We’ve all got a favourite, and since Prosecco sales have apparently overtaken Champagne this year it seems the UK’s overall favourite is Prosecco. But what is the difference between the two? And what on earth is Cava?
First and foremost, the sparkling wines are named after the regions they come from and so the most significant thing is the fact that they’re from different countries. In fact, different countries around the world name their sparkling wine after the place, that’s just how it’s done. Here’s a quick guide to some of the world’s most famous fizz and where it’s grown and made:
Champagne – The holy grail of the sparkling wine world. This style can only be grown and made in a town called Reims and sadly there is no ‘town of champagne’. Although there is a wonderful village called ‘Bouzy’ in Reims that we think makes up for it.
Prosecco – Whilst there is a village called Prosecco, the wine can actually be grown in any of the surrounding nine provinces spread across the Veneto and Friuli Venezia regions in northern Italy
Cava – This is a Spanish style, most of which is produced in the Penedès region of Catalunya, but there are a few other regions that are permitted to make this now.
Asti – Another top Italian sparkling wine grown in the southeastern Piedmont region and aspecially around the towns of Asti and Alba.
Cremant – This style of sparkling wine can be made anywhere in France outside of Champagne. In particular, Cremant d’Alsace (from Alsace), is often very high standard.
Sekt – This is a German sparkling wine that can be made in any region and often uses imported grapes.
Different countries are better at growing different grapes. The likes of Pinot Noir (which is permitted in Champagne) would find it far too hot to grow in more southern parts of Europe, and likewise the Macabeo grape often found in Cava would struggle to ripen in Champagne.
For Champagne, it’s usually a combination of Pinot Noir (a red grape); Chardonnay (white) and Pinot Menuier (another red grape!)
Prosecco, on the other hand is made from majority Glera grapes. These were formally known as prosecco grapes but to save confusion these have been renamed so that the region of Prosecco can fully take the title.
Sekt is very unusually as it’s usually made from grapes imported from countries such as France, Italy and Spain.
In short, different places can do different stuff. There are a couple of ‘copy cats’, and that’s no bad thing. In the UK, producers are increasingly using Champagne grapes (and methods) to produce their sparkling wine because they believe that the conditions found on the south coast are perfect. And since they’ve been beating Champagne in blind tastings over the past few years – we can’t disagree!
Sparkling wine can be made, broadly speaking, in three different ways.
Champagne is made in a ‘traditional method’ sometimes called ‘méthode champenoise’. This essentially means that the bubbles are made in the bottle since something called a ‘dosage’ (a mixture of sugar, yeast and a little wine) is added to the bottle to create its fizz. This method usually makes dry wines and they often have less residual sugar. Cava must be made in this method too.
Other popular wine styles are often made in a method called ‘tank method’ or ‘transfer method’. This is a style that involves transferring the wine after fermentation into big stainless steel vats and adding the dosage in at this stage before re-bottling. Prosecco and Sekt are both often – but not always – made this way.
Finally, the lowest end of the spectrum is quite literally carbonating the wine – like an alcoholic soda stream.
If you like dry wines… look for sparkling wines made in the traditional method or wines that are labelled Brut or Extra Brut.
If you like low calorie wines… look for fizz with ‘zero dosage’; that means they have created the bubbles without adding extra sugar, and is very popular amongst dieters.
If you like wines that are crisp and lemony… look for the term ‘blanc de blanc’ in English and Champagne wines – that means they only contain white wine grapes and can usually give a more citrus note.
If you like wines with more body… Cava could be for you. Because of the warmth of some of the regions, it’s luscious and delicious.
If you like wines that are low alcohol… why not try Sekt. It’s often fermented to a lower alcohol than some of its counterparts.
If you like wines that are good value… you can’t deny that Prosecco is storming ahead in terms of price, but Asti (also from Italy) can be very reasonable, as can some good Cavas. For good value with a difference, look towards the new world and places like New Zealand.
If you like wines with smaller bubbles… Look towards English sparkling wines. They might be a more refined version of a classic Champagne. And whilst expensive, they’re bound to bowl you over!