The production of sparkling wines is a centuries-old tradition in many European nations. Over the years, master winemakers have come up with fascinating fermentation processes to get the most out of the grapes that grow in their respective regions. Of the many sparkling wine varieties produced in Europe, the three dominant names remain French Champagne, Italian Prosecco, and Spanish Cava. Below, we’ll take a closer look at what differentiates these three beverages so drinkers of all skill levels can better appreciate the subtleties of Cava vs Champagne vs Prosecco.
Let’s start off with the different regions in which these three drinks are made. Unsurprisingly, Champagne is produced in the Champagne-Ardenne region, which is a little less than 100 miles east of Paris. Prosecco, on the other hand, comes from Italy’s Veneto region just north of Venice. Finally, Spanish Cava comes from the Catalonian region, especially the community of Penedès.
Each of these sparkling wines has slightly different flavor profiles due to the different grapes used in cultivation. It’s easiest to start with Prosecco because this sparkling wine is only made with one variety of grape: Glera. These green grapes are known to be highly acidic and have a slightly “peachy” smell. Champagne, on the other hand, can be made with three varieties of grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. Typically, white champagnes only use the green Chardonnay grapes, Blanc de Noirs champagnes use a combination of darker Pinot Noir and Pinot Neunier, and Rosés use mostly Chardonnay with a touch of wine from one of the darker grapes. Lastly, Cava can also be made with Chardonnay or Pinot grapes, it’s most typically made with a blend of locally produced green grapes. The most common of these grapes include Macabeo, Parellada and Xarello.
In terms of fermentation, both Cava and Champagne share many similarities. After pressing the grapes, Champagne and Cava makers put their mixture in a barrel for the first round of fermentation. Next, wine makers transfer this mixture to a bottle, add sugar and yeast, and then cap the bottles for a months-long second fermentation. Throughout this second fermentation, winemakers have to routinely spin the bottles (Cava makers use a machine and Champagne makers turn the bottles by hand). Once the second fermentation is over, the sparkling wine bottle is flash-frozen so when the winemaker opens the bottle all of the dead yeast shoots out. For the last step, winemakers add some more sugar and wine, put another top on the bottle, and then send out their sparkling wine for consumption.
The main difference between Cava vs Champagne is that Champagne tends to be aged longer then Cava. The longer fermentation means Champagnes tend to taste richer than Cavas, which also translates to a higher price tag. Prosecco differs a great deal from both Champagne and Cava because the second fermentation happens in a large steel tank rather than in a bottle. This fermentation process produces less yeast which makes Prosecco extremely fruity and helps the wine produce bigger bubbles. Since Cavas tend to be in-between the richness of Champagne and the fruitiness of Prosecco, it’s considered one of the most versatile sparkling wines in food pairings. Many people in Spain like to pair their Cava with chicken, lamb, and seafood, because the acidity of the sparkling wine helps to cut through the fat. Some other common food pairings to try when drinking Cava include paella, rich desserts, and even BBQ.