When it comes to wine, we don't discriminate. Pour up and drink up, but if you'd like to have an air of elitism at your next wine-and-cheese party or brunch date, read below to find out the differences between sparkling wine, Champagne and prosecco. And the next time someone asks you if prosecco is just champagne, you can school them with your bougie knowledge.
In short: sparkling wine is grape juice with alcohol and bubbles.
It's made from fermented grape juice; Emma Rice, the winemaker for Hattingley Valley Wines in England says that sparkling wine encompasses all bubbly wine that isn't classified as Champagne or prosecco.
She explained that most of the time, sparkling wine will be white because it comes from the flesh of the grape, which is always clear. The colour is in the skin of the grape, so to get something like a rose or a sparkling red wine, winemakers have to be deliberate about allowing the grape skin to stay in contact with the juice during fermentation.
While Champagne and prosecco are both sparkling wines, not all sparkling wines can be classified as Champagne or prosecco.
There are various methods to making a sparkling wine. Ashley Santoro, the regional beverage director for the Standard Hotels in New York, says the method used to make sparkling wine mostly depends on where in the world you are.
Although chardonnay and pinot noir are the most commonly used grapes for sparkling wine, it can be made with virtually any grape.
While many people might resort to drinking sparkling wines in a flute, both Rice and Santoro believe that to get the full flavour of the wines, a wider tulip-shaped glass is best. They say people tend to use flutes because they preserve the bubbles better and are more aesthetically pleasing.
While many people drink sparkling wines in a flute, some believe that to get the full flavour of the wines, a wider tulip-shaped glass is best. Photo: Justin McManus
It's a sparkling white wine, but it's not just any sparkling white wine. It's Champagne.
Champagne is Champagne because it comes from Champagne, France. There are even laws against labelling sparkling white wines Champagne if they weren't produced in that area.
The reason you see some wines being labelled Champagne is because a special agreement was made between the U.S. and European Union in 2006 that allowed them to do so.
Although real Champagne can only come from Champagne, you can technically still make it just about anywhere in the world; it just won't be labelled as "Champagne." All you need is the right grapes (pinot noir, chardonnay or pinot meunier) and the right fermentation process, the Methode Champenoise.
The method used to make Champagne is the most tiresome and time consuming says Santoro. It differs from prosecco in that a second fermentation process is done in the individual bottles rather than in a bulk tank method.
Although most people reserve Champagne for special occasions, Santoro says that it actually pairs well with heavier proteins. She adds that Champagne can "take you through an entire meal."
When it comes to adding Champagne or sparkling wine to a bellini or a mimosa, Santoro suggests that people focus more on the juice than the nuances of the alcohol you're putting in it. However, it's best to not put higher-end Champagne in those types of cocktails as you most likely won't taste the flavour notes of the wine.
Prosecco is also a sparkling white wine, but unlike Champagne, it's Italian.
According to Carl Heline, the director of education for Moet Hennessy USA, asserts prosecco is a less classy version of Champagne.
"Prosecco is like a can of Coke. The gas is added later. Champagne is the best chardonnay and pinot grapes in the world, with yeast incorporated," Heline told The Hollywood Reporter.
Other than being scoffed at by Champagne experts, prosecco undergoes a different fermentation process than Champagne; it uses the Charmat Method. Unlike Champagne, which undergoes its second fermentation process in individual bottles, the Charmat Method means that the second fermentation process is done in a tank and then the fermented liquid is bottled.
Rice says that prosecco is the type of drink that you'd have on its own before dinner.
"Prosecco is very aromatic and floral in character and is slightly sweet," said Rice. "It's best served as an aperitif by itself."