Champagne, bubbly, sparkling wine -- whatever you call it, it's popularly used for a toast at all kinds of celebrations, from weddings to anniversaries to promotions to graduations. Even Valentine's Day. But if you've ever shopped for a bottle of this effervescent drink, you may have been perplexed by the labeling. One bottle says Champagne and another says sparkling wine. What's the difference between the two?
Champagne Defined.In short, Champagne is sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France. In Europe, only sparkling wines produced in that region can legally be called Champagne. All other bubbly, including products made elsewhere in France, must be called "sparkling wine." There's no such rule in the U.S., however, so you may find California "champagne" on the shelves.
Traditionally, French Champagne is made with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Pinot Meunier grapes, or a blend thereof. Champagne comes in white/light, or rose, which is commonly called pink Champagne. It also comes in a variety of sweetness levels ranging from Brut Natural(very dry) to dessert-level Demi-Sec or Doux. Read more about Champagne and the methode Champenoise in our guide to Champagne and sparkling wine.
Sparkling Wine Defined.The term "sparkling wine" refers to all carbonated, effervescent wines, regardless of grape content or region of origin. Sparkling wine includes Champagne as well as other popular bubbly wines, such as Prosecco (Italy), Cava (Spain), Asti (Italy), and Sekt (Austria). Sparkling wines get their bubbles either from natural fermentation or an injection of carbon dioxide.
The Price Difference.Like most things French, true Champagne carries a price premium over sparkling wines (even a near-identical wine produced just outside the region's boundaries). For example, at one wine retailer, a 750mL bottle of Moet & Chandon Imperial Champagne costs $32 and a similar size bottle of Krug Rose Champagne goes for $360. By comparison, French sparkling wine (from outside the Champagne region) starts at $10 for 750mL and American sparkling wine is priced as low as $5 for the same size bottle.
Whether you need to stock up for a weddingor party, such price differences are worth noting. If you plan to make champagne cocktails (bellinis, for example), you can cut costs by choosing a cheaper sparkling wine.
Best Value Bubbly on a Budget.Given the high price of Champagne compared to sparkling wine, you'll get the best bang for your buck with an American sparkler or a European bubbly. If only French wine will do, opt for sparkling varieties called "Cremant" or "Mousseux."
If you have a recommendation for a good value sparkling wine, please share your pick in the comments section below.