Culinary Arts

A Comprehensive Breakdown of Champagne vs. Prosecco

Written by MasterClass

Mar 8, 2019 • 6 min read

Champagne and prosecco, those most celebratory libations, each have an impressive legacy—but many drinkers don’t quite know the differences between the two.

Sure, they’re both sparkling wines. And certainly, they both taste better in flutes. But for as many qualities as they share, there are just as many that they don’t.

Read on to learn the the nuances about each.

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What Is Champagne?

Champagne is a sparkling wine produced in Champagne, a region of France located 90 miles northeast of Paris. Only wines produced in this region can be called Champagne.

As legend has it, a monk named Dom Pérignon—you might recognize his name—was making white wine in Champagne when, due mostly to chance, he ended up carbonating it, thus creating: Champagne. Whether or not this is true, Champagne generally began popping up in France during the late 1600s.

What Is Prosecco?

Prosecco is a sparkling wine hailing from the eponymous village in Northern Italy, , where the wine is said to have originated. While producers around the world have been known to use the term to label their wines, technically speaking, only wines produced in Northern Italy are considered true prosecco.

Records trace prosecco back to ancient Rome, where Pliny the Elder, a famous Roman writer, declared Pucino (a wine made with the prosecco grape) one of the great wines of the day.

Which Types of Grapes Are Used in Champagne?

Champagne is made from three different grapes, either individually or as a blend:

  • Pinot noir, a thin-skinned black grape most commonly associated with the Burgundy region of France, and typically used in red wines. Learn more about pinot noir here.
  • Pinot meunier, a black grape to which many attribute Champagne’s richness.
  • Chardonnay, a green grape that originated in the Burgundy region, and is most commonly found in white wine.

A few other grape varieties are permitted, but only in very small quantities.

Keep in mind: though all of these grapes may grow in other regions, only those grown in the Champagne region of France may be use for the production of Champagne.

Which Types of Grapes Are Used in Prosecco?

Prosecco must be made up of at least 85% glera, a thin-skinned green grape with moderately high acidity (which has also been referred to, simply, as prosecco). The remaining percentage can come from other Italian grapes such as bianchetta trevigiana and perera, along with more internationally-grown grapes such as chardonnay and pinot grigio. (Again, all grapes must come from Northern Italy to be considered prosecco.)

Nearly a quarter of prosecco wines that are made receive the coveted Italian Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin (DOCG) designation, which guarantees the geographic authenticity of the grapes and production.

How Does the Production of Sparkling Wine Differ from the Production of Still Wine?

Still wine undergoes fermentation—essentially, the process by which yeast consumes sugar and converts it into alcohol and gasified carbon dioxide—once. Sparkling wine, however, undergoes a second fermentation, during which additional yeast and sugar are added. The second fermentation is what binds the carbon dioxide to the liquid. In other words: it’s what creates the bubbles.

What Is Méthode Champenoise?

The traditional method of making Champagne, called méthode champenoise or méthode traditionnelle, is uniquely challenging and heavily regulated, in large part because the second fermentation happens in the bottle, as opposed to in a tank.

(While the method originated with Champagne, other sparkling wines, in different regions of France and even the U.S., also use this method.)

In brief, here’s how it works:

  • The producers bottle still wine and then add a mixture of sugar and yeast . This catalyzes the second fermentation.
  • They put a cap on it and wait for the yeast to react with the sugar, creating carbonation. Depending on the wine, this process could take anywhere from several months to several years.
  • Next comes the remuage: a periodic twisting that moves the sediment to the top of the bottle.
  • Then there’s the disgorgement—a process by which the neck of the bottle is frozen and the sediment is removed, while losing as little wine as possible.
  • Finally, the cap is replaced with a traditional cork.

Et voila: you have Champagne.

What Is the Charmat Method?

The majority of prosecco producers use the Charmat method (otherwise known as the “Italian method” or “tank method”) to make the bubbles. This method is cheaper than méthode champenoise, because the second fermentation occurs inside a large tank as opposed to individual bottles; therefore remuage and disgorgement are unnecessary. Here’s how it works:

  • Base wine is poured inside a pressure tank.
  • The second fermentation is catalyzed by the addition of yeast and sugar.
  • The wine is then cooled to the desired pressure, which halts the fermentation.
  • The wine is filtered, after which a “dosage” (a mix of sugar and wine) is added to the tank, according to the desired sweetness.
  • Lastly, the wine is bottled under pressure to preserve the bubbles in the bottle.

Ecco qua: you have prosecco.

What Is the Difference in Taste Between Champagne and Prosecco?

Champagne tends to be drier, with toasty, nutty notes, a greater minerality and decidedly fine bubbles. With prosecco, expect a brighter, fruitier taste, and bigger, spritzier bubbles.

How Much Sugar Is in Champagne and Prosecco?

There are seven classifications used to describe the sweetness of a sparkling wine, based on the grams of residual sugar per liter.

Brut Nature: 0-3g/l
Extra-Brut: 0-6g/l
Brut: 0-12g/l
Extra-Sec (or Extra-Dry): 12-17g/l
Sec (or Dry): 17-32g/l
Demi-Sec: 32-50g/l
Doux: Over 50g/l

You can find Champagne ranging from extremely dry (brut nature), to dessert-level sweet (doux). A typical champagne falls under the brut designation. Proseccos, meanwhile, range from brut to dry. Most often, prosecco is extra-dry, meaning it’s generally sweeter than Champagne.

However, this does not mean prosecco is more caloric than Champagne. It depends on the particular wine, of course, but a typical bottle of Champagne and a typical bottle of prosecco both have somewhere around 750 calories.

What Is the Alcohol By Volume Content for Champagne and Prosecco?

A typical Champagne has 12% ABV, while a typical prosecco has 11% ABV.

What Is the Difference in Price Between Champagne and Prosecco?

While it’s always possible to find a substandard $10 bottle of Champagne, the typical price for a solid, entry-level Champagne is around $40. Prosecco, on the other hand, is much less expensive. You can find a good bottle for between $10 and $20.

The price discrepancy between the two is due to a number of factors, but chief amongst them is the general perception of Champagne as a luxury item, as well as the resource-intensive means of its production.

4 Popular Champagne Cocktails

Of course, there’s the Mimosa—which is one part Champagne and one part orange juice. But if you’re looking for a few bolder options, try the following:

  • French 75. A citrus-y libation featuring gin, lemon juice, and Champagne.
  • Death in the Afternoon. The Hemingway-inspired shot of absinthe with a Champagne topper.
  • Kir Royale. A mixture of Champagne and a few teaspoons of Crème de Cassis, a sweet French liqueur made with blackcurrants.
wolfgang puck's bellini

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4 Popular Prosecco Cocktails

The Bellini, which originated in Venice, is prosecco’s answer to the mimosa, incorporating two parts prosecco to one part peach purée (or peach juice). Here are a few more cocktails that include prosecco.

  • Spritz Veneziano (aka, the Aperol Spritz). A slightly bitter, yet effervescent mix of prosecco, Aperol, and soda water.
  • Sbagliato. A variation on the Negroni, an iconic Italian cocktail, this drink consists of Campari, sweet vermouth, and prosecco (instead of the more typical gin).
  • Sgroppino. Another Italian cocktail, this number involves prosecco, a bit of vodka and—the kicker—frozen lemon sorbet.
oysters are a popular pairing for champagne and prosecco

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The Best Champagne Pairings

Due to its natural minerality, Champagne tends to pair well with shellfish—especially oysters. It also counters the heaviness of richer foods, like goat cheese and cream-based pastas (try making Chef Gordon Ramsay’s homemade pasta). For dessert, go for something not-so-sweet, in particular a fruit tart or lemon cake.

The Best Prosecco Pairings

Prosecco pairs well with a variety of foods, from shrimp cocktails, to a deliciously simple prosciutto sandwich. But one, perhaps unexpected pairing is sushi and other Asian fare, even the spicier stuff. And as far as dessert goes, you might try something that complements prosecco’s fruitiness, like a meringue—although you shouldn’t be deterred from trying it with something sweeter, like cheesecake.

Learn more about food and wine pairings from James Suckling here.