They all sparkle, but that's where the similarities end.
As any student of Wayne's World can tell you, not all that sparkles is Champagne. Here's how the king of fizzy wines compares to the world's two other most popular sparklers, Prosecco and Cava.
You probably already know this, but Champagne comes solely from the Champagne region of northeastern France. It's made from any or all of three grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. It gets fizzy via a labor-intensive process called méthode Champenoise: First, a winemaker ferments grape juice into base wine, which is still, just like any other wine. That wine is bottled with sugar and yeast, then closed up to ferment a second time. Since the bottle is sealed, carbon dioxide produced during that second fermentation dissolves into the wine, making it sparkle.
While that's happening, the bottles are gradually tipped forward so that the lees (dead yeast and sediment) collects in the bottle's neck. Winemakers flash-freeze the bottle's neck, remove the cap and a plug of lees pops out. Before it's corked, each bottle is spiked with the dosage—a mixture of sugar and wine that determines the bottle's final level of sweetness. That sweetness level is indicated on the bottle; the most common designation, which indicates a nearly-dry wine, is brut.
Champagnes can taste and smell like many different things, but common flavor descriptors include yeast and brioche.
Cava is Spain’s most popular sparkling wine and it undergoes the exact same production process as Champagne. However, the Spanish process is known as traditionelle, instead of méthode Champenoise, as only wine makers in Champagne may legally label their products méthode Champenoise.
Upward of 95 percent of Cava is produced in Catalonia in northeastern Spain, and the most common grapes are Macabeu, Parellada and Xarello. However, some Cavas may also include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Garnacha and Monastrell. More frequently than is the case with Champagne, Cava's flavors can veer toward earthy.
Prosecco comes from the Veneto region of northeastern Italy, where it's made from a grape varietal now known as Glera (which, confusingly, used to be called Prosecco). Unlike Champagne or Cava, Prosecco’s secondary fermentation occurs in tanks rather than individual bottles.This process, known as charmat, is cheaper and faster than the méthode Champenoise.
Prosecco tends to be sweeter than the average Champagne or Cava, and its flavors are usually simpler and fruitier. That's not to say its charms are insignificant: Prosecco now outsells Champagne worldwide.