If you’ve ever walked into a wine and liquor store and felt overwhelmed entirely, well, you’re not alone. The alcohol selection that lines the shelves at grocery stores, specialty shops, and even convenience stores is immensely vast and can be quite confusing to navigate.
One small sliver of the alcohol category that has garnered questions for a long time is the sparkling wines category. You’ve heard of champagne, but there are numerous types of sparkling wine available from around the world. The other popular choice is prosecco and there are distinct differences between each type. This article will give an in-depth explanation of what the difference between champagne and prosecco is.
What is Champagne?
The primary important piece of information you should know about champagne is that only true Champagne comes from the Champagne region of France.
What makes champagne unique is that the soil where the grapes are grown in this region (90 miles northeast of Paris) contains large amounts of chalk and limestone. You may be asking why this matters, well, grapes grown there are able to ripen with high acidity and lower alcohol levels, which are both crucial components for great sparkling wine.
Unlike other sparkling wines, champagne must be made under regulations in order to maintain such a high standard of quality for the product. There are several important aspects that champagne producers must adhere to:
- There are three permitted types of grapes used in the production of champagne — chardonnay, pinot noir, and Pinot Meunier.
- The Traditional Method (Méthode Champenoise) of production is another important aspect that makes champagne unique. Key steps in this process include:
- Creating a base wine is the initial step, but because the grapes are picked earlier in the season, the wine has more tartness than other still wines. After this first fermentation process, the champagne is still (no bubbles yet).
- The next step is to add the sugar and yeast. This is the step that adds carbonation to the champagne because the yeast will eat the sugars and release carbon dioxide (bubbles).
- There are two methods of aging the champagne once it is carbonated — lees and riddling.
Lees are dead yeast cells and if they are left in the bottle or tank of fermented wine, it will provide a much richer taste. French law requires at least 15 months of aging for non-vintage champagne, and at least 36 for a vintage-dated wine.
Riddling is the process of rotating sparkling wine upside down over time, which eventually collects all the dead yeast cells in the neck of the bottle.
Once the yeast sediment has collected at the bottom (top), the neck of the bottle is then flash frozen in liquid nitrogen. During disgorging, the cap is then popped off and the CO2 pressure forces the frozen lees right out of the bottle.
- Dosage is the additional champagne that is added to the bottle after disgorging. This is to replace the champagne that was lost with the removal of the lees. This additional champagne also contains a measured amount of sugar to determine the desired sweetness.
- After re-corking and fitting of a wire cage, the bottle must rest for some additional time before being sold.
What is prosecco wine?
Like champagne, prosecco is named after the Italian village of Prosecco near Trieste. Fynes Moryson was the first person to document prosecco, and in his writings, he lists Prosecho (prosecco) as one of the most famous wines of Italy. Such a bold claim comes with a great deal of legacy to live up to.
What makes prosecco different from other types of sparkling wines are the grapes that are used and the production method. We’ll take a little closer look at what kind of wine is prosecco and what makes it unique.
What makes prosecco unique?
The Glera grape is the main type that is to be used (85% or more in each bottle produced). Two fun facts about the Glera grape are that until 2009 it was called the prosecco grape and it ranks 13th in the importance among Italy’s approximate 2,000 grape varieties.
The origins of this grape are believed to be from Slovenia’s Karst region. There are three different types of authentic prosecco: one controlled designation of origins (DOC) and two controlled designations — of origin and guarantee (DOCG).
- DOC — produced in nine provinces spanning Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions.
- Prosecco DOCG comes in two forms and this distinction means that the producers followed the strictest of guidelines to ensure the quality of the product.
- Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG can only be made in Veneto province (on the hills between the towns Conegliano and Valdobbiadene).
- Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG is produced near the town of Asolo.
Different from champagne, prosecco is typically produced using the Charmat-Martinotti method. Unlike the setup to ferment the wine in each bottle separately, prosecco DOC’s production involves giant stainless tanks that house the wine for the second fermentation step.
However, the rules for both DOCG’s allow the traditional method (as used for champagne) to be used where the secondary fermentation step occurs in the bottle.
Now, that we have established what each type of sparkling wine is exactly, let’s look at the key differences of champagne vs prosecco.
Champagne vs prosecco: the differences
- Length of aging
Champagne is aged much longer and gets better with time. Prosecco should be enjoyed when it is young.
- Taste palate
Because champagne has much more contact with the yeast (separate bottles and time) than prosecco does in the tank, the primary tastes of champagne are citrus, peach, white cherry, almond, and toast. Prosecco embodies the flavors of honeydew melon, pear, green apple, honeysuckle, and cream.
Prosecco is produced under much less pressure, which causes the bubbles to be much lighter, frothy, and less persistent. Champagne, on the other hand, is produced in individual bottles, under immense pressure — the bubbles that are produced are fine, very persistent and sharp.
- Food pairings
Champagne very dry (little sugar) and high in acidity due to the cooler region where the grapes are grown — should be paired with shellfish, raw bar, pickled vegetables, and crispy/fried appetizers.
Prosecco is sweeter and less acidic — should be paired with cured meats, fruity appetizers, Asian dishes, and sushi.
Due to the time-consuming, detailed process by which champagne is produced, the price is going to be much higher than that of prosecco. The large tanks used allow producers to produce on a larger scale, easier. Because of these reasons, prosecco is going to be much less expensive than champagne.
While each drink has a special place in the world of alcohol, there can be no definitive winner in the prosecco vs champagne question. Each has many strengths, but we can bet that you will think about prosecco a little more often now that you know what it pairs with, the flavor, and the price.
Treat yourself with prosecco when that next occasion arises where popping a bottle of bubbly is justified. We at Zonin family invite you to try our Prosecco the next time you’re hosting a mimosa brunch or celebrating that special life milestone.