Sparkling Wine vs. Champagne – A Primer

IN THIS POST

Learn the differences between the wines of Champagne, France, and other sparkling wines produced around the world, what sparkling wines are called in various winemaking regions, and some of the common sparkling winemaking terms and what they mean.


SPARKLING WINE VS. CHAMPAGNE

As you may know, “Champagne” refers to sparkling wine produced only from the region of Champagne, France. But the traditional winemaking techniques of the region – which date back centuries – are used the world over to craft exceptional Sparkling Wines like the Dough Sparkling Brut and Sparkling Brut Rosé found in our three-bottle Sparkling Wine Pack. In Champagne, the winemaking process is called “méthode Champenoise,” and in other regions that craft sparkling wines it’s known as “méthode traditionelle.”

The Champagne Region of France

The Champagne Region

Located about 100 miles east of Paris, the Champagne region is considered one of the great historic wine regions of France. And when you take into account that it is competing with other powerhouse regions like Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhône and The Loire Valley … that, indeed, is saying something significant in the world of wine. Situated near Belgium and Luxemborg, Champagne is both the northernmost and the coldest of the French wine regions. Its chilly terroir and chalky soils provide perfect conditions for the eponymous sparkling wine that is enjoyed at celebrations around the world.

Legend has it that the very first sparkling wine was produced in 1693 in Champagne, France, by Dom Pierre Pérignon, a French monk.

Sparkling Wine Around the World

Sparkling wine regions are found all over the world. Only “Champagne” is named for its region of origin; elsewhere, these terms generally indicate style, not region.

 

REGIONNAME FOR SPARKLING WINE
CHAMPAGNE, FRANCECHAMPAGNE
OTHER REGIONS OF FRANCECREMANT
UNITED STATES

“SPARKLING WINE” LABELED BY STYLE:

BRUT

BRUT ROSÉ

EXTRA BRUT

EXTRA DRY

SEC

DEMI-SEC

DOUX

ITALYPROSECCO
SPAINCAVA
PORTUGALESPUMANTE
SOUTH AFRICAMCC (METHODE CAP CLASSIQUE)
GERMANYSEKT
ARGENTINA & CHILEESPUMANTE OR CHAMPAÑA
Sparkling Wine bottles at an angle in a Riddling Rack during winemaking

Sparkling Wine & Champagne: How It’s Made

  • Harvest: Grapes for both sparkling wine production and Champagne are picked at low sugar levels compared to still wines; this provides sparkling wine’s bright acidity and allows for sweetness to be determined later in the winemaking process at both the second fermentation and when the final dosage is added.
  • Pressing: After stems are removed, juice is gently pressed from the grapes; juice from the first press (cuvée) is considered the best quality.
  • Primary Fermentation: As with still wine, yeast is added to the juice, and the sugar is converted to alcohol.
  • Blending: The wines are blended before a second fermentation in bottle. The process of drawing the final blends into bottle before the second fermentation is started is known as “tirage.”
  • Second Fermentation: Wine, sugar and yeast are bottled under a crown cap and stored horizontally. The yeast once again converts the sugar to alcohol, but this time the CO2 is trapped, adding sparkling wine’s classic bubbles.
  • Sur Lie Aging: After the second fermentation, the wine is left in the bottle “on the lees” – the sediment from the dead yeast cells. This yeast contact adds much of the flavor profile to sparkling wines, and lasts from 15 to 36 months.
  • Riddling: The bottles are stored on special racks at an inverted 45-degree angle. The bottles are periodically turned, allowing the lees to re-settle towards the neck of the bottle. Traditionally this was done by hand, but today many producers use mechanized riddling racks.
  • Disgorgement: The neck of the bottle is frozen and the temporary crown cap is removed so the dead yeast and sediment can be removed.
  • Dosage: The bottle is filled with a “liqueur de dosage” – a mixture of wine and sugar – the amount of sweetness determines the wine’s finished style.
  • Final Cork & Cage: To seal the final bottle, a sparkling wine cork is first compressed into the mushroom shape and then squeezed into the neck of the wine bottle by a machine specially designed for this purpose. After insertion into the sparkling wine or Champagne bottle, the cork is held in place by a wire cage, also known as a muselet.final

Common Sparkling Winemaking Terms

  • Cork & Cage: General term for the combination of large sparkling wine cork and the “muselet” cage that secures it to the bottle.
  • Cuvée: The first pressed (and best) juice.
  • Disgorgement: Removing the dead yeast lees and sediment from the bottle in sparkling winemaking.
  • Dosage: The mixture of cane sugar and wine that is added at the end of the winemaking process, just before bottling. Varying levels of “dosage” produce the different types – and sweetness – of sparkling wine. Note below: anything at or below 12 g/L of dosage can be called “Brut”. Additionally, “Extra Dry” and “Sec” can be deceptive.
  • Lees: Dead yeast cells in winemaking.
  • Muselet: A muselet (French: [myz. le]) is a wire cage that fits over the cork of a bottle of champagne, sparkling wine or beer to prevent the cork from emerging under the pressure of the carbonated contents. It derives its name from the French museler, to muzzle.
  • Riddling: Storing sparkling wine at a 45-degree angle and turning every so often to stir the dead yeast cells in the wine and allow them to resettle at the neck.
  • Sparkling Wine Categories
    Sparkling Brut: Mostly Chardonnay; sometimes a bit of Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier included.
    Sparkling Brut Rosé: Crafted from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and (sometimes) Pinot Meunier.
    Blanc de Blancs: Translation “white of whites,” a 100% Chardonnay sparkling wine.
    Blanc de Noirs: Translation “white of blacks,” usually 100% Pinot Noir sparkling wine, but sometimes a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
  • Sur Lie: Fermenting wine or sparkling wine “on the lees.”
  • Sweetness Indicators of Champagne & Sparkling Wine
    Brut Nature: no dosage added; 0-3g/L occurs naturally
    Extra Brut: 0-6 g/L
    Brut: 0-12 g/L
    Brut Rosé: 0-12 g/L
    Extra Dry: 12-17 g/L
    Sec: 17-32 g/L
    Demi-Sec: 32-50+ g/L
    Doux: 50+ g/L
  • Tirage: Drawing off of the blended wines into bottle to prepare wine for second fermentation in bottle.

EXPLORE DOUGH SPARKLING WINES

SOURCED FROM THE WILLAMETTE VALLEY

DOUGH SPARKLING BRUT

DOUGH SPARKLING BRUT ROSÉ

DOUGH SPARKLING pack

IN SUMMARY

Here’s a quick recap of what we covered:

  • Only wines made in Champagne, France, are called “Champagne.” 
  • Sparkling wines are made around the world using the methode traditionelle techniques, and many regions have their own designated terms for sparkling wine.
  • Sparkling wine production has an initial fermentation followed by a secondary fermentation where the CO2 is trapped in the bottle.
  • Sparkling wines are temporarily capped and left to age on the lees – the dead yeast deposit – on a riddling rack for up to 36 months.
  • The cap is removed and the final sweetness adjusted with a dosage mixture of wine and sugar.
  • There are many levels of sweetness in sparkling wine and Champagne, designated by various terms outlined above.

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