Prosecco vs Champagne – The Ultimate Guide
Although they are far from the only two sparkling wines in the world, Champagne and Prosecco are perhaps two of the most famous. They share bubbles and an association with the celebratory and festivities, but these two drinks are vastly different. Made using entirely different techniques, in different countries and from unrelated grape varieties, they are as individual as our fingerprints.
In taste, Prosecco and Champagne have almost nothing in common, apart from the all-important fizz. Even that is seen to be very different. The Champenoise talk a good deal about effervescence rather than sparkling or petillant. For aficionados the latter suggests that the fizzy bubbles sit at the surface whereas the effervescent mousse of Champagne gives better suggestions of the creamier, ‘all-round’ feel to the sparkle. Key to this critical difference is the winemaking itself and you and you can read more about that in the paragraphs ahead.
Prosecco is made from the glera grape. Naturally fruity in flavour, the wines tend to have pear, apple and floral notes. In the broadest terms, Prosecco wines are less dry than Champagne and are not so yeasty in flavour. Champagne, by contrast, tends to have citrus aromas, Granny Smith apple, praline and toasty notes.
Price is also a key difference between the two. At the heart of this is the cost of winemaking. Champagne is simply much pricier to make – from the land itself to the yields in the vineyard and the vinification technique, it’s a more costly affair.
You will find a full list of our organic and biodynamic champagnes here.
Equally, we have a delicious range of organic Proseccos too, which you can find here.
What is Champagne?
For a wine to be called Champagne it has to meet several strict criteria. The most obvious is that it is made from grapes that have been grown, harvested and made into wine within the appellation of Champagne.
Some other ‘musts’ for Champagne: Champagne can be made only from one or a blend of the following varieties: chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot meunier as well as pinot blanc, pinot gris, petit meslier and arbane. The authorities control how the vines are pruned, places limits of yields and also the permitted levels of juice extraction. The wines must be aged for a minimum of 15 months before being released onto the market.
Most importantly of all, the wines must be made à la “méthode Champenoise”
Where does Champagne come from?
Champagne is made in the appellation of the same name, that lies north-east of Paris (just 90 minutes on the train from the French capital).
AOC Champagne is made up of 319 villages – or ‘crus’ – across five departments: Marne, Aube, Aisne, Haute-Marne and Seine-et-Marne. The Marne and Aube are by far the most important with almost 90% of the vineyards planted in these two areas. Champagne has roughly 34,300 hectares of vineyard in total.
What makes the appellation so special is its soils. The subsoil is predominantly limestone which provides excellent drainage as well as imparting a unique mineral quality to the wines made here. The chalk in Champagne is made up of calcite granules from fragile shells of marine micro-organisms.
Of course, each site is unique with subtle differences in exposure, altitude, temperature and soil composition all contributing to the characteristics of each cru. What can be fun is learning the names of some of the lieux-dits (individually-named plots) which have often been around for generations. There are great names, such as “les froids monts” (chilly peaks) and “les soupe-tard” (late diners). You might wonder – and make up your own tales – as how they came to be so-named! For sure, if you visit Champagne you’ll hear plenty of stories from the growers about how these names came to be.
Where did Prosecco Originate?
Prosecco is made – and has been since the 18th century – in the area of north-east Italy called Conegliano Valdobbiadene. Between Venice and the Dolomites.
The area is vast and, as you might expect, soil types and climate vary quite dramatically. Importantly the overall climate is mild, thanks to the region’s position between the sea and the mountains. The hills stretch from east to west, the vineyards planted south-facing for the best exposure to the sun. The vines are planted anywhere between 100 and 500 meters above sea level. Soils range from rock and sand to marl and sandstone.
What is the difference between Champagne and Prosecco?
The differences between Champagne and Prosecco come in the method in how they are made. This is the Charmat-Martinotti method, versus the Méthode Champenoise.
Méthode Champenoise and the Charmat Method create very different levels of pressure in the wine. The livelier and finer the bubbles, the higher the pressure. Champagne typically has between 5 or 6 bars of pressure. Prosecco Spumante is generally half that and Frizzante – the lightest prosecco style – has somewhere between 1 and 2.5 bars of atmospheric pressure.
Charmat- Martinotti method
We will begin with Charmat-Martinotti. It’s known by serval names: the Martinotti method, the Italian method, the charmat method … but they are all the same and reflect the fact that the idea was a team effort! Federico Martinotti developed and patented the methodology in 1895 and fifteen years later, Frenchman Eugène Charmat constructed (and patented!) the autoclaves that are used to this day. [Autoclaves are sealable pressure vessels, typically stainless steel tanks].
How does the Charmat – Martinotti method work?
Once the base (or still wine) has been made it is placed in a large, pressurised container (autoclave) for the second fermentation. Sugar and yeast are added to kick-start the process and to generate the bubbles in the wine. Once this has happened the sparkling wine is bottled and sealed under pressure.
By contrast, Méthode Champenoise means that the second fermentation, where still wine is transformed into sparkling wine, takes place in a bottle. Once the wine is in the bottle, the winemaker adds his liqueur de tirage. This is still Champagne combined with cane or beet sugar. The bottles are turned regularly in a process known as ‘riddling’ to encourage the heavy sediment into the neck of the bottle from where it can be removed before being finally sealed. One of the rules of Champagne is that the final wine must be sold in the bottle in which it underwent its second fermentation.
It is worth noting that Méthode Champenoise is a winemaking technique used elsewhere in France. As you might expect the Champenoise weren’t keen when sparkling wine producers in the Loire, Alsace and Burgundy used the term on their labels. That’s why you’ll see Crémant d’Alsace / Crémant de Bourgogne and Crémant de Loire on those regional sparklers.
Less atmospheric pressure bars also means less tax (hurrah!), so Frizzante wines are less expensive.
Now you’ve got the winemaking difference, let’s talk about the styles!
Both producers of Champagne and Prosecco have the option to make different styles. In Champagne, this choice is made once the second fermentation is complete and the final corking is about to take place.
If you are making Champagne you add what is called the ‘dosage”, this is also known as the liqueur d’expédition and its exact contents depend on the style of wine you are looking to make.
If your Champagne is Brut Nature, Pas Dosé or Dosage Zéro then there’s no dosage and less than 3 grams of sugar per litre in the final wine. A Doux will have more than 50 grams of sugar per litre, Demi-Sec has between 32 and 50 grams, Sec is between 17 and 32, Extra Dry has between 12 and 17 grams, Brut has less than 12 and Extra Brut is between 0 and 6 grams of sugar per litre.
When it comes to Prosecco the difference is that the style is determined by how much sugar is left behind once fermentation has been stopped. Brut Nature is the driest Prosecco with Demi-Sec the sweetest.
The most common mistake in understanding Prosecco styles is knowing that Extra Dry (12-17 g/l) is confusingly more sweet than Brut (less than 12 g/l). Just a bubbly hiccough to keep us on our toes!
How many calories are in a glass of Champagne?
There are approximately 86 calories in a 125ml glass of 12% ABV Champagne. As is the case with all calories that come from alcohol, the calories are what’s known as ‘empty’, meaning that they’ve no nutritional value – sorry!
Calories will be slightly different depending on the levels of dryness.
How many calories are in Prosecco?
There are the same number of calories – 86 – a 125ml glass of 12% ABV Prosecco as there are in Champagne, “slightly more than a chocolate digestive biscuit”!
Just as with Champagne, the levels of residual sugar in the Prosecco will determine the exact number of calories.
How long does Champagne last opened?
Once it has been opened, Champagne can last between 3 and 5 days in the fridge after being opened.
How long does Champagne last unopened?
The ability of Champagne to age is well-documented and just as with all fine wine, some are made expressly for long-ageing. Champagne should be ready for drinking when it is released onto the market for sale, having been matured to perfection by the winemaker. That said, a few years of ageing can often see the wine develop more complexity and nuance.
Other bottles are discovered many years after they were intended to be drunk! In 2010 a group of divers found a shipwreck off the Finnish coast that dated back to the 18th century. The wreck contained bottles of what is believed to have been Veuve Clicquot from the 1780s and most likely destined for Russia. Brought to the surface by diver, Christian Ekstrom from 200 feet below, a bottle was duly uncorked and enjoyed on board. He told reporters at the time, “it tasted fantastic. It was a very sweet champagne, with a tobacco taste and oak.” The remaining bottles from the wreck went on to sell for tens of thousands of euros at auction.
If you are the patient sort you’ll need to find a cool, dark place to store your Champagne. Ideally, you want to shelter your bottles from sunlight and excessive vibrations and keep them at around 10°C.
How long does Prosecco last?
Sadly, once a bottle of Prosecco – or indeed any other sparkling wine – has been opened, it’s not long before the sparkle starts to go. Rather than see your treasured bottle go to waste, it’s worth investing in a stopper that will preserve the fizz for a day or so.
If you have an unopened bottle of Prosecco, store it as you would any wine: In a cool, dark spot, ideally on its side. Most Prosecco is made to be drunk fairly young and is probably best drunk within a year – two at a stretch – from bottling.
Prosecco Food Pairings
Prosecco is pretty versatile and you will find it slips down a treat with all sorts of food but here are three favourite suggestions.
Get the gastric juices flowing with some prosciutto-topped crostini and a glass of Brut Prosecco. It’s a classic Italian starter and a lovely way to start any meal.
Put the still, dry white wine aside the next time you are cooking mussels and bring out the Prosecco instead! You can add garlic, shallots and herbs to your taste and steam away … Oh, and make sure you’ve two bottles so you can keep one to drink with your cooked mussels. Try Giol Prosecco Frizzante
It has been said that Prosecco and popcorn is the ultimate “home movie night” treat but if salty/buttery fingers aren’t for you, then pop a slice of panettone on your plate and get settled in for the evening.
Champagne Food Pairings
Truthfully, the much-discussed pairing that is Champagne and fish and chips isn’t to everyone’s taste but some of us do think it’s great food and Champagne pairing. There’s certainly no arguing that the fat and salt content of the nation’s favourite carryout (according to a poll in 2019) does work a storm with the crisp, dry acidity of Champagne. There’s also the satisfying indulgence of marrying what was once served in newspapers with something as chic as Champagne. Go on, try it with the Fleury Blanc de Noirs for a treat.
Shellfish is perhaps a more common match for Champagne and were you have a wine that is broad and sophisticated like the Fleury Bolero Vintage, you can partner it with quite richly flavoured dishes. A creamy langoustine pasta dish for instance.
A rosé Champagne makes for a luxurious partner to crispy duck dishes and especially those that have a red berry sauce alongside. The New York Times has a good, simple to prepare recipe here.