Sparkling Wine vs. Champagne, the how-to's of tasting, and everything else you need to know to sip like a connoisseur.
It’s said that Benedictine monk Dom Peringnon, after tasting his first effort at his future famed Champagne, exclaimed, “Come quickly, for I am tasting stars!” Though most likely untrue – after all, sparkling wine is believed to have been around nearly a century at the time – the anecdote still speaks to the excitement ensconced in a bottle of bubbly.
Poets and politicians alike have extolled the virtues of Champagne, but how frequently do most people uncork a bottle? Unfortunately, this sparkling treat is too often relegated to twice or thrice yearly celebrated events, like wedding toasts or New Year’s Eve, making it seem inaccessible and even indulgent to many casual sippers. Sparkling wines line the shelves of almost any grocer’s aisles, so why all the pomp surrounding this delectable drink? We talked to several local experts to uncover some of the finer points of sparkling wine, and to give readers the vocabulary and know-how to confidently break out the bubbly for any occasion.
What Do You Call It?
Champagne with a capital ‘C’ always comes from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France, though many people refer to sparkling wine as 'Champagne' much as one might say 'Kleenex' to mean tissue paper.
“The process of fermenting grapes and adding bubbles is the same process used the world over,” says Rick French, Champagne aficionado and webmaster of ChampagneSabering.com. “It just so happens that the process was pioneered in a region outside of Paris called Champagne; the term is trademarked by the French, so legally other sparkling wines are called just that – sparkling wines.”
French Champagnes are generally reputed to be the best, but be prepared to pay the price. “The French Champagnes begin at a modest $30 and go as far as your budget will allow, and even farther, actually,” says Kimber Stonehouse, manager of Sportsman’s Fine Wine & Spirits Arrowhead location. “The United States also produces some very fine quality wines that can be easier on the budget than those from France.” Iron Horse, Chandon, and Domaine Carneros are among the U.S. produced bubbly she recommends.
Popular sparklers from other locales include Spanish Cava, Prosecco and Asti of Italy, German Sekt, and South Africa’s Cap Classique. Tastes run from light and sweet to extra dry, so experiment with a variety of wines and decide for yourself which style suits your palate. “Most people who say they ‘don’t like bubbles’ just haven’t met the right ones yet,” Stonehouse says.