More often than not, Champagne is used as a catch-all word when referring to sparkling wine. When shopping for a bottle of bubbly it’s important to note that while Champagne is a sparkling wine, not all sparkling wines are Champagne. In fact, most are not.
Prosecco, another member of the sparkling wine family, has gained popularity in recent years as an inexpensive alternative to the pricey-but-delicious Champagne. But Champagne is not automatically superior to Prosecco just because it costs more and has a more famous name. They are both totally unique, and totally tasty.
Prosecco is not a second-class-citizen to Champagne. That cannot be stressed enough. That statement may be refuted by some, but it holds true when you consider that these wines are completely different in almost every way.
Yes, Champagne is very complex in its production and deserves to be as highly valued as it is. However, Prosecco has distinctive attributes that make it an asset to the vino marketplace in its own right. By understanding the history and creation process of both Prosecco and Champagne, a deeper appreciation for the individual value of each of these types of wines can be cultivated.
Differences Between Champagne and Prosecco
Let’s take a peek at the individual characteristics that set these two types of wines apart from each other.
Where Do They Come From?
Prosecco is produced in the Veneto region of Italy, just north of Venice. The first known sparkling bottle of Prosecco was produced by Carpenpè Malvolti in 1868.
Glera grapes are specifically used to make Prosecco. These grapes have been used since the ancient Romans to make wine. A bottle must contain at least 85% Glera in order to hold the name Prosecco. Other grapes that can be used are: Glera Lunga Verdiso, Perera, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio.
Champagne is first and foremost a region in northeastern France. In order for a bottle of sparkling wine to be considered Champagne, it must be from the Champagne region of France.
Very specific grapes are used to make Champagne. These grapes are: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The first known bottle of Champagne was made by Dom Pérignon in 1693, making it older than Prosecco.
How Are They Made?
Made with a double fermentation process, Prosecco has sugar and yeast added after the initial fermentation. The second fermentation occurs in large steel barrels during which time the wine goes from still to sparkling.
This large-batch secondary fermentation process requires less time and less hands-on work. Shorter fermentation and minimal labor means lower cost for the consumer.
This is where Champagne gets its high value and almost mystical reputation. Like Prosecco, Champagne also goes through a secondary fermentation process. However, the process of taking Champagne from a tart, still wine to the finely effervescent nectar we know and love requires much time and attention.
Yeast and sugar are introduced, just like with Prosecco, but rather than fermenting in big barrels, Champagne goes through its secondary fermentation in the bottle. This Method Champenoise (or, Traditional Method), takes a minimum of eighteen months and up to three years for a vintage bottle.
Part of the traditional method involves a process called riddling. The bottles are periodically turned over so that the dead yeast (also called lees) can collect in the neck of the bottle.
Once all the yeast has been collected and the bottle is ready, the neck of the bottle is frozen, and the dead yeast is removed through a culminating process called disgorgement.
What Do They Taste Like?
Prosecco wines are sweet, with light, lively bubbles and notes of tart green apple, pear, honeydew, cream and honeysuckle. The sprightly effervescence is due in large part to the shorter fermentation time.
Often described as having a cheesy flavor, Champagne has notes of toast, citrus, peach, cherry and almond. The bubbles are fine and lingering, meaning that they won’t burst in big, bright pops against your nose every time you go to take a sip.
What Food Do They Pair Well With?
Prosecco is a very versatile wine when it comes to food pairings. Due to the sweetness of the wine, Prosecco pairs well with cured meats, salty/sweet combinations like prosciutto-wrapped melon and creamy dishes like fettuccini alfredo or cheese-stuffed mushrooms.
Prosecco is also extremely pleasant to sip all on its own. Pop a bottle to enjoy on a warm summer day in the backyard or on a picnic.
The higher acidity and fine bubbles make this the perfect accompaniment to oysters or other raw bar items. Choose briny or fatty foods like pickled vegetables or fried appetizers. Some even swear by pairing buttery popcorn or sea salt and vinegar potato chips with a nice bottle of Champagne.
While Champagne can absolutely be enjoyed on its own, this wine is taken to the next level when paired with the right food.
What Do They Cost?
A good entry-level bottle starts at around $12 and goes up from there. This inviting price is what has caused this wine to gain traction in the market. Prosecco costs less to buy because it costs less to produce. It also doesn’t have the same name recognition or pop culture status that Champagne does, meaning no name-brand markup.
Expect to pay at least $40 for a bottle of Champagne. As you may well know, bottles of this notorious sparkling wine can run in the thousands, which is only in part due to the labor-intensive process used to make it. Over time Champagne has developed a higher perceived value than all other sparkling wines which has added to the price point.
Don’t be mistaken – it’s true that imbibing in a good bottle of Champagne is a next-level experience, just know that the word “Champagne” on the bottle doesn’t automatically mean it’s better than the more understated and humbler bottle of Prosecco sitting next to it.
By comparing these two wines, it is clear that they are, in the end, incomparable. They are each delectable in their own right. If looking specifically at the process of creation, then Champagne may win in terms of tender loving care taken by the winemakers, but that doesn’t mean that your taste buds will agree.
If you’re ready to dive deeper into the world of wine, do a tasting of both Prosecco and Champagne. Let your palate tell you what you like, and what the experiential differences between these two types of wines actually are.
Each deserves to be appreciated for exactly what they are individually. Bust down the perceived hierarchy of Champagne over Prosecco and, hey, why not give other sparkling wine varietals such as Cava or Crémant a try in the process? The world of sparkling wines is wide and rich. Have fun finding what tastes good to you. That’s what it’s all about in the end, right?