If you’ve ever celebrated a birthday, or Christmas, or been to a party, or even just brunch on a Saturday – you’ve likely done so with a glass of Cava or Prosecco. The UK loves a glass of fizz, that’s a fact. Not only is the UK the biggest consumer of Prosecco, outside of Italy, but it is also the world’s largest importer of sparkling wine.
These two delicious drinks are certainly some of the nation’s favourite tipples. However, you may have thought to yourself, what’s the difference between Cava and Prosecco? Well, Savage Vines are here to help! Cava and Prosecco differ greatly, in both taste and method of production. During this article we will take you through these differences. So, next time a loved one hands you a glass, or you order one, (or two), at a restaurant or bar, you’ll know exactly what you’re drinking.
Sparkling Wine Production
Broadly speaking there are two ways in which any sparkling method is produced. Either through secondary fermentation in an inert tank, or through the bottle. These are, (unsurprisingly), called tank and bottle fermentation respectively. If you’re thinking, ‘Woah! Secondary Fermentation, what about the first?’. Don’t worry, that’s where we’ll start.
So, all sparkling wine begins by producing a base wine. These wines tend to be dry and very acidic, while still being relatively low in alcohol content. Winemakers make these base wines via the same methods of still wine. If you want to know how still wine is made then read our handy guide here. The wine will also be flat at this point. It is during the secondary fermentation where the bubbles are introduced to the wine through the dissolving of CO².
Once this base wine has been made, the winemaker will take one of the two aforementioned roads. First is the bottle fermentation method. This winemaker will use this method if they wish to impart further flavours and aromas into the wine. This method is used for Champagne, Crémant and Cava.
Then, the tank fermentation is used for both of the famous Italian sparkling wines – Prosecco and Asti. The reason being that Prosecco and Asti use more aromatic grapes, Glera and Moscato respectively. This means that winemakers want to keep these flavour profiles intact and the bottle fermentation method could overpower these already fragrant grapes.
Let’s look at both these methods in more detail, to see exactly how they affect the final product that we all know and love so much.
This process, known as Méthode Traditionnelle, (or the ‘Traditional Method’), as you’d expect takes place in a bottle. They pour the base wine to the bottle, with yeast and sugar. Then, they place a crown cap on and seal the bottle. The bottle is then placed on its side and the fermentation begins – introducingCO² and more alcohol.
Once the fermentation ends, a sediment of dead yeast cells, known as ‘lees’, form at the bottom of the bottle. While dead cells may not sound appealing – they actually are common in both the sparkling & still white wine production. As these lees cells begin to break down, (a biological process known as ‘autolysis’), they impart a delicious biscuity aroma and taste. Next, time you’re enjoying a glass of Cava – notes of biscuit, pastry and even bread are certainly ones to look out for.
Now, the next stage is making sure that these dead yeast cells don’t make it into your glass. This is the ‘riddling’ stage. Here, the winemaker will slowly turn the bottles upside down, either by hand or machine. The lees then collects at the bottom [neck] of the bottle. At this point, they freeze the deposit of lees. This frozen deposit is then unceremoniously ejected from the bottle. This then leaves nothing but the lees biscuity aromas behind.
This leaves one final step before adding the classic cork and wire cage cap. They top the bottle up with some more wine and usually a bit of sugar. This mixture is the ‘dosage’. Again, there is a rather more impressive sounding French term for it – the ‘liqueur d’expédition’. This will determine the sweetness of the final product. With the labelling terms ‘Brut’ delineating a dry wine and ‘Demi-Sec’ indicating a wine with medium sweetness and a higher sugar content.
The Tank Fermentation method is a somewhat easier approach to making sparkling wine. They seal the base wine in an inert tank, again with yeast and sugar. This tank will not allow any oxidisation, nor will it impart any flavours. The wine will then enter into its secondary fermentation phase, where the carbonation begins. Winemakers will filter out the less before it has a chance to break down and impart flavour. They then bottle the wine. At the end of it all you have a delicious bottle of Prosecco.
There is one variation on this, known as the ‘Asti Method’. This is used to produce the sweeter sparkling wine from Piedmont called ‘Asti’, as well as other sparkling wine varieties across the globe. Rather than a dry base wine beginning the process, the grape juice is put in a pressurised tank with yeast. This ferments, but they allow CO² to escape. Then, they seal the tank retaining any further CO². They then filter the yeast out, before it can eat up all the sugar – leaving a deliciously sweet and relatively low alcohol sparkling wine.
Now that we’ve covered how the grape becomes the drink. Let’s look at what you can expect to taste from both Cava and Prosecco.
What Cava Tastes Like
As we’ve seen, Cava is Spain’s answer to the traditional method. Indeed, it began in the middle of the 19th century after Josep Raventós, (who comes from the historic Raventós winemaking family), travelled around the Champagne wine region. It was here that an interest for the potential of Spanish sparkling wine was piqued. Shortly after his return Cava production got under way.
Raventós got to work capitalising on a phylloxera plague which wiped out a large number of black grape vines in Penedès, an autonomous community within Catalonia. He replaced these with white grapes and Cava was born. Even today, Cava production is still almost completely from the Penedes wine region of Catalunya, in the most North-Eastern part of Spain.
You can produce Cava through a number of different grape varieties. The main source will be local Spanish varieties, although regulations also permit Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. These latter two which also form two thirds of the base for Champagne are a good source of fruit flavours and acidity to the base wine.
You can expect a rich array of aromas and flavours. Green fruits such as apples and pears. Citrusy tangs of lemon and lime. Then, don’t forget about the biscuit and bread aromas from that lees.
What Prosecco Tastes Like
By comparison Prosecco is a relatively new phenomenon, at least in the English speaking world. Variations of the drink we know and love have been around in Italy since the 18th century, but it was around the middle of the 20th century that Prosecco really took on its own personality. Previously, it was often comparable to the sweet Asti.
Now, Prosecco has taken on a dry character. It is this dry variation of the drink that exploded onto the scene from around the year 2000. The UK has seen it boom in popularity from the 2010s onwards, with sales continuing to rise even now.
Made from Glera grapes, Prosecco often possesses distinct apple and citrus notes. Not only this but the aromatic nature of the grapes found in Italian sparkling wines made in this method often provides a delightful floral aspect to it. Dry, crisp, acidic and most importantly delicious.
There you have it – Cava and Prosecco. Luckily, you don’t have to pick sides with this one, but you now have the knowledge of exactly what goes into each of the nation’s favourite drinks. All you have to do is sit back, sip and enjoy!
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