Choosing between champagne and sparkling wine comes down to three basic factors: bubbles, taste and cost. Classically defined, the term “champagne” specifically refers to French champagne that has been made from grapes grown in vineyards in Champagne, France. Sparkling wine is everything else in the category. In a more general sense, the difference between champagne and sparkling wine is smaller bubbles, dryer taste and greater cost; champagne is generally considered superior to sparkling wine.
If you are not sure how to choose between champagne and sparkling wine, then the best place to start is with your own taste preferences. Authentic champagne has been aged longer than sparkling wine, which results in a dryer tasting drink. If you prefer fruity or light wines as opposed to dryer selections, then sparkling wines may be the way to go. The amount of bubbles and the size of bubbles in champagne and sparkling wine also are an indicator of taste.
In general, the smaller the bubbles, the more bubbles you will get in a bottle of champagne or sparkling wine. The amount of bubbles is an important deciding factor between champagne and sparkling wine, because bubbles release the wine’s flavor into your mouth. The more bubbles there are, the more flavor-packed each sip of the drink will be when it hits your mouth. When choosing between champagne and sparkling wine, bubble content should be a secondary factor to consider, because taste is the primary factor.
The most obvious factor, and perhaps the most influential in your decision process, is the cost component. Champagne is almost always more expensive than sparkling wine. This is in part because champagne is aged longer and is more complex than sparkling wine. In the case of authentic French champagne, it also is more expensive because of where it is made. No other wine — sparkling or not — may be referred to as "champagne" under Europe laws.
In Europe, champagne is only champagne if it comes from the Champagne region of France. All other champagne-like alternatives are simply sparkling wines. France sought international protection for the champagne label to maintain a worldwide standard for quality and taste. Following France's lead, more and more wineries around the world are denoting on their labels the origins of the grapes used in making their sparkling wines.
Perhaps one of the best tips for choosing between champagne and sparkling wine is to focus on taste. Bubble content and cost factors also may sway your decision. If you decide on champagne, the best varieties are widely believed to be those that have their roots in Champagne, France.