While both can add a special sparkle to a dinner party or celebration, Champagne and Prosecco are distinct wines. They are appropriate for similar occasions, but their different flavor profiles and price points set them apart.
Not many people are familiar with what actually makes these two sparkling wines so different. Finding out requires learning a bit of history and geography.
What Is Sparkling Wine?
"Sparkling wine" refers to any wine with bubbles, also called effervescence which is added naturally through a second fermentation process. There are multiple methods for fermenting sparkling wine, each with a long history corresponding to specific regions.
There are many types of sparkling wine, including several red varieties alongside the more traditional choices of Champagne and Prosecco. Some make the mistake of referring to all sparkling whites as Champagne, but while all Champagnes are sparkling wines, not all sparkling wines are Champagne.
There are other major differences between Champagne and Prosecco. As the names suggest, Champagne comes from France, while Prosecco comes from Italy. Champagne is named after the region of France in which it is produced, and Prosecco is the unofficial name of the grape variety used in its production.
What Is Champagne?
Champagne has a fascinating history dating back to the 14th century. The Romans grew grapes for wine in the Champagne region much earlier than that, but they only used them to make still wines.
The Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon is often credited with creating the first sparkling Champagne wine in the 1600s. However, monks in this region were creating sparkling wines as early as 1531 by bottling them before the initial fermentation had finished. Later, people began adding sugar to the wine in the bottle in order to intentionally produce bubbles.
What Wine Is Considered Champagne?
There are three main requirements for a sparkling wine to be officially called Champagne. The wine must:
If your bottle says "Champagne" on it, the wine in it meets these criteria. (There is one exception: California Champagne is a label put on many sparkling wines from California, allowed because of a legal loophole.)
Method of Production
The méthode champenoise process is clearly outlined and legally regulated. It involves creating a base wine called cuvée, adding sugar and yeast, and allowing a second fermentation to occur in the bottle. After the bottle is aged, residual yeast called "lees" is frozen and removed, then more sugar is added.
Many high-quality sparkling wines are made with this same method, although if they are made outside of Champagne, France, the method is called méthode traditionelle.
What Is Prosecco?
Although there is a town in Italy called Prosecco, the sparkling wine is named after the Prosecco grape varietal, more officially known as Glera. The Glera grape grew in ancient Rome and was renowned for its fresh, aromatic qualities, making it ideal for sparkling wine. People credited wine made from these grapes with better health and longer lives.
What Wine Is Considered Prosecco?
While there are fewer requirements for a wine to be "officially" classed as Prosecco, most Proseccos come from the Veneto region of Italy. In fact, as of 2006 the Veneto region has a Prosecco DOC—Denominazione di Origine Controllata, meaning “controlled designation of origin.” Prosecco lacking this designation on the label is not guaranteed to be of high quality.
Prosecco generally costs less than Champagne. That's only partially due to marketing; differences in its production can significantly change the price.
Method of Production
Champagne's method of production, the méthode champenoise, is the slowest and most costly process for creating sparkling wine. Prosecco is produced using a much cheaper and more efficient process called the Charmat process, or metodo Italiano. Most people refer to this process simply as the "tank method."
The tank method is similar to the méthode champenoise in that producers create a base wine to which they add sugar and yeast. However, this sparkling wine spends its second fermentation in tanks rather than in bottles, making the process easier and less labor intensive. After the wine is cooled, clarified, and has sugar added, it is bottled and corked.
Because of the differences in production, Prosecco is best served young. That's in contrast to Champagne, which is often better after it has been aged.
Choosing the Right Champagne
When selecting a Champagne to suit your tastes, there are a few factors to consider:
- The grape varietals used in the cuvée
- The amount of sugar used
- The age
- The production region
Seven varietals are allowed in Champagne. A cuvée can be made from a single type of grape or a blend of these grapes:
- Pinot Noir
- Pinot Meunier
- Fromenteau (Pinot Gris)
- Pinot Blanc
- Petite Meslier
- Petite Arbanne
Most Champagnes are made with a blend of the first three grapes listed. The proportions, as well as the addition of any other varietals, alter the flavor. Blanc de blancs, Champagnes made with all white grapes, tend to have crisper fruit flavors, such as apple. Blanc de Noirs, Champagnes made with black grapes, have more berry notes. Rosé, everyone's favorite pink Champagne, is usually made by blending blanc with a bit of still red wine, and often tastes tart and fruity.
Champagne comes in varying levels of sweetness. The following terms identify how sweet a Champagne is, listed from driest to sweetest:
- Brut Nature
- Extra Brut
- Extra Dry
- Demi Sec
Older Champagnes tend to have a toasty, nutty, or cheesy flavor. This is due to the increased contact between the wine and the lees during the aging process. If you're looking for these flavors, select one from a Premier Cru or Grand Cru vineyard, as these locations have proven to produce high-quality grapes.
Choosing the Right Prosecco
Prosecco generally tastes and feels lighter and crisper than Champagne. You can often find tropical flavors with notes of fruit and cream. It's perfect for drinking on its own or as part of a brunch mimosa.
Prosecco comes in the following three sweetness levels, listed from dry to sweet:
Prosecco also comes in three levels of effervescence, called perlage:
- Tranquilo (this wine is still, with no bubbles)
Choose wines from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG region if you're looking for something special.
Now that you know what makes Champagne and Prosecco distinct, take a look at the exceptional selection of sparkling wines that JJ Buckley has to offer. If you want more help choosing the perfect bubbly for your next celebration, JJ Buckley is excited to offer one-on-one wine consultancy services. Contact us today to learn more.