Champagne, Cava, Prosecco – three sparkling wine heavyweights whose names are often, and erroneously, used interchangeably. They’re served similarly, they look similar, and to the less discerning palate, they might even taste similar. So what really sets them apart from one another? Avoid making a faux pas at your next cork-popping celebration with this key info.
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay
Champagne, Cava and Prosecco go through some similar production methods, but Champagne is so called because of where it’s made. It’s produced through the ‘Methode Champenoise’ process which comes with strict regulations stipulating that non-vintage varietals must be aged on the lees for at least 15 months. Vintage Champagne, meanwhile, must be aged in cellars for three years before disgorgement.
Due to the lengthy preparation process, Champagne takes on a richness and complexity with signature biscuit or yeasty notes. Some are crisp with notes of lemon, apple and flint, while finer Champagnes boast bold flavours of toasted brioche, roasted fruit and toffee.
Champagne can be enjoyed on all occasions and like Prosecco and Cava, is best served chilled in an ice bucket. Prices range from as little as £10 well into the hundreds, if not thousands, but many professionals agree that inexpensive Champagnes are less pleasant to drink than equivalently-priced or cheaper Proseccos and Cavas – so it’s always worth springing for the priciest bottle you can afford.
Prosecco is made by the Italian Charmat method, where secondary fermentation takes place in steel enamel-covered tanks rather than in individual bottles – the resulting wine is then bottled under pressure. This less complicated production process results in a softer, more approachable 'off-dry’ style of sparkling wine, that’s sweeter and lighter than Champagne.
You’ll likely see or hear the terms ‘frizzante’ and ‘spumante’ associated with Prosecco – these describe the level of effervescence in each, with ‘frizzante’ representing a gently sparkling wine and ‘spumnate’ a fizzier, fully-sparkling variety. Prosecco is probably the most well-known frizzante wine style, though Prosecco wines can also be made fully sparkling (spumante). Typically, Prosecco is served as an aperitif or with dessert.
For a long time, Prosecco was regarded as something of a ‘poor man’s Champagne’, but its quality has improved dramatically in recent times. Its popularity has soared since 2000, and in 2013 it outsold Champagne for the first time throughout the world.
Grapes: Macabeu, Parellada and Xarello
Cava is typically made with a number of little-known grapes, although Chardonnay and Pinot can also feature. It’s produced using the ‘Methode Tradicional’ which, like Champagne, sees it go through a second fermentation in the bottle – for Cava, this is usually around nine months. Because this process takes place outside of the French region, though, it can’t be called ‘Methode Champenoise’.
Cava is usually drier than Prosecco but lighter in style than Champagne. Instead of biscuit and yeasty notes, you can expect balanced citrus, pear and a pleasant acidity. Richly effervescent, it’s usually drunk after dinner and is traditionally paired with Spanish sweets, such as turron.
Price-wise, Cava is more on par with Prosecco, although more similar to Champagne in terms of production, and to a lesser extent, character. This means that it makes for a good alternative to Champers if the budget won’t stretch to a bottle of France’s finest.