Deciphering a Sparkling Wine Label
Not all sparkling wine is Champagne, but all Champagne is sparkling wine. Though many of us think of the name Champagne when we think of any type of sparkling wine, the truth is much different. Like many other wines in France, Champagne is labelled not by varietal but by location. The region of Champagne is in the north east of France, in one of the coolest areas of wine production in the world. In fact, the still wines made in Champagne have such high acidity that they are pretty much impossible to drink. However, through a happy accident centuries ago, the wine managed to undergo a second fermentation which created the bubbly sensation we know today as Champagne. See, the process of fermentation includes the production of carbon dioxide which, when trapped in the wine, produces a sparkling beverage. The true test of taste in sparkling wines is how these bubbles get introduced into the wine.
In Champagne, the historical method of making the wine bubbly occurs inside the bottle. After the still blend is bottled, a little bit of yeast and grape sugar is mixed with the wine in the bottle and left to ferment, trapping the carbon dioxide produced in the bottle and creating a sparkling wine. This method of production means the wine has ample contact with the yeast and produces flavors of toasty brioche and a slight creaminess on the palate, as well as the fine, elegant bubbles we know and love from these wines. However, without actually being produced in Champagne, the wine cannot legally be called Champagne.
This method of introducing bubbles into a wine is called the “Champagne Method” or “Methode Traditionelle” depending where you are and what the winemaker chooses to put onto the bottle. If you see this on a label, the wine was made sparkling through the method described above. Resulting in wines with similar tastes of nuttiness and readiness, these wines can be intensely flavored and elegant. However, there is just “something” about Champagne that makes it so unique.
So pick up a bottle of Champagne and a bottle of American Sparkling or Cava today and see for yourself the difference a place makes!