In the first week of June some devastating news hit the press, something that could have changed the drinking habits of millions of people around the world… The world was running out of Prosecco!
Two months on from this impending doom there still seems to be enough of the stuff about to quench the nation’s thirst, and the recent announcement that Prosecco has outsold Champagne for the first time raised the question: “what is the difference between Prosecco and Champagne?”
They are made in different places.
Prosecco hails from the Veneto region of Italy which is about 15 miles north of Venice. Champagne is made in the northeast of France around the city of Reims, about 80 miles northeast of Paris. Both these regions have a long history of wine making going back to Roman times. Champagne is widely considered the birthplace of sparkling wine and their wines have a real sense of place, meaning they cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. Over the years the term ‘Champagne’ has been used as a brand name across the world for all sparkling wine, but legally only sparkling wine from Champagne can use the term. The Prosecco name is protected in much the same way as Champagne and, due to its recent popularity, it too is wrongly used as a term for all sparkling wines.
They are made from different grapes.
Like most wine regions of Europe the grape varieties allowed in both Prosecco and Champagne are set by their governing bodies to preserve both the quality and authenticity of the region’s wine. For the production of Champagne there are seven permitted varieties allowed, but only three are commonly used. They are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. For the production of Prosecco the grape Glera (formally known as Prosecco) must make up at least 85% of the blend. The remaining 15% can be made up of Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera , Glera Lunga, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco or Pinot Noir.
The Method of Production is different
Champagne is made using a process known as the Méthode Traditionelle. In this process a blend of wines from either a single year (vintage) or from many different years (non-vintage) go through a second fermentation in the bottle which makes the wine fizz. The wine spends a minimum of 15 months for non-vintage and 36 months for vintage Champagne resting on its lees (dead yeast) before the lees are removed and the Champagne is ready to drink. Prosecco, which is nearly always non-vintage, goes through a process known as the Charmat method (also known as The Tank method). Here the secondary fermentation happens in large stainless steel tanks before being bottled therefore spending no further time on its lees. This method is much less labour intensive and much cheaper to produce. To confuse matters more, some Prosecco from DOCG Prosecco Valdobbiadene also use the Méthode Traditionelle.
Because Prosecco and Champagne are made in different places, from different grapes and in different ways they taste very different as well. Prosecco is generally very light and delicate without much complexity. They will have flavours of green apples and pears, citrus and sometimes a floral note. In contrast, Champagne has much more richness and complexity due to the fact that the wine has been ageing on its lees for at least 15 months. This process adds flavours of toasted brioche, freshly baked bread and biscuity notes as well as the fresh fruit flavours from the wine. Depending on the blend of grapes used there can be notes of citrus, stone fruits, apples, pears, raspberry, honey, cherry and a whole lot more besides.
Due to its labour intensive production method and quality, Champagne has long been considered a luxury drink with prices to match. For a decent quality Champagne prices should start around £20 which can rise to thousands of pounds. Prosecco is considered a more affordable, approachable option when it come to sparkling wine. You can pick some examples very cheap but for decent quality bottle, expect to pay anything from £8 to £20.
At the end of the day both Prosecco and Champagne are meant to be fun and exciting wines that seem to be obligatory at any celebration or gathering. Prosecco is definitely more affordable than Champagne and, when made well, can be very good, but we would argue that only Champagne can be brilliant. We will, however, keep on trying the Italian bubbly to find the Prosecco that will prove us wrong.