While most associate sparkling wine with Champagne, the French region that made it famous, effervescence in wine has been observed since the beginnings of winemaking. Greek and Roman writers made note of bubbles in their wine, and over the years the cause of the bubbles was attributed to any number of things, including the phases of the moon.
The tendency for wines in Champagne to contain bubbles was originally scorned because it often caused bottles in storage to explode, sometimes leading to a chain reaction of blasts that could devastate a wine cellar. It wasn't until the 1600s, when glassblowers in England started producing stronger bottles and the use of cork stoppers was introduced, that Champagne’s sparkling characteristics became desirable. Once winemakers realized that adding sugar to wine before bottling would create a sparkling wine, their production began to spread to other countries and locations (though the name “Champagne” continues to define this class of wine in everyday parlance).
Many sparkling wines and most Champagnes indicate their sweetness level on the label, ranging from the almost completely dry Brut Natural to the dessert-like Doux. The vast majority are either Brut or Extra Dry, with Extra Dry actually being less dry than Brut. Champagne is made from only three grapes — Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier — and sometimes from only one (Blanc de Blancs is all Chardonnay, Blanc de Noirs is made with all red grapes, usually just Pinot Noir). While producers in California and many regions outside of Champagne usually stick with this selection, sparklers can be made from a variety of grapes, including Moscato (used in Italy’s Asti), Chenin Blanc (included in sparklers from the Loire), and even Shiraz (in the occasional red sparkling wine from Australia), and lesser-known native grapes are used in Prosecco, Italy’s drier sparkling wine, and the Cavas of Spain.