Let’s Pick Up Some Cheap Champagne (Cringe!)
Have you ever heard someone say they “just want some cheap Champagne”? Mon Dieu! The fact is, there is no such thing as “cheap” Champagne. Plenty of people call any wine with bubbles “Champagne,” but only sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne wine region in France can be labelled as Champagne — and it’s anything but cheap! Many countries or wine regions have their own name for the bubbles they make, and if they don’t, it’s simply called sparkling wine. The one similarity they all have is the presence of bubbles, but there are many differences including production method, aroma, flavour, the type of bubbles and of course, the price.
The two types of sparkling wine that most people think of are Champagne and Prosecco. It used to be that Champagne was consistently in the lead for global sparkling wine sales. However, for the past couple of years Prosecco, a sparkling wine from northwestern Italy, has been the most purchased sparkling wine worldwide.
…so what’s the difference between Champagne and Prosecco?
JustWine Fun Fact!
Champagne & Prosecco are legally protected names
(Just like “Kleenex” & “Q-Tip”)
What is Champagne?
The benchmark of sparkling wine around the world is Champagne. Sparkling wine can only be called Champagne if it comes from the Champagne region in France. This means that all Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. The region of Champagne is tightly regulated. One of those regulations controls which grape varieties are allowed to be planted and used for Champagne wine. There are seven allowable grape varieties, but the main grapes used are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.
How Is Champagne Made?
Champagne is made using the “Traditional Method”
You may see Traditional Method labelled as bottle fermented because the second fermentation (the one that makes it sparkle) happens right in the bottle the wine is served in.
Yeast and sugar are added to each individual bottle to induce the second fermentation and create the bubbles. As the yeast eats the sugar and creates CO2, it comes into contact with all of the juice and leaves behind a beautiful pastry aroma. It also means that Traditional Method is more labour intensive which contributes to the final cost.
Before it can be sold, Champagne is aged between nine months and 5+ years, depending on the quality level.
What Does Champagne Taste Like?
Champagne has a complex flavour profile including notes of brioche, citrus, apple, lemon pastry, peaches, almond and mineral. Even though every Champagne will have some similarities, each Champagne House (winery) will produce its own signature non-vintage cuvée with a unique flavour profile. From year to year this house style doesn’t change and contains grapes that are harvested in previous vintages. The winemaker blends various vintages to maintain a consistent profile from year to year.
Other styles of Champagne may be produced as well, such as a rosé Champagne, Champagne made only from Chardonnay (Blanc de Blancs) or even an ultra-premium tier with a different name. For example, Moët & Chandon Champagne house produces the famous Dom Perignon and Louis Roederer makes Cristal. In very special years a Vintage Champagne may also be made using only the best grapes from a single harvest.
If you see Extra Dry on the label,
it will be sweeter — not drier — than Brut!
How Much Does Champagne Cost?
Champagne is perceived as a luxury product which is part of the reason for a premium price tag. Another reason is the method of production as previously mentioned as well as lower yields, strict regulations and demand. Generally speaking, the price of Champagne starts at around $40-$60, depending on which country, or even which store, you are purchasing it from. Very special bottles, whether they’re from a particular vintage or a higher tiered product at a reputable Champagne House, are priced around $75+ and can even set you back several hundred dollars or more. For those who love Champagne, the price tag is worth it.
What is Prosecco?
Prosecco gets its name from the village of Prosecco in Italy. Prosecco is made from the Glera grape variety and is lively, fruit forward and quite bubbly. Prosecco is a legally protected name, like Champagne, and can only appear on the label when it is made in certain Italian wine regions. The grape variety of Prosecco is Glera and must make up at least 85% of the wine. There are nine other specific grape varieties that are also allowed to make up the rest of the blend.
How Is Prosecco Made?
Prosecco is made using the “Tank Method”
Instead of the second fermentation being induced in the bottle, sugar and yeast are added to a pressurized tank. This traps the CO2 and the yeast is filtered out. Because the yeast doesn’t have prolonged contact with the juice, the pastry notes are absent leaving the wine with lively fruit aromas.
Prosecco is not aged before being sold and the production time is shorter than Champagne.
What Does Prosecco Taste Like?
Fresh and fruity best describe Prosecco. It has a floral aroma with a straightforward flavour profile of citrus, pear, green apple and sometimes hints of honey.
There are two main quality levels for Prosecco. Without getting too technical on you, when you see Prosecco DOC on the label, that’s the most common quality level. DOC-level Prosecco must adhere to minimum regulations, but like any other style of wine, some wineries take more pride and make better quality wine than others. The next Level is DOCG which limits grape growing to smaller regions and the regulations become tighter. Within the DOCG are specific regions that are ranked in quality, with Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG considered the highest quality Prosecco produced.
How Much Does Prosecco Cost?
Compared to Champagne, Prosecco is a more affordable option. An entry level Prosecco will only cost you around $12 to $18 depending on where you live. Better quality Prosecco will be a bit more money (maybe around $30), but even the very highest quality Prosecco won’t cost you more than $50.
Just because Prosecco isn’t as pricey as Champagne, doesn’t mean it’s lower quality. Cost of production, how much is produced, marketing and demand all play a role in the final price.
One Final Note on Champagne vs. Prosecco… How Much Pressure is Under That Cork?
Hint: More than a car tire!
- Prosecco: approx. 3 atmospheres of pressure (about 45 psi)
- Champagne: approx. 6 atmospheres of pressure (about 88 psi)
Now that you know the difference between Champagne and Prosecco, here are a few delicious recommendations for you to try:
JustWine Champagne Recommendations
JustWine Prosecco Recommendations