As Charles Dickens said: “Champagne is one of the elegant extras in life”, and if we think of the grand celebrations in our lives New Year’s Eve; 21st birthdays; weddings sure enough, they are not complete without the bubbles. After reading a recent article, “Champagne or Sparkling Wine: Battle of the Bubbles” on BBC Food (by Anna-Louise Taylor) I went in search of the answer not being a wine connoisseur myself.
To begin, I posed the question to seven people: champagne or sparkling wine? In reply, I got three for “Champagne”, one “Depends on the occasion”, one “I still call it champagne” and two for “Sparkling wine” with a very definite “Sparkling wine SA all the way, I [don’t like] the French”. This didn’t really make a clear distinction between the two, which also fed my uncertainty as to the differences.
The clearest explanation I stumbled upon is that all champagne is sparkling wine, though not all sparkling wine is champagne simply because champagne originates from the region of Champagne in France, whereas other sparkling wines are made in other countries: Cap Classique from South Africa, Cava from Spain, Espumante from Portugal and Prosecco from Italy. According to the article there seems to be a moving away from Champagne with other sparkling wines becoming more popular, mostly because they are more affordable.
Authentic champagne and sparkling wines are produced using a time-consuming process called mthode champenoise. Cheaper sparkling wines would be produced using other methods that are less complex. One way to tell the difference is that sparkling wine made traditionally will have tiny bubbles that flow in a continuous upward stream, whereas sparkling wine produced by other methods will have larger bubbles that appear randomly. Even cheaper sparkling wine will just be carbonated.
So in answer to the question of champagne vs sparkling wine, I suppose it really does depend on whether the occasion requires a classic French Champagne, with all the luxury and prestige it awards, or an alternative based on personal taste or budget. After all: “Champagne is the wine of kings, and the king of wines” (Guy Du Maupaussant).