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The Champagne Difference

Robert Whitley on

Remember that time a friend offered you a glass of Champagne but poured a prosecco instead? It's a common mistake that will often be repeated throughout the holidays.

Champagne is the sparkling wine that is produced in a specific region of France northeast of Paris. There is a huge difference between Champagne and other sparkling wines like prosecco, cava, cremant and the many New World bubblies.

With a few exceptions that were grandfathered in when global commitments were hammered out (Korbel being one example), current trade policies prohibit labeling anything other than Champagne as Champagne. The Champenois guard their Champagne identity jealously, and with good reason.

The Champagne region produces a unique product that is frequently imitated but seldom surpassed. One aspect of that is the terroir: The chalky soils instill a steely firmness in Champagne. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the firm structure of Champagne allows it to age beautifully for decades. Few other sparkling wines can make a similar claim.

Beyond the physical characteristics of the Champagne region that influence the final product, there is the matter of style. The better Champagne houses reserve generous stocks of wine from the best vintages. The so-called reserve wines are then blended with current vintages to maintain quality as well as a specific house style.

Few other wine regions that produce high-quality sparkling wines go to the trouble of building reserve stocks from their finest vintages. The reserve wines add richness and backbone to less successful vintages, allowing Champagne to deliver a consistent product even in less successful vintages.

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This sets Champagne apart and is the primary reason to remember that Champagne is Champagne, and everything else is sparkling wine.

Best Value

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

Cote Mas Cremant de Limoux 'St. Hilaire,' Brut Rose, Languedoc, France ($16) -- Cote Mas is one of the brands under the direction of Jean-Claude Mas, who is making some of the finest wines in France's Languedoc region these days. A blend of chardonnay, chenin blanc and pinot noir, this sparkling rose combines bright-red fruit notes with crisp acidity and a creamy finish. Nicely done. Rating: 90.


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