Champagne, Sparkling, Cava or Prosecco?

Are you drinking wine with bubbles in it? First of all, congratulations! It’s a great thing to do, whether you’re celebrating a milestone or the fact that you just ate a great sandwich. But what exactly is it that you’re drinking? The word ‘Champagne’ gets thrown around quite a bit when it comes to wine that fizzes, but about 90% of the time it’s used incorrectly.

It’s become such a common mistake that it’s probably not the end of the world to make it in certain circles, but there are some French, Spanish and Italian winemakers who would cry big tears if they were within earshot. See, the big difference between Champagne, Sparkling Wine, Prosecco and Cava is where they’re made, more so than what they’re made of.

Wine is a beverage with a history and a long long list of traditions- some incredibly stupid and others kind of cool. We’re not sure where the denominación de origen, denominazione di origine controllata or the appellation d’origine contrôlée fall on that list, but we’re going to tell you about them anyways. If you hadn’t guessed, those all mean “controlled destination of origin” and are sometimes referred to as ‘appellations.’

More or less, an appellation is a marker of a product’s point of origin, expressed as the name of the region in which it is grown. It’s like a trademark or a patent, but for a geographical region in which a certain style of beverage is made. These appellations are actually legal codes enforced by the countries in which the growing regions are. They not only ban other winemakers outside of the controlled regions from using their name, but enforce rules meant to ensure quality and characteristics unique to each region.

For example, it is illegal for a whiskey to be called a Scotch unless it is distilled in Scotland, just as a whiskey has to come from Kentucky to be legally called a Bourbon. The same goes for wine, and in particular, wine with bubbles in it.

So what exactly is the difference between Champagne, Sparkling Wine, Prosecco and Cava? Their appellations, or the exclusive right to be named after the region in which they were made.

A wine with bubbles can only be called ‘Champagne’ if it was actually made in the Champagne region of France. There is literally a semi-legal body designed to protect the name Champagne and ensure that all the wines coming out of the region meet a certain standard: the aptly named Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne. Ecoutes-toi, they are not to be trifled with!

Cava is also a legally protected style of wine coming  from the Catalonia region of Spain, and in particular Penèdes. People used to casually refer to Cava as “Spanish Champagne,” but the European Union  made it illegal to do so… just in case you didn’t know how seriously the Europeans take their vino.

Don’t worry, the Italians have their controlled region too. The bubbly wine coming out of the fields near the village of Prosecco and the city of Trieste is the only wine that may be called Prosecco.

Finally, with the exception of some small regions with appellations and all the privileges that come with ’em… pretty much everything else falls under the easy umbrella category of ‘Sparkling Wine.’


It all tastes pretty damn good, and makes for a fantastic celebration… but it ain’t all Champagne. Now you know.

wine all the time | education tip | bubbles on the mind from Wine Awesomeness on Vimeo.

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