pérignon.
Whether or not you can taste the efforts is another story. No matter how much you pay for your bubbly, here's how you can tell you've got a good one: It'll be fresh and lively in your mouth, acidic and fruity but not necessarily sweet. Try Tasting Room's Abalone Brut Cava as a great example. Enjoy your bubbly for what it is and remember that good company makes it taste all the better.