Riddle me this: all Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. As Champagne is one of the most well known sparkling wines, people often label all bubbly as “Champagne,” but in fact only wines from a particular region of France are genuinely ‘Champagne.’ Beyond geography, though, is there a difference between Champagne vs sparkling wine from other regions?

A Brief History

The fizz of sparkling wine and Champagne was originally thought of as a sign of spoiled wine, as it indicates that wine has continued to ferment after being bottled, a defect in typical flat wine. In the 1600s, this feature began to be appreciated by the English. Multiple regions in France, Spain, and Italy claim to have first invented, or rather accidentally created, sparkling wine; no one is really sure who actually made bubbly wine first, but Champagne is definitely the most famous. 

Wines made in the Champagne region of France have a greater inclination to fizz because of the cold climate. Frosts usually came early, preventing fermentation from completing before bottling, which meant there was still sugar that could be fermented in the bottles. Once the temperature warmed up again in the spring, the wine would resume fermentation a second time, producing carbon dioxide and becoming carbonated.

Over the next 100 years, Champagne became globally popular. While some other sparkling wines did already exist in the 1800s, the popularity of Champagne made many vintners across Europe want a piece of the profit. Today, Champagne is known globally as the wine for celebration, weddings, birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions.

How Champagne Is Regulated

wine, alcohol, champagne, liquor, beer
Caroline Early

As the market for Champagne boomed, producers from within this specific region of France became more determined to regulate sales of sparkling wine under the prestigious ‘Champagne’ name. In 1936, a law was introduced to regulate the labelling and sales of Champagne in Europe. But this law is not upheld in the USA, so some sparkling wines are still labelled as ‘Champagne,’ although they are not genuinely Champagne.

#SpoonTip: To make sure your Champagne is actually from Champagne, double check the label on the bottle for origin.

How Sparkling Wine Is Made

champagne, wine, toast
Lucy Carlisle

Originally there was only one method to create sparkling wine, both because this invention was inadvertent and not fully understood. Now there are a few different ways sparkling wines can be made. The “classic method” involves the second fermentation occuring in bottles; the Charmat or tank method is essentially an expedited and more inexpensive variation on the Classic method with the second fermentation occurring in steel pressurized tanks; and the least common is simply carbonation of regular wine.

Most Popular Types of Sparkling Wine

As Champagne is one of the most renowned sparkling wines, the diversity of others that exist is often ignored. There are many sparkling wine varieties including white, red, and rose, as well as dry, sweet, and with a range of aromas.

Prosecco – A light, dry wine from Northern Italy’s Veneto region that is similar to Champagne but made in a tank rather than refermented in individual bottles.

Cava – Spain’s primary sparkling wine is light and dry to slightly sweet, made by the same method as Champagne.

Sekt – A fruity, dry, and lower alcohol wine from Germany. Sekt is made in both the classic and tank method.

Sparkling Rosé – A fruity, pink wine that can also be purchased still. Rosé is produced in many regions, like Italy, California, and France, so it varies by sweetness depending on the vineyard.

Although true wine connoisseurs may have the palate to discern all the types of sparkling wine, sparkling wine varieties are like any other wine in that they differ by sweetness and flavor notes. To many average students like myself, other dry sparkling wines such as Prosecco or Cava will taste similar and equally delicious to Champagne. 

If you have a bottle of bubbly you're not sure what to do with, give this Champagne tower a go at your next big event, or go a less traditional route with this sparkling sangria or one of these Champagne cocktails. When in doubt, making cupcakes is always a good call.