People often take Prosecco and Champagne as similar since they are “sparkling, bubbling wines”. Nothing could be further from the truth except the bubbles and there are differences also! Prosecco comes from northern Italy above Venice and Champagne comes from the region northeast of Paris called Champagne. But location, geography and country origin put aside there are many significant other characteristics which set them apart. A simple and quick overview follows.
Champagne uses typically three grapes in production of their wine: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes with varying percentages. Whereas Prosecco must use 85% of Glera grapes and can add up to 15% of Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, or Pinot Noir. The highest end Prosecco comes from designated vineyards on the hillsides of Conegliano Valdobbiadene and Asolo.
Champagne’s typical flavor profile contain: citrus, peach, white cherry, almond and toast. Prosecco’s profile contains: green apple, honeydew melon, pear, honey suckle and cream. Also the alcohol levels vary but as a guide there is less than 1% difference between Champagne and Prosecco, with Champagne typically being a bit higher.
The Method of Production:
Here is where the real difference comes into play. You have probably seen the champagne racks being riddled (bottles turned and raised small amounts) to get the lees (digested yeast) to settle in the neck. This and a few other items make this a costly and timely procedure called the “traditional method”. Depending on classification they will spend years in the limestone cellars in the Champagne region. The minimum age for non-vintage Champagne is three years. For vintage Champagne it can be between 4 to 10 years. Champagne is known for having longer lasting tiny bubbles.
For Prosecco, they use the Charmat Method, meaning tank method. Rather than aging in the bottle with sugar & yeast, they are processed in an autoclave tank for the secondary fermentation. This can be 30 days up to 6 months for clarification and cooling. This eliminates the process of the first bottling, riddling, aging and disgorgement of the lees associated with Champagne. The labor intense Champagne is significantly reduced and thus the lower price point. The Charmat Method, is also known to produce larger explosive bubbles.
One last important differentiation is the atmospheric pressure of these two bubbling wines. Prosecco has about 3.5 times the atmospheric pressure in a bottle. Champagne bottle is about 6 times. Thus this explains the heavier bottle required for Champagne. A key factor is why one can saber Champagne but never with Prosecco!!
Interesting to note that the Charmat Method was officially designated after World War II. Champagne has been attributed to be developed in 1693. Fortune Magazine recently declared that Prosecco is now the number one sparkling/bubbling wine sold in the world by volume (https://fortune.com/2018/12/17/prosecco-tops-champagne-as-the-best-selling-sparkling-wine-by-volume/). While Champagne has a rich and sorted history, Prosecco’s quality, taste and affordability has really caught the eye of the consumer.