What Is Sparkling Wine?
Typically a white wine and sometimes a rosé, sparkling wine is a carbonated wine that is usually served chilled. Sparkling wine is made through a process of double fermentation. The first step is fermenting the grapes as you normally would when making any wine, the second is to add carbonation to the wine for that distinct, bubbly fizz. Different pressure levels in sparkling wines affect the texture, with higher pressure wines producing finer bubbles and lower pressure methods resulting in a frothier, lighter fizz.
Sparkling wines from specific parts of the world often have specific names referencing their origins and must be sourced from those areas in order to be properly (and legally) labeled as such.
What Is Champagne?
Sometimes the words “Champagne” and “sparkling wine” are used interchangeably, but this is inaccurate. For a sparkling wine to be properly referred to as “Champagne”, it has to come from the Champagne region of France, and the European Union actually enforces this in Europe under the Protected Designation of Origin Status. The grapes most often used to produce champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, which are generally picked young to preserve acidity.
Champagne is produced using the “Traditional Method” of carbonation. During the first fermentation, a dry base wine is blended together, followed by the addition of yeast and sugars which are left to ferment in the bottle during the second fermentation. In the second fermentation, carbon dioxide gets trapped inside the bottle, adding bubbles and fizz to the wine. (The sweetness of the batch of Champagne will be determined by how much sugar was added during this second fermentation process.) The bottles are then aged for a minimum of 15 months (or 3 years, for vintage Champagnes), producing a variety of rich and complex flavors like brioche, biscuit, and toffee.
What Is Prosecco?
Prosecco is a sparkling wine made in Veneto, Italy, in the Valdobbiadene region. Made from the Glera grape, Prosecco is carbonated using the Tank Method, (also known as the Charmat Method). The Tank Method is similar to the Traditional Method, though the second fermentation takes place in a large stainless steel tank, as opposed to individually, in separate bottles. The tank is filled with the base wine, followed by the addition of the yeasts and sugars that eventually ferment in the sealed tank and carbonate the mixture.
This method is much less expensive and time-consuming than the Traditional Method, and the carbonation in Prosecco tends to last longer than beer, but not as long as Champagne.
The flavor profile of Prosecco is more fruity, flowery, and sweet than Champagne, with notes of honeysuckle, green apple, pear, and honeydew melon. Prosecco bubbles are generally frothier and spritzier due to the Tank Method applying less pressure during second fermentation than the Traditional Method.
What Is Cava?
A Spanish sparkling wine made using the Traditional Method, the vast majority of Cava is produced in Catalonia, Spain. Cava is made using primarily Parellada, Macabéo, and Xarello grape varietals, and is aged for 9 months instead of Champagne’s 15.
Cava is more similar to Champagne than it is to Prosecco, even though its price point might remind you of Prosecco more than Champagne! The price discrepancy between Champagne and Cava (despite using the same method of production) is a consequence of the sediment in Champagne bottles being removed by hand after second fermentation, as opposed to by machines in the case of Cava. Like Champagne, Cava’s bubbles have a fine texture, though Cava tends to be less sweet than Champagne. Expect flowery and fruity flavors – similar to Champagne – without some of Champagne’s more complex, bready, biscuity notes.