Mailbag Monday: Prosecco vs Champagne?

BW BubblesHi Alleigh—
Can you tell me where is prosecco made and how it differs from Champagne?

As you clearly already know, while Champagne and Prosecco are both sparkling wines, that is where most of their similarities end.  They are made in different areas of Europe, using different grapes, and through different methods of fermentation.

Prosecco is made in the Veneto and Friuli–Venezia Giulia regions of Italy.  Champagne is made in the Champagne region of France.

Prosecco is made from the Glera grape, which is an Italian white grape. Most Champagne, on the other hand, is blend of Chardonnay (a white grape), Pinot Noir (a red grape), and Pinot Meunier (a red grape) grapes, although there are a few other grapes varieties–like Petit Meslier, Arbanne, and Pinot Blanc–that are occasionally part of the blend.  The blends are usually 1/3 Chardonnay and 2/3 Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier.  Champagne that isn’t a blend is either 100% Chardonnay grapes and called Blanc de Blancs or 100% Pinot Noir grapes and called Blanc de Noirs.

Bubbly closeup Happy New YearMethods of Fermentation
Both Prosecco and Champagne go through a secondary fermentation process, however, the methods that are used are different.

The Charmat process is used in making Prosecco.  This means that after the wine goes through its primary fermentation, it is transferred to stainless steel tanks and covered with a porcelain enamel so that it can undergo a secondary fermentation.  It is during the secondary fermentation process that the bubbles form.  After the secondary fermentation process takes place, the sparkling wine is bottled under pressure to keep the bubbles in tact.  Wine that has undergone a full secondary fermentation before being bottled is considered full sparkling and is referred to as “spumante.”  Wine that has undergone a partial secondary fermentation is lightly sparkling and is referred to as “fizzante.”

Champagne, on the other hand, is made using Méthode Champenoise.  This means that after the primary fermentation, the wine is put in bottles, along with a mixture of sugar and yeast, and then capped.  The mixture starts the secondary fermentation, which takes place in the bottle itself.  Again, it’s during this secondary fermentation that the bubbles form.  This secondary fermentation and aging process takes place for minimum of 1 1/2 years before the wine undergoes riddling or remuage.  Riddling is an 8-10 week process of giving the bottle a slight shake and turn every two days until the bottle is straight down and the dead yeast (known as the lees) are settled in the neck.  Many Champagne houses still do manual riddling, although there is a machine called a gyropalette that can be used instead.  Once the riddling is complete, the lees are removed from the bottle using a process called disgorging, and then the liquid level is topped off with liqueur d’expedition (a mixture of the base wine, sugar, and a preservative) in a practice known as dosage, before a cork is inserted into the bottle and the wire cage is placed on top of the cork to secure it in place.

Ultimately, the different regions, grapes, and fermentation methods create very different tasting sparkling wines.  Using the steel tanks for secondary fermentation gives the Prosecco lighter, fruitier characteristics, while aging the Champagne in the bottle over less creates more subtle, biscuity characteristics.  That said, they both can be delicious, so don’t let the differences keep you from enjoying them both!

Happy New Year Toast

Question of the Day: Are you a sparkling wine drinker?  Do you prefer have a favorite type (Cava, Champagne, Prosecco, etc.)?

Thanks for emailing!  Cheers–

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