Though the term Champagne technically refers to sparkling wines made in the Champagne region of France, it is commonly used to refer to all sparkling wines. Table wines, or still wines, differ in a few important ways from their bubbly counterpart, though both are favorite drinks for toasts and celebrations.
Champagne, both the French variety and sparkling wines from other regions, is generally made from chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, which are also commonly used grapes for still wines. However, grapes intended for use in sparkling wines are picked when they contain a lower sugar content. Sparkling wines are fermented twice, producing an additional alcohol content, so using grapes with a lower sugar level allows less sugar to covert to alcohol during the first fermentation, keeping the overall alcohol levels lower in the end product. Sparkling wine also has a higher acidity and lower pH because of its grapes' lower sugar levels, giving the product an extra crispness. Sparkling wines usually have a sugar content between 17 and 19 percent, while still wines are between 22 to 24.
Champagne differs from still wine in that it undergoes a second fermentation after being bottled when alcohol and carbon dioxide bubbles are produced. Called en tirage, this fermentation process is followed by an aging process that must take place in a cool environment to produce the finest bubbles. Sparkling wines actually must withstand carbon dioxide pressures up to 90 lbs. per square inch during the en tirage process.
Most sparkling wines, particularly the authentic Champagne sparkling wines, are made only from chardonnay, pinot meunier and pinot noir grapes while still table wines are made from a much larger variety of grapes. While Champagne is typically a white or rose wine, though it can be made from green or red grapes, still wines tend to have a larger range of color.
While still wines are often touted as getting better with age, most sparkling wine is a non-vintage combination of older and and newer wines which should be used within one to two years. Even vintage Champagne should generally be consumed within 10 years of production, although there are some oenophiles who disagree and believe that Champagne ages just as well as still wines.