Wine Time: Know Your Champagne from your Chamat

Keep Houston Press Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Houston and help keep the future of Houston Press free.

Antonomasia is the figure of rhetoric whereby a proper name becomes a common name.

In the U.S., we say Xerox for photocopy. Kleenex for tissue paper. FedEx for courier (as in I FedExed a package). And here in Texas, we say Coke for nearly any kind of sparkling soft drink.

But when we call a Prosecco a Champagne, not only are we wrong, we are also breaking the law. Well, we would be breaking the law if we lived in Europe, where winemakers in the geographic region of Champagne are the only ones allowed to call their wine Champagne.

But there is also another fundamental and equally important difference between Prosecco and Champagne.

Champagne is produced using a process whereby still wine undergoes a second fermentation in bottle (the second fermentation, carried out in a closed environment, is what creates the effervescence).

Prosecco is produced using a process whereby still wine undergoes a second fermentation in large pressurized vats, the Charmat method, named after Frenchman Eugéne Charmat, who supposedly invented the technique in the early twentieth century.

Where the Champagne method tends to produce finer bubbles, the Charmat method will deliver bigger ones.

Does that mean that Champagne is better than Prosecco?

If you've been following along here at Wine Time, you know that I believe there is an appropriate "application" for nearly every wine (including the ones that I pour down the sink).

At our house, we reach for Prosecco when we want something light and fun, easy and approachable, crowd-pleasing and inexpensive.

Champagne is reserved for intimate gatherings and special occasions (in part because of its price).

And while versatile Prosecco can be paired with nearly everything (aside from steak or braised red meat), we match Champagne with foods that won't overwhelm its nuance or mute its elegance (one of my guilty pleasures is blood-rare shell steak and Champagne, ideally rosé).

There was a time when Prosecco was made using the traditional method. And there is a growing movement of small producers and growers who have revived lees-aged Prosecco (which is made from the Glera grape) with secondary fermentation in bottle. Unfortunately, very few make it to the U.S. and none have made it to Texas (save for the ones I've smuggled in myself).

But the two appellations, even when vinified using the same technique, taste worlds apart. Not because one is better than the other but because different grape varieties are used in each and the growing conditions are completely different (climate, soil type, exposure, etc.).

So go ahead and call a photocopy a Xerox and a Sprite a Coke. But know your Champagne from your Charmat and don't ever call Prosecco -- or any other sparkling wine for that matter -- a Champagne!

Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords

Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.


Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.