As you stroll down the aisle at your local liquor store, you would be forgiven if you thought there wasn’t much of a difference between all of the pale gold bottles of bubbly. They all look so similar! But Champagne, Prosecco and simple sparkling wine are three totally different drinks whose names distinguish them from one another. If you’re just looking to pick up something for your holiday party, any of these festive bottles will suffice. But, if you want to look smart, you should know the difference — plus it’s really simple to remember.
Here’s how to pick the best bottle for New Year’s Eve.
Sparkling wine refers to pretty much any type of wine with bubbles. Champagne, Prosecco, Cava — they’re all sparkling wines. They just happen to be the three most common types. The term “sparking wine” is basically a blanket term that can be used by manufacturers without any guidelines other than that the wine sparkles, so it’s safely used to describe carbonated wines worldwide from California to Australia. If you’re not sure what you’re drinking, but it bubbles, you’re safe calling it sparkling wine.
For a bubbly to earn the title of “Champagne” it must come from the Champagne region of France — and that’s really all you need to know if you’re looking for the real deal. However, if you’re wondering why the title is so exclusive, it’s because The Champagne Bureau (la Comité Champagne in French) works hard to protect the designation, and will sue any outside company using the term “Champagne.” True Champagnes are all also made with a combination of pinot noir, pinot meunier, and chardonnay grapes, fermented twice in special caves that maintain the right climate.
Prosecco has risen in popularity lately probably because it offers a lower price point than Champagne. It’s made using a less expensive method, which makes it less complex than Champagne, but still similarly refreshing. It’s not as commonly associated with luxury, so people are more likely to drink it for less fancy occasions. The name is, however, still protected under European law. For a bottle of wine to be called Prosecco, it must come from the Veneto region of Italy. A small Italian village there, called Prosecco, is the birthplace of the beverage — though, invented centuries after Champagne. It’s made from glera grapes, using a special method of production, but unlike Champagne, it is fermented in steel tanks rather than in the bottle. Watch out though, because Prosecco doesn’t have to be bubbly. If you’re looking for the celebratory drink, make sure it says “sparkling” or “semi-sparkling.”
And that’s really all you need to know about the difference between Champagne, Prosecco, and sparkling wine. But if you get to the store and draw a blank, don’t sweat it. When it comes to sparkling wine, can you really ever go wrong?
Also see, 19 Fun Facts about Champagne.