Sparkling wine is made across the world, in a diverse array of styles. Each style expresses a special, local tradition. Part of that tradition, of course, is the local name used for sparkling wine.
In many ways, a localized pronunciation of “Champagne” is still the standard for sparkling wine. My Polish grandmother knows I love “Szampan”, and has probably never referred to is as “Wino Musujące”, which translates to sparkling wine (if you’re curious about the pronunciation, it’s “vino moo-soo-yawn-say”). Similarly, we had trouble getting a glass of “Cava” in Mexico, but “Champán” was readily available (even though it was in fact Cava). While still prevalent, referring to all sparkling wines as “Champagne” is on the decline, partly to due to the legal framework established by France and the European Union, and partly because the sparkling winos of the world are building up their knowledge of sparkling wine once glass at a time!
But what’s in a name? Let’s explore their meanings, to find out!
The world’s most famous sparkling wine obtains its name from the region of Champagne, derived from the Late Latin word “campania” via the Latin word “campus”, meaning field. Campania Remensis referred to the area of Reims, itself named after a tribe in the area. The more you know!
Some say Prosecco is stealing Champagne’s hat and becoming more known among us sparkling winos. Whether that’s true or not is debatable but the name is definitely recognized by even the casualest of wine drinkers. The name “Prosecco” is derived from the white grape grown in the Veneto region of Italy used to produce the wine. It supposedly reaches back to the age of Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79).
Germany is one of the world’s largest consumers and producers of sparkling wine, called “Sekt”. Carbonated sparkling wine is called” Schaumwein” (literally, “foam wine”) and semi-sparkling wine is called “Perlwein” (“pearl wine”). Oddly enough, the German term “Sekt“ comes from a borrowing of the Spanish term “vino seco”, meaning dry wine. As we sparkling winos know, Sekt can comes in a broad range of styles, but is mostly off-dry.
Always a great bang for your buck, sparkling wines produced in eight appellations in France are called “Crémant” + the appellation name (for example, Crémant d’Alsace or Crémant de Bourgogne). But, what does “Crémant” actually mean? As a testament to my terrible grades in French class, I was surpirsed to learn that “Crémant” derives from “crémer” (to cream) and means “creamy”. More interestingly, “Crémant” wines were referred to as such because they had a creamier, rather than fizzy, mouth-feel. Quelle surprise!
Hungary’s answer to Champagne has a direct connection to the famous French bubbly, as József Törley és Társa brought knowledge of the wine making style from the Roederer family in Reims to the vineyards near Budapest. “Pezsgő” (pronounced “Pezz-goo”) refers to Hungarian sparkling wine, which itself derives from the Hungarian verb “pezseg”, which means to sparkle or fizz. Interestingly enough, “pezseg” is an onomatopoeic and imitates the sound sparkling wine makes in the glass.
Unlike it’s charmat method produced cousin Prosecco, Franciacorta sparkling wines are produced in the traditional method, like Champagne. The name “Franciacorta” refers to the historic region in the province of Brescia, in Lombardy where the wine is produced. The name, though, derives from the Late Latin “curtes francae”, or the fortified courts of the Frankish empire established in the 8th century.
Spain’s answer to Champagne, Cava represents a traditional method produced wine in the region of Catalonia. Like Prosecco, Cava has taken the sparkling wine world by storm and is becoming synonymous with good value. The name “Cava,” perhaps unsurprisingly, comes from the Catalan word for cellar or cave, the traditional place where the wines were stored. Interestingly enough, the term was only brought into use in the 1970’s, in response to French protectionist policies around the term Champagne.
So from Latin fields, to ancient Italian grape varietals, to borrowings from other languages, to sensations felt whilst drinking the wine, to onomatopoeic imitations and cellaring techniques, the etymology of today’s sparkling wine terms is both varied and unique. And, now that you have scratched your curiosity about what’s in a name – from “Franciacorta” to “Pezsgő” – we hope that you’ve learned something new, more importantly, have a glass of sparkling wine waiting for you! 😍 Cheers!