You’ve likely scratched your head in the supermarket looking at sparkling Wine. “Now do I want Champagne, Prosecco or Cava; Heck, whats the difference?”
And it’s a reasonable question, hence why we’ve decided to create this blog post and dispel some myths.
Where’s It Grown and Whats The Difference?
Champagne: as you likely know is an area located at the east of France, close to Belgium. Producing grapes in a surprisingly cold region, with average temperatures reaching 10 °C.
Champagne has a rich chalk content left behind in the soil from ancient oceans. The chalk absorbs a lot of the heat from the sun and gently releases it back into the soil throughout the night. It’s believed that the soil is responsible for the finesse and lightness, that is characteristic of Champagne.
Prosecco: on the other hand, is produced in a much warmer area of the world in an Italian village, a stone’s throw away from Venice. Temperatures reach an average of 15°C here allowing for a more fruitful harvest.
The grapes are grown in a mixture of sandstone, marl and clay; which are aptly suited for their main grape vine Glera. Although being the primary grape for Prosecco, it’s surprising that the vine ranks only 13th in importance out of the 2,000 somewhat other varieties in Italy.
Lastly Cava: unlike Champagne and Prosecco, doesn’t have one region producing the sparkling wine. The main region the grape variety is grown is called Catalonia, an area of Spain holding the likes of Barcelona within it.
On the other hand, you have regions such as Extremadura, that border Portugal also producing Cava sparkling wine. However Spanish law dictates that true Cava, must be produced in the Catalonia region.
Cava is produced in the warmest area, with temperatures averaging 19°C. The soil type is a mixture containing calcareous sediments, with alluvium and clay.
Cava is surprisingly closer to tasting like Champagne vs Prosecco. This is believed to be due to how they make it (more on that later).
What Grapes Are Used?
Champagne is known for it’s heavy use of Chardonnay, which is accredited with flavours of dry whites, with rich citrus (think lemon).
The next grape it uses is Pinot Noir, a darker grape that offers a variety of flavours that can confuse a lot of connoisseurs. It tastes most closely to that of fruit, such as cherries and raspberries.
Pinot Meunier, is the last of the Champagne class, producing a very dark grape and is the main ingredient that gives pink champagne it’s colour. Pinot Meunier produces a more acidic taste, which results in an initial sharp hit to the palette.
Now Prosecco relies just on one grape to produce it’s wine called (as you may remember) Glera, however it does use up to 15% of the following grape varities to compliment it’s taste : Chardonnay, Verdiso, Perera, Pinot Nero, Glera lunga, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco.
Prosecco also has it’s own version of “Pink Champagne”, it should be noted that pink Prosecco has to have dyes added to it or relies on the Champagne grapes to produce it’s colour.
So if you’re a die hard wine fan, be warned that you’re probably paying extra for something no different from normal Prosecco.
The primary grape they use in Cava is Macabeu, also relying on Parellada, Xarel-lo and sometimes Chardonay, Pinot Noir, Garnacha and Monastrell (but the last varieties take less importance.)
Macabeu, is similar in taste to Chardonnay offering a citrus’s flavour of lemon and a bitter aftertaste. Parellada adds the taste of apples and a bouquet of citrus, with Xarel-lo delivering the flavour of dried fruit and vegetable like notes.
Unlike Prosecco, you can actually make a true “pink champagne”, blending the likes of Garnacha which adds a Strawberry flavour to the drink, Monastrell for its pink tones and peachy floral notes.
How’s It Fermented?
Champagne being the first of the sparkling Wine variety (created by French Benedictine monk), uses the methods of the 1700’s to create the unique taste that is highly sought after. This method is called Méthode Champenoise (Cava uses The Traditional Method, which is exactly the same).
Méthode Champenoise involves 2 fermentation’s, first in a barrel and second within the bottle itself. The second fermentation involves adding yeasts and sugar to the liquid.
The second fermentation is what gives Champagne it’s fizzyness. The leftover yeast then has to be removed by turning the bottles upside down, and freezing the yeast in the neck of the bottle.
The Champagne is cracked open and the frozen yeast is removed, the bottle is then topped up with more Champagne and a cork is placed inside. Sometimes the yeast is left in the bottle for up to and over 15 months to give the Champagne more character.
Now Prosecco uses a method called The Charmat method. This method still uses 2 fermentation processes and it’s within the second fermentation that the processes differ.
The Charmat method instead of leaving the sparkling wine in a bottle uses huge reinforced steel barrels, yeast and sugar is still added but the yeast is slowly removed in an ongoing process. By following this system, Prosecco can be made faster and cheaper than Champagne and Cava.
Again Cava uses The Traditional Method, which is exactly the same method that produces Champagne. It requires more skill, time and demands a higher quality of grapes.
Which Is The Best?
Well it’s not an easy question to answer; If asked “what is a good Sparkling Wine” we’d respond with “One that you enjoy”. But if you base it off the production method, minerals in the soil and type of grapes used. It’s clear that most peoples favourites will be Champagne.
The next question is Prosecco or Cava? To be perfectly honest we dislike Prosecco, we think it’s cheaply made and the taste doesn’t last long on the pallet. We personally believe that Cava is the next runner up to Champagne. But the choice is up to you.