Prosecco vs. Champagne: Differences & When to Use Each

Published January 17, 2022
Champagne Flutes On Table

Bubbles are an absolute delight to drink and an easy pairing from potato chips to oysters. While popping the top on your bottle of sparkling is an undoubtedly great sound, what's inside can very drastically. Understanding the differences in flavor profiles, production methods, and regions in prosecco and Champagne will help you to be a bit more discerning when reaching for your next glass of bubbly.

Where Do They Come From?

You know that classic Italy-France rivalry in the world of gastronomy? Prosecco vs. Champagne is an obvious matchup. But these two sparkling wines don't need to compete; they are both distinct in their own right, representing their countries terroir at its finest.

Prosecco

Prosecco is made in the northeastern corner of Italy, in the regions of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia, from the white grape variety, glera. There are two tiers of prosecco, labelled DOC and DOCG. Prosecco DOC is the lesser of the two as it comes from any vague area within the regions of Veneto and Friuli without discriminating vineyard sites or grape yields. Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOCG can only be labeled as such if it is grown between the two towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, where the vineyards are situated on steep, limestone rich hills.

Champagne

Champagne is from the region of Champagne, situated in the northeastern part of France. Chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier are the three primary grape varieties used to make Champagne. There is only one appellation in this region, Champagne AC. There are five sub-regions within the appellation that produce the majority of Champagne, and there are designated premier cru and grand cru villages within each of these sub-regions. Because of the northerly positioning, vineyards must combat cold winters, spring frosts, and significant amounts of rain; however, the cool climate produces berries with the desired racy acidity and low sugar needed for making this classic sparkling wine.

How Are They Made?

Both sparkling wines start off their primary fermentation in a similar fashion, but once it's time to get their bubbles, these two wines are a world apart.

Prosecco vs. Champagne production method infographic

Prosecco

Prosecco is made using what is known as the tank method or charmat. In this process, the grapes undergo fermentation in stainless steel tanks. Using an inert vessel like this helps to retain the floral aromas and fruity characteristics of the grape. Once the juice is converted to wine, it is moved to a sealed, pressurized tank in order to undergo secondary fermentation and become carbonated. The wine is then filtered to remove any yeast lees, a dosage is added, and it is bottled under pressure. Prosecco generally does not undergo malolactic fermentation (MLF) and it is not intended to be aged.

Champagne

Champagne is made using a much more time intensive technique called the traditional method or Méthode Champenoise. When the grapes are pressed, the first juice is referred to as the cuvée; the remainder is called the taille. The finest Champagne is made from only the cuvée. The primary fermentation can be done in either stainless steel or oak barrels. It is up to each individual winemaker whether they allow MLF to occur prior to the second fermentation.

Next, the wine is blended to achieve the desired style. Different grapes from different vineyards and even previous vintages can all be used to create a balanced base wine. Bottles are then filled with the base wine as well as liqueur de tirage, which is a combination of wine, sugar, yeast, and yeast nutrients. The wine is capped with a crown cap and undergoes the second fermentation in the bottle, where it traps the CO2 and becomes carbonated.

Over time, the dead yeast cells release chemical compounds which contribute classic Champagne notes of bread and biscuit. This process is known as yeast autolysis, and it helps preserve the wine for years to come. Once the wine has matured, the bottles are riddled and disgorged. This is a tedious process where the lees is moved into the neck of the bottle, frozen and then expelled. Finally, the Champagne receives a dosage to top it off. Then, it is corked and begins bottle aging.

Prosecco vs. Champagne: Flavor Profiles & Characteristics

Prosecco has fresh aromas of green apple, honeysuckle, and lemon rind, with notes of melon, tart apple and fresh cream. It is fresh, fruit forward and floral and tends to be slightly sweeter than Champagne. Because the second fermentation takes place in tanks, less pressure is created, resulting in larger, lazy bubbles.

Champagne has aromas of citrus fruits, white peach, and toast with notes of white cherry, almond, brioche, and roasted fruit. It is rich and complex from the contact with the lees. It also has more taught, rapid bubbles due to developing carbonation in bottle.

Prosecco vs. Champagne: Food Pairings

The relatively high acidity in each of these wines means they are both great with food. As prosecco is more fruity and floral, with a touch of sweetness, it is a classic pairing for prosciutto and melon and other salty and fruity appetizers. Because it can have a small amount of residual sugar, it is also a great pairing for Thai food and other similarly spiced dishes. Prosecco is also a key player in many cocktails, like the Aperol spritz.

The depth and texture of Champagne famously pairs well with oysters, shellfish and other raw, briny bites. It is also a great accompaniment to fried and fatty foods, like fried chicken, gougères, and potato chips. While these bubbles can be blended into a concoction, they really are a luxury on their own.

Price Point

Prosecco's price point aligns with the production method and is the less expensive of the two sparkling wines; a quality bottle of prosecco is around $15-$20. Champagne, on the other hand, is much more time intensive and costly to produce, therefore, you can expect to pay about $40-$45 for a quality, entry level bottle.

Choosing Your Bubbles

There's no real right or wrong choice here. Both prosecco and Champagne are lively, joyous gems. If you are looking for a bottle of bubbles for your next birthday party or an elevated afternoon at the beach, match your mood with the unique flavor profiles and go from there.

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Prosecco vs. Champagne: Differences & When to Use Each