Ah! The world of wine seems to swirl with more jargon than wine in your glass! The vocabulary specific to sparkling wine is no exception and can be particularly tricky.
Spumante isn’t Champagne. Spumante is an Italian wine word for sparkling wines made in Italy that are greater than 3 atmospheres of pressure (ATM). Examples of spumante include Prosecco, Asti, Lambrusco, and Franciacorta – all made from different grapes. Champagne, on the other hand, is a sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France with a minimum of 5-6 atmospheres of pressure traditionally made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Munier.
You’re not alone if you find all of this even a little bit confusing, so let’s break things down.
What Is Champagne?
By European Union regulation, the word ‘Champagne’ can only be used for sparkling wines made in the Champagne region of France.
The region lies to the east of Paris and specializes in the aspirational lifestyle bubbly we all know and love: Champagne!
The regulatory and trade oversight body of Champagne, called the Comité Champagne, actually has lawyers actively working to stop anyone outside of Champagne from using the word ‘Champagne’ for their products – whether it’s soap, a paint color, makeup, or nail polish.
As for the wine itself, Champagne always comes in heavy glass bottles that can withstand 5-6 atmospheres of pressure.
If Champagne were bottled in a normal wine bottle, it would explode.
Champagne wines also always come with the classic mushroom cork that carries the stamp ‘Champagne’ and a wire cage (called a muzelet).
Champagne has strict aging requirements.
The non-vintage (meaning a blend of wines from different harvest years) Champagnes will be at least 15 months old before they’re released for sale.
The higher-quality vintage Champagnes will be a minimum of 36 months old before you can purchase them.
All of these rules and regulations surrounding Champagne are intended to protect the wine’s prestige.
Quality control measures help lift the wine’s perceived value and people are willing to spend more for bottled elegance.
Champagne is traditionally made with three principal grapes.
- Pinot Noir
This means that most Champagnes will have similar style and taste profiles. High acid, toasty brioche, lemon, and apple.
What Is Spumante?
Spumante (spu-MAHN-tay) is Italian for ‘bubbly wine’. Specifically, spumante as a wine style descriptor can be used for any sparkling wine made in Italy that has a minimum of 3 atmospheres of pressure.
Spumante wines can be made anywhere in Italy, from many different grapes.
Like Champagne, spumante wines need a heavy-duty sparkling wine bottle with thicker glass to withstand the pressure.
The bottles also need crown caps and the special mushroom corks with a wire cage to keep your sparkling wine buttoned up.
If the wine has less than 3 ATMs, then it’s categorized as frizzante, which conjures images of a bad frizzy hair day.
Because spumante wines can come from anywhere in Italy, you’ll find that they’re made from a range of grapes in a wide variety of styles – even sparkling red wines!
What Are Famous Examples of Spumante?
Because spumante wines can come from anywhere in Italy, it’s no surprise that you’ll find spumante from different regions, all with their own distinctive qualities.
Perhaps the most famous spumante is Prosecco.
Produced in the northeastern region of Italy, just above Venice, Prosecco wines enjoy tremendous popularity as an everyday luxury with wine lovers the world over.
Prosecco wines are made from a white grape called Glera. They come in a range of styles, from dry to semi-sweet – Brut Nature to Demi-Sec.
Check out this full guide to Glera wine.
You’ll find inexpensive Prosecco bottled with crown caps (bottle caps), and mid-priced Prosecco using a mushroom cork. Curiously, Prosecco cannot be sold on tap, it has to be sold in a bottle.
This regulation serves to protect the wine’s status.
Moving to the west, you’ll find Franciacorta sparkling wines, another famous spumante wine of Italy.
Tucked just south of Lake Iseo, Franciacorta brings the highest quality of traditional method sparkling winemaking to Italy.
These are Champagne-style wines made primarily with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with long aging requirements to bring out brioche, biscuit, and apple pie aromas.
Franciacorta uses the same grapes varieties and winemaking techniques as Champagne.
If you’ve never come across a Franciacorta sparkling wine, it’s probably because 90% of these wines stay in Italy. The Italians know their wines, and Franciacorta is a special secret worth keeping!
Heading further west still, you’ll soon come to the Piemonte region of Italy, home to Asti. Asti spumante is made with the white ancient white grape Moscato.
Moscato delivers perfumed floral elegance with honey and stone fruits. Wrap yourself in a glass of sparkling Asti and you’ll instantly be transported to a Mediterranean veranda on a warm afternoon.
Asti and Moscato d’Asti are two different wine styles – albeit made from the same grape in the same region of Italy.
Confusing, I know.
If you drink Moscato d’Asti wine, then you’ve had a frizzante wine, not a spumante. The lower pressure means that these lightly sparkling wines use a regular cork or screw cap in a standard wine bottle.
No need for heavy-duty reinforced glass.
Asti is the fully sparkling spumante version of these wines. If you like bubbles, look for Asti!
A final spumante wine from Italy is actually not a white wine at all, but red.
Lambrusco, traditionally made around the cities of Modena and Reggio Emilia (famous for parmesan cheese), uses different varieties of the red Lambrusco grape to make sparkling red wines.
Served lightly chilled, these unique sparkling wines can be made in the fully spumante style, or a less spritzy frizzante style.
Either way, expect some bubbles in your glass.
The largest producer of Lambrusco is a cooperative called Riunite. Look for affordable, everyday drinkers under this label.
Why Doesn’t Every Country Use the Same Terms for Sparkling Wine?
Spumante. Frizzante. Champagne. So many different terms that essentially refer to the same thing – sparkling wine.
Why is it that every region seems to have its own terminology?
In a word: tradition.
Every country with a rich winemaking history – even distinct regions within the same country – uses specialized words to help set their wines apart.
This specialized terminology allows producers to market and sell their wines on crowded wine shelves or long wine lists.
Wine lovers who get to know the different regions can spot keywords that help them pick out familiar wine styles.
So if you’re a budding sparkling wine lover, knowing the difference between spumante and Champagne will guide you to what you’re looking for the next time you’re out shopping for wine.