Tiny Bubbles… Champagne, Prosecco, and Cava, Oh My!

Tiny bubbles / in the wine
Make me happy / make me feel fine

-performed by Don Ho Def Poet; written by Martin Denny & Leon Pober

champagneHow could I not kick off a post about bubbly without the most famous song that I can think of with “bubbles” involved? I can’t. Clearly.

Last week, I mentioned pairing assorted wines with barbecued delights this summer and included a suggestion for sparkling wine: champagne, prosecco, or cava. (Did you do it? Tell me!) But what’s the difference between the three types of fizz I named? One of the main differences might surprise you: geography.  See below for a handy primer!

While we’ve come to use the word “champagne” to refer to any sparkling wine, it doesn’t always technically apply. Fun fact: unless it was made in the Champagne region of France under specific rules, it’s not allowed to be called “champagne” in many countries due to European Union law. The process by which Champagne is made is called the Champenoise (or Traditional) Method, and involves exact steps, including double fermentation in the bottle from which it will be sold, and small daily turns as it sits upside down to finish the aging process. The heavily protected appellation is strictly overseen and regulated in France and carries much prestige for the vineyards who do make it. Champagne runs the gamut of sweetness: from Extra Brut (tart!) to Doux (sweet), with Brut being the most commonly found. You’ll generally get more bread notes and nutty flavors with champagne than with prosecco or cava. And with such strict guidelines and control in place, it won’t surprise you that champagne is more expensive than its sparkling cousins.

Like champagne, this bubbly gets its name from the region where it originated: in this case, a village in the Veneto region of northeast Italy. But unlike champagne, this Italian gem is made using the Charmat method, where stainless steel vats are used for the secondary fermentation, rather than a bottle by bottle, hands-on process. This more cost-effective process also allows the price point to be far lower for consumers. I find prosecco to have notes of honey and citrus, with notably more sweetness than champagne. Though delicious on its own, it’s a fine (and economical) choice for bellinis, mimosas, and sparkling punches!

This Spanish sparkler gets its name from the Catalan word “cava”, meaning “cellar” or “cave”, and hails mostly from the Catalonia region of Spain, as well as select villages. Though made in the same Champenoise Method as French champagne, makers cannot use the words “Champenoise” or “Champagne”, thanks to those same European Union laws that prevent other sparkling wines from using them.  Cava shares the same gamut of sweetness as champagne but offers depth and variety at a much kinder price point. Like prosecco, cava is wonderful in punches and sparkling cocktails.

What about vintage?
Vintage is really only a thing for champagne, as prosecco and cava don’t tend to be aged wines. But for champagne, age it does! Vintage champagne is a tasty luxury, but quite expensive. Considering a splurge? Research (!!!) before you go shopping and consider that some of the best champagnes might not be names you’ve commonly heard.


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