Champagne, Cava, Prosecco or Sparkling Wine?

Champagne, Cava, Prosecco or Sparkling Wine?

Do you know the difference between a champagne and a cava? Or maybe a champagne or a sparkling wine? How about between a champagne and a prosecco?

When I entered the world of wine this was one of my first curiosities. In the meantime I learned the difference from a theoretical point of view, but I really understood what it was about only when I tasted both a champagne and other types of sparkling wine in parallel.

Thinking you might want to know the difference, I leave some basic information below.

What are sparkling wines?

Sparkling wines are effervescent wines, or wines with "bubbles". Their secret lies in the second natural fermentation that takes place either in bottles (as in the case of champagne/cava) or in stainless steel tanks (as in the case of prosecco/sekt). In the process of creating sparkling wine, the sugar and yeast in the wine ferment and produce carbon dioxide that creates bubbles (also called the "mousse" of sparkling wine).

Sparkling wines are made either from the joining of 2 or 3 types of grapes (blend) or from a single type of grape. Each sparkling wine producing country determines the types of grapes used according to the area where the sparkling wine is produced. Examples: France produces the famous champagne with Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes, while Spain produces the sparkling wine called "cava" from Macabeu (Macabeo), Parellada and Xarel·lo grapes, and Italy produces "prosecco" from Glera grapes.

Sparkling wines differ in the amount of sugar in the wine. It should be mentioned here that sugar is on one hand residual (ex.what remains in the wine after fermentation) and on the other hand, it can be added sugar through "liqueur d'expedition" (a mix between wine and sugar) in the making process of sparkling wine. The method of producing sparkling wine is not the subject of this article (I will come back with a dedicated article), but I can tell you that in the process of producing sparkling wine there is a step, the "disgorging" process through which the remaining yeasts deposited in the form of sediment are removed from the wine (it happens when using the "traditional method" - see below what it means), and on this occasion a small amount of sparkling wine is lost from the bottle. This is topped off with a little wine and sugar (a process called "dosage" or "liqueur d'expedition"). This dosage determines how "sweet" the sparkling wine will be.

The division according to the "sweetness" of sparkling wine is as follows (this is very different from the division of still wines - white, rosé and red wines):
  • Brut Nature (Zero Dosage): 0-3 grams of sugar per liter (has no added sugar)
  • Extra Brut: 0-6 grams of sugar per liter
  • Brut: 0-12 grams of sugar per liter
  • Extra Dry (Extra Sec): 12 – 17 grams of sugar per liter
  • Dry: 17-32 grams of sugar per liter
  • Demi-Sec: 32 – 50 grams of sugar per liter
  • Sweet (Doux/Dulce): over 50 grams of sugar per liter

What is Champagne?

The name "champagne" is given to the sparkling wine that comes from grapes grown in the controlled appellation Champagne region of France, which is the only place in the world that has the right to use this appellation.

Typically champagne is made from 3 grape varieties, namely Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. As a curiosity, this blend of 2 red wines and one white is the only blend allowed in Europe where white grapes can be mixed with red grapes.

There is also champagne made from only one type of grape such as only Pinot Noir ("Blanc de Noir") or only Chardonnay ("Blanc de Blancs").

As a production method, champagne is made with a second fermentation in the bottle. All other sparkling wines that are made in the world by the same method, because they cannot use the name "champagne", call this process "Methode Champenoise", "Metodo Classico" (Italy), "Methode Cap Classique" (South Africa) or the "traditional method", generally speaking. For example, if you see "traditional method" written on a sparkling wine produced in Romania, know that it is produced by the same method as champagne, only that in Romania we are not allowed to use the name "champagne" but only the of "sparkling wine". However, we have one exception: Alira winery (Dobrogea) produces a champagne together with Champagne Telmont, a wine house from the Champagne area - France, which is why Alira J. de Telmont bears the official name of "Champagne" (the grapes from which it is made this sparkling wine comes from Champagne).

Since I'm talking about France I have to mention something else: there are other sparkling wines produced in other areas besides Champagne:

  • "Cremant" which is produced by the same "traditional method". The most important are Cremant d'Alsace, Cremant de Bourgogne and Cremant de Loire. They can be produced from the types of grapes specific to each area, respecting certain rules of each area.
  • In addition to Cremant, in the Loire Valley there are two other well-known appellations for the production of sparkling wine: Saumur and Vouvray, which can be made from local grape varieties together with Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. There are even red sparkling wines made from Cabernet Franc. These sparkling wines are also made using the traditional method.
The specific taste for a champagne is dominated by citrus fruits, peaches, almonds, toast and brioche. Of course, depending on the type of grape used, the year of harvest and the production method (how much time it has aged in the bottle), the aromas can differ and can go towards quinces and apples in cooler years and raspberries and peaches in warmer.

What is Cava?

Cava is the sparkling wine produced by the traditional method in Spain. The wine is produced by basically the same method as champagne, but the grape varieties from which it is produced and the fact that it is produced in Spain differ. In most cases cava is produced with Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel·lo grapes (all white grape varieties), but there are also cases where producers choose to use Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Garnacha or Monastrell grapes (the last 3 varieties named here being red grapes).

Speaking about flavors, cava is similar to champagne and represents a less expensive option if we think about the budget dedicated to a sparkling wine.

The dominant flavors in a cava are: quince, lime, yellow apples, pears and almonds. If the year in which the grapes were harvested is cooler you can expect aromas of quince and lemon, and if the year was warm, notes of oranges and apricots will make an appearance.

What is Prosecco?

Prosecco is a sparkling wine produced in Italy especially in the Veneto and Friuli area. Besides the fact that prosecco is made from Glera grapes (white grapes), the main difference between champagne/cava and the sparkling wine attributed to Italy is the production method: with prosecco it is no longer the traditional method with a second fermentation in the bottle, but this is produced entirely in stainless steel tanks and then bottled. This is called the Charmat method.

The dominant flavors you can find in a glass of prosecco are: green apples, melon, pear. If the harvest year was a warm one, you will find notes of ripe pears and apricots, and if the year was a bit cooler, green apple and quince notes will predominate.

Sekt, the sparkling wine specific to Austria and Germany, is also made by fermentation in stainless steel tanks.

Having said that, I conclude here the article about the differences between the main sparkling wines and I invite you to tell me if you have also tried a champagne, a cava or maybe a prosecco and how you thought of them.

Carmina Nițescu
Winesday & Winesday App

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