By Paris Wolfe
In the big bubble battle, Champagne and Prosecco have one thing in common – bubbles. Despite their shared romantic allure, the signature sparklers from France and Italy are completely different. Different grapes grown in different terroir and winemakers use different methods to make them sparkle.
Champagne, considered the ultimate wine by many, is made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. These must be grown in Champagne, a region about 100 miles northeast of Paris. Grown in cooler climates, Champagne’s grapes root in chalk-dominated soil and barely reach ripeness by harvest. The conditions that compose Champagne’s terroir give the beverage its backbone acidity.
Champagne is made in the labor-intensive traditional method or méthode champenois. So, after an initial fermentation still wine is put in a capped bottle to go through a second fermentation. Put simply, during this year-plus period the wine develops bubbles and becomes more complex in flavor. After secondary fermentation, the yeast is removed, and the wine may receive a dosage of sugar and/or wine.
Meanwhile, Prosecco is made from Glera grapes grown in the Veneto region of Italy. These grapevines are trellised differently and produce more grapes than their Champagne cousins. Just north of Venice, the vineyards are much further south than Champagne. The grapes are grown in soil with a silty-clay texture. The grape and the terroir make a still wine that differs greatly from Champagne, both before and after bubbles.
Prosecco is made using the tank method or in Charmat style. After the still wine is fermented in a stainless-steel tank, a secondary fermentation is started in the tank. When adequate bubbles form, Prosecco is pumped into bottles, corked and readied for sale. Unlike Champagne, Prosecco spends little time acquiring character from spent yeast.
Given lower grape yields and production complexity, Champagne is pricier than Prosecco, and usually is considered superior. Prosecco is considered more approachable in character and price, and thus better for everyday drinking.
Brandon Chrostowski, founder, CEO and president of EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute and a certified sommelier says, “I wouldn’t compare them. The tradition and the grapes used, the blending process and the method are totally different. They’re apples and oranges. Both bubble. That’s the only similarity, the rest is completely different.”
“Prosecco is fun. It’s celebratory. There’s nothing wrong with having it for New Year’s Eve,” he says. “Champagne is its own thing. If I have to buy one bottle it would be the Champagne.”
Choosing a superior beverage is impossible, says Marianne Frantz, founder of the Cleveland- and Chicago-based American Wine School. “That said, there are occasions where I would select a Champagne over Prosecco or vice versa. Champagne is higher in acid and higher in price making it a great choice for small gatherings or special occasions.
“Prosecco is often off-dry with a bit less acid and much lower price tag making it a great option for larger gatherings and fun cocktails for every-day, budget-minded events. If you find yourself somewhere in the middle, try a Prosecco Superiore. It offers more concentration of fruit for just a few dollars more.”
At Cru Uncorked in Moreland Hills, selections favor Champagne. “Given our distinctly Francophile leanings, we see champagne as not only a pure and ethereal delight but a reason in and of itself,” says Chris Oppewall, president.
“Italian sparkling finds Franciacorta to be most similar to champagne and Prosecco is usually a little lighter in both bubbles and wine richness,” he notes. “The acid can be less aggressive in Prosecco as well. In terms of our wine list, we can hit the style of Prosecco easily with lighter domestic sparkling, light French still white wines and mixed drinks. However, we have sold Prosecco at some of our wine events.”
When it comes to holiday brunch and the classic mimosa, Frantz says, “The high acid in Champagne cuts through the sweetness of orange juice making it a sure bet. And Prosecco is easier on the budget (and just as yummy) when serving a crowd.”
Oppewall agrees, and notes that Prosecco might go better with the sweetness of peach nectar in a Bellini.
Either beverage pairs with holiday dinner. “Personally, I can pair bubbles with just about any dish,” says Frantz. “There are so many styles to choose from: Dry, off-dry, sweet, and rose. Classic pairings include oysters or caviar, but French fries and pizza are also great.
“Not just an aperitif, bubbly wine goes well with fish dishes and even lean meats making it a very versatile wine. This holiday season, consider hosting a three- or four-course dinner each paired with a different sparkling wine. It’s memorable, educational, and festive.”
Enjoy a glass of bubbly Champagne or Prosecco this holiday season
By Paris Wolfe