Spiny Bubbles

Prosecco, Cava, or Champagne?

By Rasha Refaie

Bub*ble /bəb(ə)l/

noun. 1) a thin sphere of liquid enclosing air or another gas. 2) used to refer to a good or fortunate situation that is isolated from reality or unlikely to last.

Ah, bubbles. They can be kitschy, but they also bring to mind fancy concepts like hope, youth, protection. And when they're in an alcoholic beverage served in tall slender stemware, I call that drink Personality Juice. I'm much more pleasant and interesting to talk to after I've had two glasses of something bubbly -- Prosecco, Champagne, or Cava. 

So what are the differences between them, really? Which one offers the most fortunate situation? I set out on a taste test last weekend to find out.

First, Prosecco. It's usually young, made from the Glera grape, comes from the Veneto region of Italy, doesn't ferment in the bottle like Champagne does, and its secondary fermentation takes place in steel tanks. It's been around a very long time -- Pliny the Elder wrote about its splendors in the 1st century AD. On Saturday I stopped by the Brooklyn Heights Wine Bar & Kitchen for a glass of their Pasqua Prosecco Non-Vintage, from Treviso. My accompanying snack was a Kalamata olive tapenade with crostini. It was a vibrant combination. This particular glass had the faintest of green tints and an energetic fizz. Paired with the smooth, salty tang of the tapenade and the deep, dry brittleness of the crostini, it kept me quite busy and happy, like I was finally succeeding at multi-tasking. The server gave me extra crostini, so I ordered another glass to make sure the Pasqua really was as refreshingly incandescent as I thought. The answer is yes.

The next day was Super Bowl Sunday. The bar I wanted to visit for both Cava and Champagne was closed, because they don't have a television. That was the reason I wanted to go there: because of their excellent menu and wine list and their total abstention from sports broadcasting. When I walked by another place around the corner, they were closed for the same reason. So the Stupor Bowl forced me to go to the liquor store and finish the taste test at home.

Cava is from Spain, mostly Catalonia, where they've been making it only since the 1800s. It's way cheaper than Champers. A full bottle of Segura Viudas was $9 at the liquor store, whereas the smallest bottle (serving about 2 glasses) of Moet & Chandon Imperial Brut was $16. I've enjoyed many Cavas in the past, but this Segura Viudas Brut was... too soft. I missed the crackle and effervescence of the Prosecco bubbles. They create the excitement you want from a bubbly, that feeling of diving into a frothy wave in late August.

Champagne doesn't go back as far as Prosecco, but farther than Cava. The grape cultivation -- using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes -- possibly began during the reign of Charlemagne, around 800 AD. The traditional method of making it is costly, and that's why Champagne is too. On the counter at the liquor store was a $900 bottle. Maybe they thought Beyoncé and Jay-Z were swinging by after the game. I was tempted to grab it for myself -- I could drink $450 of it right away, and save the other $450 for later! -- but my Visa card said no no no.

This Moet & Chandon Imperial Brut was a warm shade of gold and smelled like pebbles from the bed of a clear stream. It was crunchier than either the Prosecco or the Cava, and the bubbles felt pleasantly jagged, while Prosecco tends to feel fluffier. A Wine Folly article I'd read earlier suggested that potato chips go well with Champagne. I grabbed a bag of Lay's Classic at the corner store, and settled into Le Snack Imperial. I'm now a fan of this combo. Wavy, crispy, greasy disks of starchy salt, washed down with spiny bubbles: bliss.

In the end, though, my winner was Prosecco. I'm officially a devotee -- for its price, tirelessness, and flavor that consistently delivers. I'll save the Veuve for my birthday or New Year's Eve. On a normal day, I'll stick with the juice from Verona when I want to be isolated from reality.

Published February 12th, 2016

Rasha Refaie has written for The Normal School Magazine, Newsday, New York Press, and others. She lives in the East Village.