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Prosecco vs. Champagne: What’s the difference?

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Have you ever been reprimanded by a snooty sommelier or wine snob for referring to prosecco as Champagne, and you weren’t sure why? It was because while prosecco and Champagne both have bubbles, that’s just about all these sparkling wines have in common.

Here are five major differences between the two:

They’re from different places: Prosecco hails from the Veneto region in northeast Italy, and Champagne comes from the Champagne region in northeast France. With the extensive history of winemaking in the Old World, these regions take great pride in their terroir – the climate and soil where their grapes are grown. Champagne is considered the birthplace of sparkling wine, and its growers consider Champagne a “wine of place” that cannot be reproduced anywhere else in the world. Over the years the Champagne name has been used indiscriminately for marketing purposes, and Champagne’s governing body has sued brands such as Perrier, Yves Saint Laurent and Miller beer over its use. So you see, all Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne.

They are made from different grapes: Grapes used in the production of both Champagne and prosecco are set by their region’s respective governing bodies to ensure the quality and authenticity of the region’s wines. There are three main grapes allowed in the production of Champagne: chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. Prosecco is produced primarily from the prosecco or glera grape, which is native to the Veneto region of Italy.

They’re made in different ways: Champagne is made using a time and labor intensive process known as the Méthode Traditionelle, also called Méthode Champenoise. This method requires that the wine’s secondary fermentation (how it gets its bubbles) take place in the same bottle it will be served from. Prosecco’s secondary fermentation takes place in a stainless steel tank, a process known as the Charmat method. The wine is not bottled until the secondary fermentation is complete, making it a more cost-effective method that results in a more affordable price for the consumer.

They have different flavor profiles. Prosecco is generally characterized by notes of green apples, citrus and white flowers that are usually light and delicate and not exceedingly complex. Some prosecco even borders on sweet, or what’s known as off-dry. Champagne, on the other hand, has added complexity, due in part to additional time spent in contact with dead yeast cells during secondary fermentation. These yeast cells give it a toasted brioche, yeasty bread dough or biscuit taste, in addition to fruit and other flavors, which can vary depending on the proportion of grapes used and can include – but is not limited to – citrus, apple, peach, honey, white flowers, cherry and raspberry.

They represent different price points: In addition to pairing wine with food, you should also pair the wine with the occasion. Prosecco is an affordable sparkling wine that is an excellent everyday option. It’s also a great choice for sparkling wine-based drinks like mimosas, bellinis or pomegranate-rosemary royales (click here for recipe). Champagne’s higher price point – entry level is usually upward of $40 a bottle – makes it more of a special occasion wine whose complexity is best enjoyed when savored on its own.

Click the respective links for some great examples of prosecco and Champagne.

Stephanie Miskew is a certified sommelier, wine educator and proprietor of The Wine Atelier, an online wine boutique.  She also runs the The Glamorous Gourmet, a website dedicated to wine and entertaining.