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Prosecco vs. Champagne: What’s the Difference?

A neon pink sign reading 'Prosecco' at a bar.
Prosecco is a very popular sparkling wine. What makes it different from champagne? Photo by Kate Bezzubets on Unsplash.

Prosecco and Champagne. Two of the most popular and widely known sparkling wines on the market today. But what is really the difference between the two? Are they both fit for any occasion? Do they pair with the same foods? Which one should you buy if you really want to impress someone?

There are many nuances between the two drinks that separate them and many things that equally bring them together in similarity. These two wines are probably the most popular sparkling wines available on the market today, so it makes perfect sense that the two would be compared.

Prosecco

Prosecco is a sparkling wine that is grown across nine different districts of Italy- known colloquially as the Prosecco district. Prosecco itself is named after a small village in the province of Trieste, Italy. It can only be made in these particular regions to be considered prosecco. The popularity of prosecco has ballooned in recent years, skyrocketing from 150 million bottles in 2008, all the way to 600 million bottles in 2018.

A wine that is produced using the prosecco grape but is not in the prosecco region is known as Glera, and Glera is produced in multiple countries including Brazil, Romania, and Argentina.

Prosecco is produced using the Charmatt-Martinott method- which is the method used to ferment the grapes and achieve those classic bubbles that can be expected from the majority of proseccos (it is possible to find a still prosecco, but it is not very common).

The Charmatt-Martinott method has been used as early as 1895 and was pioneered by Federico Martinotti, an Italian, and progressed further by Eugène Charmat some 12 years later, hence the name.

This method of secondary fermentation takes place in large steel pressurized tanks for the wine to be mixed in. Sugar and yeast are added, and so the fermentation process can begin. Eventually, the sugar ferments and begins to bubble with carbon dioxide.

The longer that a wine is left to ferment, generally speaking, the higher the quality. Lower quality prosecco will be fermented for 30 days at a minimum, whereas higher quality will take up to 90 days. A longer period of fermentation will promise a wine with more prominent aromas and bubbles with more strength, that last longer.

This is when the yeast is extracted through a process of filtering, and the wine is bottled, ready to be sold, or stored. Some types of prosecco are not filtered, and as a consequence there is a small amount of residual yeast at the bottom of the bottle. This yeast will add more texture and flavor to a bottle, and is generally considered to be of a higher quality.

Proseccos that are made to be aged are reasonably rare- most are created to be consumed within three years. A high quality prosecco however can be aged longer, some will continue to improve for up to seven years.

What a prosecco tastes like depends a lot on the type of prosecco that you buy. It can vary in dryness quite considerably, covering the range of Brut, to Extra Dry, and Dry. These labels are assigned based on the amount of residual sugar in the bottle. If a bottle has equal to or less than 12 grams of sugar, it is counted as a Brut. Extra Dry will have 12-17 grams of residual sugar, and dry will hold 17-32 grams of residual sugar.

The most common level of dryness that is sold has for a long time been Extra Dry. In recent years however, there has been an uptick in the number of Brut’s that have found their way onto the market.

Most commonly, proseccos will have a crisp flavor palate, with flavors of peach, green pears, and yellow apples. The focus of proseccos is the primary aromas of the wine- usually they will be relatively simple, light, and fresh.

If you want to pair your prosecco with a dish, think of relatively light meals. Things like seafood will pair very well, certain types of asian food (but try to avoid anything very spicy). It will also go well with cured meats and certain types of cheese, making it a good choice for a chartreuse board. Typically outside of Italy it is considered more of an aperitif- not necessarily something to go with a main meal, but hor d’oeuvres instead.

Champagne

Despite the fact that Champagne has over the years become a colloquial term for any sparkling wine, a real bottle of Champagne must be grown in the Champagne province of France- it is actually illegal in some parts of Europe to mis-label a bottle as Champagne if it is not from this particular region.

This is because the process of making champagne is very particular. The method used for growing the grapes, the types of grapes used, specific methods of pressing the grapes, and specific vineyard practices. In short, the process of making Champagne is very carefully enforced in order to ensure that the wine retains its good name.

Champagne is produced using the Méthode Traditionnelle- roughly translating to the Traditional Method. Previously this was also known as Méthode Champenoise, or the Champagne Method, but this was changed in 1994. This method means that once the wine has been fermented once, the secondary fermentation happens when the wine is already bottled.

After being bottled, the wine is then fermented for upwards of a year and a half, some require a minimum three years. This amount of time allows the flavors and aromas to properly develop.

The flavors of champagne can vary greatly between vineyards because champagne is actually a blend of grapes (as opposed to a varietal). The types of grapes that are permitted to be used to make the wine are Arbane, Chardonnay, Petit Meslier, Pinot blanc, Pinot gris, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot noir.

However, the majority of champagne producers use only three types: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. If a red grape is being used then it is skinles, which avoids the color being transferred.

Usually a Champagne is made with a blend of all three of these grapes- but if you see ‘Blanc de Blanc’ on the bottle it means it has been made with only white grapes. Blanc de Noir means the opposite- that it has only been made with the red skinned grapes.

If a Champagne says ‘non-vintage’ on the bottle, it means that it is made from a blend of vintages. This blend aims to make the most complex wine that it can- but if the conditions of a year are extremely good then it will be made into a vintage. Commonly, a champagne will be a ‘Brut’, meaning that it is a very dry wine- although other levels of dryness can be found.

When pairing Champagne, it is actually surprisingly versatile. It will go as well with things like fried chicken as it will with oysters. It also pairs excellently with creamy things- from cheese to soup and pasta dishes. Try it with a seafood platter, and then try it with a mushroom dish. It will be equally as impressive each time.

What is the Difference Between Prosecco and Champagne?

There are actually quite a few marked differences between Prosecco and Champagne. Primarily, they are produced in different countries and from different grapes. Champagne is a blended wine whereas Prosecco is a varietal.

They also undergo their secondary fermentations in different ways. Prosecco is fermented in pressurized steel tanks, whereas Champagne is fermented in the bottle. Typically Prosecco will be from a single vintage, whereas up to 80% of champagne is produced as a mixed vintage.

Some things that they do have in common are that they are both typically very dry- with Prosecco being traditionally Extra Dry, and Champagne a little further down the scale at Brut. They are both named after a region and they both have rather strict rules about what can be labeled under their names.

Final Notes

Champagne and Prosecco are both types of sparkling wine. Perhaps because they are both the same type of wine, they are often confused as being one and the same, but that is not true. Learning about the nine types of wine is a great way for you to begin to expand on your wine knowledge and to understand quite how different two wines can be while still being the same type.

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