The meaning for Champagne, which one is better? I found both in different reference books.

A white sparkling wine.

A sparkling white wine.



In English, as with many (most?) languages, there is a preferred order for adjectives, generally corresponding to various categories. However, the terms "sparkling wine" and "white wine" can be argued to be compound nouns, like "greenhouse" or "blackboard". They are both subcategories of wine. So, a red wine is still a red wine, even if you put food coloring into it and make it look purple, and a sparking wine is still a sparkling wine even if it has been left out and gotten completely flat. It is a whole unit that is inseparable, not an adjective modifying a noun.

This also means that adjective ordering generalizations do not correspond to the internal parts of these compounds. (This is why you have seen both orders used.)

So, if you are talking about white wines that are sparkling, you can call them "sparkling [white wines]". If you are talking about sparkling wines that are white, you can call them "white [sparkling wines]". Grammatically, they are equal in "correctness".

  • 1
    Even though they are equally correct from a grammatical point of view, don't you think it is common practice to take the opposition that is considered most important in the field, the one between red wine and white wine, to determine which pair to promote to compound noun status and thus head of the noun phrase? (I apologize for the length of this awkward sentence.) We are talking about "better" (as Nano wrote), not about the only right choice. I expect the Nano to use it as a definition on a website or something. – Cerberus Jan 4 '11 at 4:03
  • 2
    @Cerberus: That really does seem like a question for wine experts, because it is not an English language issue anymore. As far as the English language is concerned, both are possible. We see evidence of that. However, I am more inclined to guess that both orders are possible in the wine-drinking world, actually. – Kosmonaut Jan 4 '11 at 4:38
  • 1
    @Kosmonaut: OK, that seems all reasonable. Perhaps the line between the English language and any field of knowledge isn't always clear. It is sometimes difficult to restrict answers to their proper domains, especially when one is tired. – Cerberus Jan 4 '11 at 5:05
  • @Cerberus: I never thought I'd think so much in a single night about the fine-grained distinctions between different types of wine without at least getting a little bit tipsy! – Kosmonaut Jan 4 '11 at 5:15
  • 3
    More research is needed. – Brian Hooper Jan 4 '11 at 17:52

It's a sparkling white wine. A "white wine" is a major classification of wine, and "sparkling" is an extra adjective on top of that.

  • 2
    Isn't sparkling wine also a major classification of wine? In German it even has its own separate word: Sekt (vs. Wein). – Kosmonaut Jan 4 '11 at 3:29
  • 1
    @Kosmonaut: I thought about that, and it seemed to me it was less major than white. You could be right, however. – Robusto Jan 4 '11 at 3:31
  • 1
    @Robusto, @Jasper Loy: The best linguistic tests I know to decide if this is treated as a whole unit (grammatically) are (1) being able to say, e.g. "this sparkling wine is totally flat" and (2) not being able to say "I drank an extremely sparkling wine" (it doesn't really mean anything — as far as I know). The third piece of evidence (which was indicated in the question) is seeing both orders in reference books (which would become better evidence if both orders were common in corpora), showing people treat it this way. – Kosmonaut Jan 4 '11 at 3:43
  • 1
    @Cerberus: Actually, maybe this is the best evidence? If you are at a dinner party, and you ask for white wine, then if the person hands you a white sparkling wine, you'll be surprised and assume the person made a mistake. – Kosmonaut Jan 4 '11 at 5:13
  • 1
    @Cerberus: I think this really comes down to the people "in the know" in the particular area of interest. If wine connoisseurs allow "white sparkling wine" and "sparkling white wine", or can't agree on which order, then grammatically and logically both can be justified. If wine connoisseurs have all basically decided that there is a strict hierarchy in the order, then for all practical purposes, that one is more correct. Just like someone who calls everything "champagne" can argue the term is genericized, but are "wrong" in the sense that they will appear ignorant to others. – Kosmonaut Jan 4 '11 at 15:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.