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What's the difference between Champagne and Prosecco? I can already hear the Champagne enthusiasts exclaiming indignantly: “How can anyone mistake a zircon for a diamond!” and the defenders of Prosecco replying: “We make a more humble sparkling wine but we sell millions of bottles and everyone can afford it”. When we uncork a Prosecco or a Champagne, both bottles make a slight pop. When poured out, both wines develop bubbles. However, the differences between Champagne and Prosecco are huge, so let’s take a more detailed look at them.
Area of production
The first difference between Champagne and Prosecco is their areas of production. Prosecco Superiore is a DOCG wine from the higher slopes of the hills located 50 km from Venice in North East Italy. The traditional production area of Prosecco Superiore is restricted to 15 municipalities of Veneto, between Vittorio Veneto and Valdobbiadene, while the 9 municipalities of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region produce a Prosecco which is not quite so highly rated. We often tend to refer generically to Prosecco and consider its terroir as being a homogeneous one. However, the Cartizze and Rive varieties represent the noblest expressions of this wine.
The Champagne appellation extends over three great champagne producing areas: Montagne de Reims, the home of Pinot noir; the Marne Valley, the land of the best Pinot Meunier and Côte Des Bar, which produces the best Chardonnay based champagnes, the renowned Blanc de Blancs.ù
The soils of Conegliano Valdobbiadene, the motherland of Prosecco, are of very ancient origin and date back to when these lands were formed from sea and lake beds. The hills have been reshaped by the Dolomite glaciers, consisting of rock and sand conglomerates with abundant clay and the frequent presence of iron.
What makes the terroir champenois so remarkable is its northerly location and a climate that is subject to oceanic and continental influences. The subsoil is quite unique in composition with a prevalence of limestone, which supplies the vines with constant and natural irrigation. In this mineral-rich soil, the presence of chalk facilitates good water drainage and the capacity to retain heat and condense moisture, before releasing it gradually.
The essential difference between Champagne and Prosecco production methods of so-called sparkling wines, lies in the refermentation of yeasts in the wine-making process. Wines become sparkling in one of two ways: in steel vats or in the bottle.
Prosecco Superiore is produced according to the Martinotti-Charmat method. In this process, fermentation takes place in a pressurized vat at a controlled temperature for a short period ranging from 30 days to 6 months, during which time the sugar content is transformed into alcohol and carbon dioxide, thanks to the action of the yeasts. The product of the refermentation process is then bottled immediately for immediate consumption. Originally invented and patented by oenologist Federico Martinotti in 1895, this method was subsequently adopted in 1910 by Eugène Charmat of French nationality, hence the double name of Martinotti-Charmat.
Instead, in the Champenoise method, the bubbles are created in the bottle. After the customary addition of sugar and select yeasts, the bottles are left to rest horizontally for a period ranging from 18 to 30 months or even longer. Then the riddling process starts, consisting on the daily rotation of the bottle which, in the space of 1-2 months, reaches an almost vertical position. At this point, the lees which have collected in the neck of the bottle are disgorged by freezing the neck of the bottle to facilitate the expulsion of the cork together with the sediment.
The varietal used to produce Prosecco is Glera, an ancient type of grape of unknown origin, which was already referred to in documents of the 1500s. Glera constitutes at least 85% of the grapes used to produce Prosecco.
Champagne is mainly produced from three different varieties. Pinot noir, grown in about 38% of the vineyards, which regales wines endowed with aromas of berry fruits and a great personality; Pinot Meunier covering 32% of this wine-growing area which produces fruity, well rounded wines; Chardonnay occupies 30% of the vineyards which regales floral citrusy notes and wines that age well.
A bottle of Champagne base starts from about 30 Euros, while a bottle of Prosecco Superiore from the best Cartizze selection is priced at around 20 Euros.
On the palate
In its superior versions, Prosecco is a unique and most agreeable wine with a delicate fruity bouquet. Its prevalent notes are those of pear, peach, apple and spring flowers. These are flanked by the classical “baked” hints of its yeasts. On the palate it is savoury and fresh with mineral after-aromas and an enticing beading. It may present aromas of citrus fruits and plant notes. It can be enjoyed at its best when served at 7-9 °C.
Due to the fact that it may have been produced from different grape varieties, each Champagne has its own distinctive taste. Its beading consists of extremely fine bubbles which last much longer than in any other type of wine. Every champagne has its distinctive notes of fruit, flowers, wood or spices. Our taste buds may pick up a hint of citrus fruits or an accent of ripe pear, between roundness or length, liveliness or velvety softness, sensations of red berry fruits or forest floor, toasted bread or croissant, elegance or extreme finesse.