Once reserved for special occasions, more and more people are enjoying sparkling wines as their “go to” drink on everyday occasions as well. Because of their former status as “occasion” drinks, many of us have had only a limited exposure to these wonderfully bubbly beverages – we know there are different kinds of sparkling wine, but we are hard pressed to tell the difference between them. Here are the basics about some of the most popular varieties of sparkling wine.
The most well-known type of sparkling wine is champagne, until recently the hands-down first choice of New Year’s Eve revelers and wedding toasters. Strictly speaking, only sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France can be called “champagne,” usually a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. Because of the geographical exclusivity and the continued emphasis on using traditional, labor intensive processes to produce champagne, this is generally themes expensive option. The bubbles in champagne are described as “fine” and “sharp.” In terms of flavor, champagne is often described as having a fruity flavor (peach, cherry and citrus) combined with “toasty” notes.
Cava is made in Spain from Xarello, Macabeo and Parellada grapes, in much the same way as champagne. In fact, cava has a taste that is very similar to that of champagne. Like champagne, cava’s bubbles are fine, but are considered to be more delicate and less sharp than the bubbles in champagne. Cava is produced according to the same method as champagne and undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle. However, the aging process for cava is often shorter than champagne’s, resulting in a less distinct toasty flavor.
Prosecco is produced by companies like Masottina in Italy from Prosecco grapes. Prosecco is generally “brut or “extra dry.” It differs from champagne and cava in that its bubbles tend towards frothy and “loose.” This means that prosecco can be easily paired with just about anything, making this a very versatile option. Whereas both champagne and cava are made by carrying out a secondary fermentation of the wine in the bottle, prosecco is fermented in tanks before the wine is bottled. This gives prosecco a lighter, less yeasty taste than both champagne and cava. In general, people describe the flavor of prosecco as being flowery and fruity. It also means that that a good bottle of prosecco can be had much more affordably than a good bottle of champagne.
While there is a lingering “snobbery” around champagne compared to other sparkling wines, all three of these popular bubblies are excellent options. As with anything else, your decision to choose champagne, cava or prosecco for your next celebration or for a casual evening with friends should ultimately be about your personal taste preferences rather than any sense that one of these is inherently “better” than the others.