Monday, March 11, 2013

Part VIII -- The nonconformists: The definitive comparison of Champagne, Franciacorta, Prosecco, and Cava

Over the course of the seven posts to date comparing Champagne, Franciacorta, Prosecco and Cava, I have detailed the accepted orthodoxy associated with the production of these wines. For the most part, this orthodoxy is followed religiously by all participants but there are some dissenters in the worlds of Champagne and Cava. In this post we explore the areas of departure from this "natural order."



Champagne undergoes layers of manipulation before the final product emerges. The wine undergoes:
  • Chaptalization -- as necessary to bring the juice up to 11% potential alcohol
  • Alcoholic fermentation
  • Blending
  • In-bottle fermentation
    • Solution of wine, sugar, and yeast added
    • Captured carbon dioxide dissolved in wine
  • Aging on lees which (Aromas & Flavors: Explanatory Notes,
    • Releases reducing enzymes that inhibit oxidation
    • Absorbs certain essential yeast nutrients (limits potential for refermentation at dosage)
    • Increases amino acids and other nitrogenous matter, precursors to "Champagne character"
    • Produces acetal which possibly adds a biscuity or brandy-like complexity
    • Produces MP32 which reduces tartrate precipitation
  • Liqueur de dosage
    • Adds sweetness, roundness, and complexity (Walters)
The vines in Champagne average 20-25 years old and that average is maintained to ensure vigorous output of less-complex fruit.  A combination of less-complex fruit picked early aids in the production of the austere base wines which the Houses prefer as the starting point for Champagne.  The argument for austere base wines is that the complexity and richness added by the process would make the wines heavy and elegance-free if less-austere wines were used as starters.

A number of growers in the Champagne area are walking away from this model in favor of what Walters (Alternative Champagne 2, The World of Fine Wine, Issue 35, 2012) refers to as "Champagne de Terroir," a wine which "maximizes the expression of the vineyard and removes the influence of the winemaker."  These Champagnes de Terroir are, according to Walters, "only produced successfully by a handfull of the finest growers." In Issue 36 of TWoFW, Walters describes the methods of these "Superior Grower Producers."  They:
  • Own or manage their own vineyards
  • Make wines from their own grapes
  • Begin with a desire to make wines that reflect their origins
    • Single-vineyard or single-commune wines
  • Manage the vineyards with little or no chemical input
    • Biodynamic or organic
  • Plow the soil
  • Seek lower yields than customary for the region
  • Pursue intense fruit so that lower dosage is needed
  • Use dosage in minimal amounts (when used) to balance acidity
  • Mature slowly; no fining or filtering.
The products emanating from this process are wines first and Champagne second, according to Walters.  They are drier, more vinous, clean, pure, and long of finish.  They tend to age well and, in his view, are better with food than a traditional Champagne.

The Growers that fit this mold are Egly-Ouriet, Selosse, Agrapart, Larmandier-Bernier, Jérome Prévost, and Cedric Bouchard (Walters).


A 1972 Spanish Ministerial Order established the Regulatory Board of Sparkling Wines to oversee the growing, production, and marketing of Cava and the wine was granted DO designation in 1986. According to an article on (Friday, November 2, 2012), producers in the Penedès wine region are deserting the Cava appellation and branding their offerings as Spanish sparkling wine or building their own sparkling wine brands. According to Josep Albet, President of the Regulatory Council of Penedès (as quoted in the article), nine producers have already deserted the appellation and five others were poised to follow. The producers were taking this action because they felt that the Cava brand had a poor image, with low prices the accepted norm in many markets. One of the producers identified in the article was Mas Comtal whose proprietor claimed to have left the DO in 2011 because the Cava brand was "detrimental" to her business. Another producer, Raventos i Blanc, announced plans to "adopt a new and un-certified regional appellation designation named Conca Del Riu Anoia" (, 11/14/2012).

Further, these producers felt that the appellation is too large to be managed or regulated effectively. Josep Albet promised to make two recommendations to the authorities as potential solutions to the problem: (i) shrink the appellation and (ii) have the entire Penedès region designated organic. The latter proposal was seen as adding value and allowing market differentiation.

This is an issue in its early stages and it is not yet clear how it will evolve but the Prosecco approach could point the way to a viable solution. The driving forces were different but Prosecco ended up with a broader DOC, more narrowly defined DOCGs, and specific, high-quality labels (Cartizze, Rive).


For a look back at previous posts in the series, please click on the appropriate link below.

Part I -- Origins
Part II -- Regulatory histories
Part III -- Macro-Level characteristics
Part IV -- Production zones
Part V -- The vineyards
Part VI -- Fermentation and aging
Part VII -- Wine styles

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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