Sparkling wines historically have their moment of glory in December, as the holiday party season builds up to the biggest night of the year for bubbly toasts: New Year's Eve. And it's no wonder that traditionally, we hold onto our precious bottles of bubbly for these special celebratory occasions: champagne is too expensive for most of us to enjoy on a regular basis.
The growing popularity of the lower-priced Champagne alternative Prosecco indicates wine lovers are beginning to embrace sparkling wines all year round: prosecco sales grew by a third last year alone. Read on for everything you need to know about this bubby beverage.
Champagne vs. Prosecco: 5 Differences to Know
1. Regional Distinction
The first thing to know about Champagne is that is can only be labeled 'Champagne' if it's produced in the Champagne region of France. This is because the fine people behind Champagne have worked very hard to grow their quality and status as a luxury brand, not only building up the marketing cachet behind this iconic wine, but also regulating the grapes used and the production method of the region. Just as designer fashion brands won't allow mass-produced, low-quality garments and accessories to be stamped with a counterfeit designer label, the Champagne region has also protected the term 'Champagne' to prevent any random winery from cashing in on Champagne's status with an inferior product, which would hurt the reputation Champagne producers have successfully built over the past two centuries.
What about Prosecco? Just as Champagne is a specific place in France, Prosecco is a 'zone' in the Veneto region of Italy made up of nine provinces, and all grapes going into an 'official' Prosecco must be sourced from that area. You won't see an authentic Prosecco from anywhere else but the Veneto.
2. Grape Blends
Champagne uses three major grapes to make their wines: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. For prosecco, the primary grape variety used is called Glera although other grape varieties are legally allowed to constitute up to 15% of the finished wine (more on that later).
3. Production Method
Champagne and prosecco do have one thing in common: they both get their bubbles from being fermented twice. When grapes are fermented into wine, yeast eats the natural sugars. The two byproducts of this fermentation are alcohol and carbon dioxide. The first fermentation creates a still wine. Then, in both Prosecco and Champagne, the second fermentation happens in a pressurized container, so the extra carbon dioxide gets trapped inside the wine rather than getting released into the atmosphere and voila, bubbles!
What differentiates the two methods is that Champagne undergoes this second fermentation inside each individual bottle, while prosecco gets fermentation #2 inside a giant steel tank. The newly-sparkled wine is then bottled. That's called the Charmat method.
4. Price Difference
Most prosecco is significantly less expensive than Champagne. There are many reasons why, but the more industrial way that prosecco is made is a big part of that. Champagne is a much more painstaking process that is still mostly done by hand in an artisanal way. Think of the price difference between a hand sewn couture gown and one made in a factory; they both have their time and place, but the craft is different. For everyday drinking, prosecco is a delicious option. Most Champagne starts at $40 and up at your local wine store. You can get a fantastic bottle of prosecco for well under $20. Did somebody say mimosas?!
5. Flavor Profile
Champagne can have lots of complex flavors due to the chalky soil of the region, the oak barrels it's matured in, and the various types of grapes that go into the blend. Prosecco, on the other hand, is usually purely light, fresh, and fruity due to it's production method the puts the spotlight right on the grapes themselves. It's a fun wine to sip -- and it's the perfect choice when making mimosas, bellinis, spritzes, and other fun sparkling cocktails.
Now you're ready for the fun part -- tasting! Click through for our three great prosecco picks.