There is a difference in Champagne and Sparkling Wine. It’s Geography. Champagne is a region, and by French law, only wine made a particular way in the Champagne region can be called Champagne. Wines made in the same manner in other places in France are Sparkling Wine. The label will often say “Cremant du” whatever region it is, i.e. Bourgogne, Alsace, Limoux, etc. These cremants are made in the same way, often with the same grape varieties as Champagne. They are often very good and half the price (or less) of true Champagne.
The European Union respects French wine law and will not allow the word “Champagne” on any other sparkling wine made in the EU, such as Spanish Cava, or Italian Prosecco. Both Cava and Prosecco are made like Champagne and can be excellent values, especially Cava. In the U.S. French wine law is often disregarded except for wineries owned by French Champagne companies. So a U.S. produced sparkling wine that is made by a French company will not say Champagne. One made by a U.S. owned company may or may not.
There is a bulk process that adds bubbles to some very inexpensive wines, but the best sparkling wines are made by the Champagne method, known as Methode Champenoise or Methode Traditionelle. There are so many good values in sparkling wine, it is worth a little more to get a big jump in quality. Briefly, here is how the Methode Traditionelle works. Wine is made in the usual manner in stainless steel tanks. Basically grape juice and yeast are all you need. OK, maybe a bit more than that, but we’re talking basics here. Once the wine is made, it is bottled into the same bottle you see in the store. A bit of sugar and yeast culture is added, and the bottle gets a bottle cap put on it. An additional fermentation takes place in the bottle – that’s where the bubbles come from. A fermentation produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. This process can take months or even years depending on the maker. Dead yeast cells are produced by the fermentation also. They are removed, and the bottle is corked at the same time. A label is put on and there is your Champagne or Cava, or whatever. When the dead yeast is removed, a dosage can be added. This is a wine/sugar solution to top off the wine and determine its sweetness.
The driest we normally see is called Brut. Extra Dry is not as dry as Brut. Confusing? A little. A Demi-Sec is “half dry” which is sweet. Sparkling wine can be made from red or white grapes. Red grape juice is not red, so if it does not stay on the skins during pressing and fermentation, the wine will be white. Brut often is made from red and white grapes, Blanc de blanc is white wine from white grapes. Blanc de Noir is white wine from all red/black grapes. A rose’ is just that. The juice spent some time on the (red) skins.
One sparkling wine you may want to check out is Domaine Ste. Michelle. It is made in Washington State and has won large blind tastings. In these tastings it has bested some very expensive French Champagne. Domaine Ste. Michelle retails for about $13. It is available in a Brut, a Blanc de Blanc, and a Blanc de Noir.