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Prosecco vs Champagne vs Sparkling Wine & More: Key Differences


Prosecco vs champagne – what’s the difference? What about other sparkling wines, such as asti, brut, or cava? This post explains these wines in detail.

In our lifetimes, we get plenty of reasons to celebrate, from personal achievements to promotions at work to holidays and special dates.

And, of course, it’s common to celebrate anything, from a pregnancy to a Formula 1 victory, by popping a bottle of champagne… or sparkling wine… or maybe prosecco. 

What is the difference?

Let’s talk about the difference between champagne, prosecco, sparkling wine, and more:

Difference Between Champagne and Sparkling Wine

Any champagne is a sparkling wine; however, not every sparkling wine is champagne. Sounds contradictory? 

Frankly, it’s much easier than it sounds.

Real champagne is a sparkling wine that is produced solely in the wine region Champagne in France. In Europe, the name “champagne” is legally reserved for wines exclusively from that region. However, as the first sparkling wine comes from the Champagne region, as well as the most well-known brands, such as Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot, the word became a household name for all sparkling wines. 

glasses of Moët & Chandon champagne vs prosecco
Several glasses of Moët & Chandon champagne. Taken by D. Cook via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

The standard Kleenex tissue situation, right?

Nonetheless, even though champagne is produced in France, there are plenty of types of sparkling wine from other regions and countries that are also worth mentioning in this article: cava, prosecco, spumante… 

Sound familiar?

The difference between prosecco, cava, and champagne will be explained shortly, as well.

But first, let’s talk about what exactly sparkling wine is, its history, and how those bubbles are produced. 

The Essence of Sparkling Wine in a Nutshell

The difference between sparkling wine and a flat wine occurs due to the significant level of carbon dioxide emerging during the secondary fermentation of the wine. To make that possible, a special solution of wine, sugar, and yeast called liqueur de tirage is added to still wine.

There are a few methods to make sparkling wine, among them the traditional method, which is also called the Champagne method, the tank method, carbonation, and the ancestral method.  

Here goes the heavy stuff, but we’ll try to make it as easy as possible.

In the traditional method, the liqueur de tirage is added to the bottle in which the wine will be purchased later, so the secondary fermentation takes place there, as well. In the tank method, also known as the Charmat method, the mixture is added to a pressurized tank of wine, which makes this method less exclusive, and, therefore, cheaper. Carbonated sparkling wine does not go through the secondary fermentation and carbon dioxide is added artificially, the same as when a bottle of Pepsi is produced. 

The ancestral method, as the name suggests, is the oldest way to produce sparkling wine, in which the wine is poured into bottles even before the first fermentation is over, where it goes through the second stage. That is exactly what happened the first time humans discovered sparkling wine.

Prosecco vs Champagne vs Sparkling Wine what are the differences
Is this a Crémant? A Sekt? A brut? A prosecco? Hard to tell! Taken by M. Maldonado-Turner via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

The History of Sparkling Wine

Like many great inventions, wine with bubbles was first created accidentally, and, for some time, it was thought to be a fault in production, not a desirable treat. In the 15th century, it has been produced intentionally in some vineyards in the French region Limoux, however, winemakers usually did not want to deal with sparkling wine. It was considered to be a dangerous process, because, in many cases, barrels which were not strong enough would explode in the cellars, going as far sometimes as to even trigger a chain reaction!

The sparkling wine found its first fans in England, at the beginning of the 1600s, where the large barrels where shipped. The English manufacturers of glass also came up with a way to make stronger bottles that would withstand the pressure, making the sparkling wine a much safer drink to store.

The first time the process of making sparkling wine was described was also in England – in 1662, a scientist named Christopher Merrett presented a paper on “how to put the fizz into sparkling wine.” He described how English winemakers add sugar to the wine to create the bubbles. 

And, of course, we have to mention Dom Pérignon – a monk and a cellar master in a Benedictine abbey. Even though he did not discover a sparkling wine himself, as many tend to believe, he invented many improvements to the process of winemaking that are still in use today. 

Sparkling Wine in Different Countries

As we have mentioned before, champagne is the sparkling wine that comes solely from the Champagne region in France, but it would be a crime not to mention other great sparkling wines!

One of the most popular ones right now, prosecco, comes from Italian regions Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia, and it is named after the village of Prosecco. While champagne is usually made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, and Pinot Blanc grapes, Glera grapes are used for the production of prosecco. It is usually made with the Charmat method, which makes it less expensive.

Asti is another Italian wine, originating from the wineries near the Italian towns Asti and Alba. Similar to prosecco, it is produced with the Charmat method, using Moscato Bianco grapes.

The most popular sparkling wine coming from Spain is cava, which can be either white or rosé and comes from the Penedès region in Catalonia. This wine is produced with the ancestral method using Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel·lo grapes.

So what is the difference between champagne, cava, prosecco, and asti? To sum it up, there are three main factors: the region of production (and the country of origin, of course), the type of grapes that are used, and the method of production itself.

Thanks for reading! Hopefully, you found this article interesting and useful, whether you’re a trivia hero or sparkling wine lover! If you are not into the hard stuff, check out some other articles from our What’s the difference category:

Written by
Mariia Kislitsyna
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