Which will you raise a Christmas toast to in your household? The French home of the poshest of drops, or the Italian birthplace of the people's bubbles? Our duelling experts help you decide
By Amy Cooper
Bubbles with your baubles? Step aside, every other wine - this is a job for the sovereign of sparkles, peerless party potion and ultimate elixir of good times. Without champagne, Christmas is flat.
There is no substitute for the complexity, diversity and finesse of French fizz, born of a revered 300-year-old methode perfected by monks and loved by every French legend, from Napoleon to Marie Antoinette to Brigitte Bardot. The national drink is Frencher than the Marseillaise itself.
The case for champagne (actually, make that two cases - we're expecting extra company this year) begins at the source: a 343-square-kilometre swathe of bucolic north-east France, where 319 villages (or crus), 370 champagne houses and 16,000 growers produce the real deal. Le Champagne, the region, is the only place in the world where la champagne, the wine, can come from. Strict Appellation of Origin laws ensure every drop in your flute can be traced to its birthplace. While your prosecco could just as easily hail from Victoria's King Valley as Italy, champagne is defined by one delicious dot on the map.
The case for champagne (actually, make that two cases - we're expecting extra company this year) begins at the source.
Quaffing la champagne is fun but soaking up le Champagne is unforgettable. Awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status for its landscape, history and contribution to world culture, Champagne is just a skip and a sip from Paris (150 kilometres to the capital's north-east), and arguably an even deeper immersion into French tradition. Vine-clad hillsides surround historic Reims and its magnificent Notre-Dame cathedral, where France's first kings were crowned - and toasted with champagne.
Reims Christmas Market is in full magical swing, with fairy lights and artisans in little chalets around the illuminated cathedral. Raise a glass of Lanson, Taittinger, Mumm or Pommery, then follow a trail of bubbles through idyllic vineyards and villages to Epernay and its wondrous Avenue de Champagne. Forget the North Pole - Santa must surely live on this cobbled kilometre of gracious old mansions and chateaux with fairytale facades and manicured gardens, home to epic champagne houses including Moet et Chandon, Perrier Jouet's 18th-century Maison Belle Epoque, where you can taste among Europe's largest collection of French Art Nouveau, and the twin-towered Chateau Comtesse Lafond.
Want to see the real Santa's grotto? Tour the 110-kilometre labyrinth of ancient chalk cellars beneath the Avenue, housing millions of bottles of bubbles, all of which are on my Christmas list.
Throughout December, the Avenue hosts Les Habits de Lumiere, an effervescence of lights shows, parades and parties, and further proof there's no finer festive fuel than champagne.
When the cork pops at our place on Christmas morning, it's mimosas, magnums and santé to Santa. Joyeux Noel!
By Mal Chenu
Both lovely, rustic European regions famous for their respective sparklings, the only real difference between Champagne and Prosecco is a French sense of superiority. In short, le value de snob.
While the Italian bubbles may be a relative latecomer, prosecco is the world's most popular fizz, easily outselling champagne. Elitist champagne campaigners haughtily deride the more ecumenical drop but the proletariat has proclaimed its preference for prosecco.
When one reflects on the summery joy of a fruity Aperol Spritz sipped between bites of prosciutto-wrapped melon, it's clear the hoi polloi's penchant for prosecco is spot-on.
Prosecco has overcome a few hurdles in its time. Its appellation obstruction is because a grape name cannot be an appellation. But we all know where it really comes from and there's something extra satisfying about enjoying a drink or dish in the place where it originated, such as a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel.
When you unmuzzle your muselet, you'll find your prosecco is more pleasant when you sip it in Prosecco, just as bolognaise is beefier in Bologna, and Brussels sprouts are slightly less disgusting in fine Belgian restaurants.
Another hurdle arose in 2008 when a downmarket producer rolled out an all-but-nude, gold-painted Paris Hilton to advertise cheap cans (yes CANS!) of prosecco. This did not assist those trying to protect prosecco's image. As the president of the prosecco wine growers association of Treviso said at the time: "Hilton hotels are a sign of quality; Paris Hilton is not."
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Developed over many centuries, viticulture in the Prosecco region dates back to Roman times, beginning with the Glera grape, which initially grew near the village of Prosecco near Trieste in north-eastern Italy. These days, the Prosecco region covers nine provinces in Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia. It is an expanse of great cultural significance and surpassing loveliness; a quilted landscape of vineyards growing on implausibly steep inclines.
UNESCO has recognised it as such declaring the hills of Le Colline del Prosecco di Conegliano e Valdobbiadene a World Heritage Site, one of the eight sites in the Veneto region alone.
Generations of producers have worked this difficult and unique landscape, eschewing easier countryside. They did this because the terroir is terrific and scenery is stunning.
You're also nice and close to Venice and its myriad spectacles. One of these is Murano, where skilled artisans have been hand-making glass since the 13th century, and where you can pick up a few flutes for your next pour of prosecco.
Visiting Champagne is a cliche, and a damned expensive one at that. So save a few euros, take the road less travelled and sip the sparkling more tasted in pretty Prosecco. Salute!