Yes, there is a difference!
You might think that there’s little to no difference between bottles of bubbly. And if you’re looking to pick up something festive to drink, don’t worry too much — any bottle of bubbly might suffice. But Champagne, prosecco, and sparkling wine are three totally different terms whose meanings are different in important ways. Luckily, you don’t have to become a total wine snob to remember the difference. It’s really quite simple!
Sparkling wine is the least exclusionary term; it’s a blanket category that refers to all types of wine that, well… sparkle. If it bubbles, it’s sparkling wine. Champagne is a sparkling wine. Prosecco is a sparkling wine. Cava is a sparkling wine. Those are the three most popular types, though there are others. So if you’re not sure what to call the sparkling wine you’re drinking, you’re safest calling it just that: sparkling wine.
For a bottle of wine to be categorized as Champagne, it must come from the Champagne region of France. That’s all you really need to remember.
If it says Champagne on the label, it comes from the Champagne region of France.
In the Champagne region, the production of Champagne is closely regulated; all bottles are made using the méthode champenoise. The wine (made from a combination of three types of wine grapes: pinot noir, pinot meunier, and chardonnay) is fermented twice in special caves with the right climate. Due to its rich history, it claims the title as the official drink of celebration worldwide.
The Champagne Bureau (la Comité Champagne in French) works very hard to protect the exclusivity of the appellation. If you call something Champagne and it’s not from Champagne, France, you may get sued. Yes, it’s that serious. André, Yves Saint Laurent, and even Aldi have all been subject to Champagne-related lawsuits.
Prosecco, which is growing in popularity, was invented centuries after Champagne. It's less associated with luxury — and though some proud French citizens may disagree, that doesn’t mean it isn’t as nice. For a bottle of wine to be categorized as prosecco, it must come from the Veneto region of Italy. The name comes from a small Italian village called Prosecco, where the wine was invented, and the appellation is similarly protected under European law.
Prosecco is a region of Italy wherein all prosecco is made.
Prosecco can be sparkling, semi-sparkling, or still, and all prosecco is made from glera grapes, though other types of grapes can be added. Prosecco also must be made using a specific method of production — but unlike Champagne, it is fermented the second time in steel tanks rather than in the bottle.