In Food + Drink

What Are The Differences Between Champagne, Cava And Prosecco?

Paired sometimes with cheese but always sipped in times of celebration, the pleasure evoked from sparkling wine is universal. The options are plentiful: from French Champagne to Spanish cava and Italian prosecco.

But what drop goes best with what cuisine? And what’s good value for money?

We outline the different grape varieties, origins and fermenting processes of each, so all that’s left for you to do is pop the cork and enjoy.

Image: Unsplash / Pelle Martin

Prosecco

The undulating hills of King Valley north-east of Melbourne are where Australia’s first prosecco vines were planted.

Otto Dal Zotto spent his childhood in the birthplace of prosecco, a picturesque township in Italy and recognised a similarity in Australia’s climate to the Mediterranean: warm days and cool nights which make for a stable ripening period. He sewed the first seeds so-to-speak and award-winning vineyard Dal Zotto was born.

His son Michael Dal Zotto has continued to nurture the family institution and describes the flavours of prosecco as “fresh with delicate aromatics of jasmine, wisteria and citrus blossom while on the palate there is crisp apple and citrus flavours and a good balance between acid and residual sugar”.

Image: Unsplash / Dan Meyers

So, how exactly is prosecco made? Unlike other sparkling wines – Champagne and cava – which are fermented in the bottle, the fermentation of prosecco occurs in a pressurised tank, known as the Charmat Method.

It’s made from the grape variety, Glera, originating from Italy and traditionally is sweet to taste although Australian prosecco is commonly dry, explains chief executive of Australia’s national association of grape and wine producers Tony Battaglene.

Battaglene says Australia is home to 20 producers of prosecco which collectively make around 9000 tonnes of it a year. While it’s not as complex in flavour as Champagne or cava, its popularity is growing in Australia, especially as the weather gets warmer.

“Prosecco is something you can drink easily because it offers premium flavours without breaking the bank. Sales increase in November for the Melbourne Cup and it’s on for the rest of the summer months; it’s a celebration drink.”

Image: Unsplash / Rebecca Wiggins

Champagne

Prosecco, Champagne and cava each bring very different styles to the palette due to different origins and fermentation processes. The Metodo Classico, also known as the Traditional Method, is a much more demanding process. It’s more uncommon than Charmat yet is still the preferred technique for producing Champagne in France.

It’s this attention to finer detail that makes the price-point of Champagne higher than other sparkling varieties, says author of The Champagne Guide 2020-2021 Tyson Stelzer.

“Champagne grapes are the most expensive in the world and the production process is the most costly, labour-intensive and time-consuming of all and this is why it is more expensive than cava and prosecco,” he says.

While Champagne is unequivocally a geographical indication of its namesake region in France, its ties run strong in Australia. The first shipment of Veuve Clicquot arrived in Melbourne in 1859.

Today, it’s one of the most popular champagnes in the country. But while Stelzer says champagne is the “envy of the wine world, the universal and inimitable symbol of celebration,” there’s a similar tipple that’s gaining popularity and is arguably just as delicious.

Image: Unsplash / Henry Fournier

Cava

The Spanish sparkling wine known as cava is made using the same method as champagne but with different grape varieties including Macabeo, Parellado and Xarel-lo instead of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

It’s soft and fruity with hints of green apple and is mostly produced in Spain’s Catalunya region, explains global ambassador of well-known cava producer Campo Viejo Federico Lleonart.

Lleonart says while champagne prices have traditionally been steady things are changing rapidly with cava now growing at a “massive” 64 per cent in value in Australia and prosecco at 33 per cent.

“I think Australians are loving cava because it’s the best of both worlds: it’s made by the traditional method like champagne, but it’s easy to drink as prosecco.” He says it pays, quite literally, to know the ins and outs of the production process to ensure value for money.

Image: Campo Viejo / supplied

“Campo Viejo Cava Brut Reserva is aged for at least for 15 months for additional flavour and texture which is the same minimum period as champagne, and more than the nine-month period of regular cava. Also, the price tags can be very different, so it’s good to know that Champagne and cava are made using the same method.”

Lleonart says the varieties of sparkling wine undoubtedly mean different things to different people, and styles can be more suited to a particular event or occasion. But as a general rule of thumb: cava is the perfect drink to wash down brunch while prosecco is best enjoyed with fresh fruits. And an obvious match made in heaven is champagne and soft cheese, Lleonart says.

And his personal preference? “I love to mark a special occasion with Champagne but cava is the perfect sparkling wine to enjoy every week; to relax with friends, and celebrate life and being in the moment.” Cheers to that!

(Lead images: Sylvie at Bulles Demotion & Olga Serjantu)

Published 16 October, 2019