Prosecco, Cava and Champagne can be easily confused. They’re all sparkling wines after all. So what’s the difference? What makes Prosecco a Prosecco and not Champagne? What’s the difference between Champagne and Cava? Let’s find out in this handy guide, starting with the mother of all sparkling wines…
What is Champagne?
For a sparkling wine to legally be called Champagne, it must be made in the Champagne region of northeastern France.
There are only three grape varieties allowed in Champagne: pinot noir, meunier and chardonnay grapes.
Champagne is made via a process called “méthode champenoise”. This involves a two-step fermentation process including in-bottle fermentation.
First of all, the grape juices are blended and fermented. The wine is bottled to trap carbon dioxide and bubbles are formed. Once in the bottle, yeast and sugar are added and the wine is fermented a second time. During this second fermentation, the wine is in contact with the lees –the dead yeast cells left behind once fermentation is finished. This second fermentation allows the right amount of carbonation to form and flavours to develop. Following this, the wines are disgorged to coax yeast and sediments out of the bottle.
Now the ageing process can begin. Of all these sparkling wine, Champagne ages the longest – a minimum of fifteen months to obtain the best aromas and flavours. In practice, most Champagnes are aged for longer, ranging anywhere from two to ten years.
Champagne is by far the most expensive of the three types of sparkling wine. This is due to a number of factors including a lengthier and more costly production process. We also cannot forget the strong name recognition and global demand for Champagne which further inflates the price.
While Champagnes can taste and smell like many different things, there are some commonalities. Due to a lengthy ageing process, Champagne is generally rich and complex with notes of yeast, biscuit and brioche. Compared to prosecco and cava, Champagne’s bubbles tend to be finer and more persistent, because it’s produced using higher pressure.
While Champagne is often drunk alone as an apéritif, it’s incredibly versatile for pairing. Champagne famously works well with oysters, caviar and almost any type of seafood. But did you know it tastes fantastic with french fries and fried chicken? The acidity of the champagne cuts through the grease and fat, cleansing the palate with every sip. Champagne is also a winner with fruit-based desserts like strawberry tarts, crêpes and buttery shortbread biscuits.
France is by far the top country for Champagne consumption. In 2021, it’s estimated that France will consume 102,2 million litres of Champagne, followed by the United Kingdom in second place with 22,6 million litres.
What is Cava?
Over 95% of Cava comes from the Penedès area of Catalonia in northeastern Spain. In fact, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia in the Penedès is known as the “Capital of Cava”.
Traditionally, Cava is made from xarello, macabeo and parellada grapes, but some may contain pinot noir and chardonnay.
Champagne and Cava undergo an almost identical fermentation process.
Just like Champagne, Cava undergoes a double fermentation process. In Spain, this is known as “el método tradicional” as only winemakers in Champagne may legally label their products méthode Champenoise.
Differences between Cava and Champagne appear in the ageing process. Whereas we saw that the minimum ageing period for Champagne is 15 months, cava must only be aged for a minimum of 9 months, although it can be longer. Cava reserva ages for 15 months and a gran reserva 36 months.
Cava is generally much cheaper than Champagne. While Cava’s production process is almost identical to that of Champagne, its shorter ageing time makes it more affordable. Cava is also more reasonably priced because the process of tirage, rotating and tipping the bottles during the secondary fermentation, has been mechanised. In France, this process is often still done by hand, which increases the price. As Cava is made in the same way as Champagne, it’s a budget-friendly choice when you fancy Champagne but don’t want to spend upwards of £40 a bottle.
Even the most basic Cava spends nine months ageing on the lees, meaning that it will likely have more non-fruit flavours and minerality than a prosecco. Like Champagne, cava has fine and persistent bubbles but is often lighter in style. Cava usually hits you with balanced citrus notes and hints of pear.
Cava works perfectly with Spanish tapas and is ideal for picnics. Great combinations include Manchego cheese, olives, almonds, crisps, and cold cuts of cured meat.
In 2019, the top foreign market for Cava was Germany, followed by Belgium, the US and the UK.
What is Prosecco?
While Champagne and Cava are made in an incredibly similar way, Prosecco deviates a bit from the formula.
Prosecco is mainly made from the glera grape, which used to be called the prosecco grape. 15% of the volume can also be made from other grapes like pinot grigio, chardonnay and verdiso.
In contrast to both Cava and Champagne, Prosecco is generally made using a bulk method called Charmat. In the first step, grape juices are blended and fermented just like in Cava and Champagne production. It’s during the second fermentation that the process differs. In Prosecco production, the second fermentation is carried out in a large pressurized steel tank. The Prosecco is then filtered to remove any impurities before bottling.
Wines using this Charmat Method are designed to be drunk young.
As you can see, without any minimum ageing requirements, the Charmat Method is faster and cheaper than the processes used to make Champagne and Cava. As a result, Prosecco is often the cheapest of these three sparkling wines.
Prosecco is made using less pressure than Cava and Champagne and so it often has bigger and less persistent bubbles. Because it doesn’t spend time in contact with the lees, Prosecco tends to have a lighter, less yeasty taste. Prosecco usually has a simpler, often sweeter, and more fruit-driven flavour profile with flavours of apple, pear, lemons and even tropical fruit. It also tends to have a very floral and even soapy aroma.
Prosecco generally pairs well with Asian dishes like sushi and pad Thai, cured meats, cheese, stuffed mushrooms, popcorn and almonds. Prosecco is also a fantastic base for party cocktails.
Nowadays Prosecco is the world’s best-selling sparkling wine. It will probably come as no surprise to any Brit that the UK is the country that consumes the most Prosecco. In fact, 36% of the world’s Prosecco is consumed in the UK – that’s approximately 131 million bottles per year.
So, What’s the Difference between Prosecco, Cava and Champagne?
As we’ve seen, while all are sparkling wines there are key differences between their origins, grapes used and production processes. All of this of course translates to differences in price and taste.
Whatever your sparkling wine of choice, Drinks&Co have a drink for you. Discover your favourite today on our website.