Guide to Prosecco
Sparkling wine and celebration go hand in hand, but Prosecco has not always been well known. The end of both world wars were celebrated not with Prosecco, but with Champagne. During the twentieth century, the word “Champagne” became nearly synonymous with sparkling wine in general, and no wedding or anniversary was the same without it. Things began to change in the last decade. An awareness of Champagne’s unique identity and style became more widespread along with increased recognition of regional sparkling distinct from Champagne - Prosecco being chief among these. From 2006 to 2016, sales of Prosecco shot up around the world from 50 to over 500 million bottles - becoming the third most popular Italian wine in the United States.
Taste and Pairings
Prosecco usually presents a light, clean, off-dry style with orchard fruit flavors like apple and pear, along with lemon, and peach. The refreshing, unobtrusive nature of Prosecco makes it an excellent choice as an aperitif before dinner, or as an all-purpose pairing with a meal. Even in instances where Prosecco might not provide the ideal accompaniment to a particular dish, it very seldom detracts from or obscures flavors, making it acceptable throughout a multi-course dinner from salad to steak. The best pairings, however, include light seafood, like oysters or mussels, cheeses - especially mild creamy styles - and vegetables. Prosecco also lends itself to a wide variety of cocktails like mimosas, and makes good cooking wine. The relatively lower cost of Prosecco compared with sparkling wines like Champagne has also been a factor in its current rise in popularity.
Prosecco comes from northeastern Italy in a region called Veneto, near Venice, which produces more wine than any other part of Italy. The majority of Prosecco is grown in large, flat vineyards with extremely high yields that are mechanically harvested before fermentation. This high-volume approach moderates the cost of each bottle and allows for greater supply. Other famous wines from the Veneto region include Soave, Valpolicella, and Amarone. There is a small village in the Veneto called “Prosecco” that probably lent its name to the wine.
Before 2009, Prosecco was a refreshingly straightforward wine to learn about - particularly when compared with many of Italy’s notoriously complicated grapes, regions, and laws. “Prosecco” was the name of the grape and the name of the wine. Simple, right? No longer. The wine is still called “Prosecco,” but the grape has been officially renamed “Glera.” This change allows winegrowers in Italy to attempt a legal challenge against anyone making Prosecco outside the Veneto because “Prosecco” is now an exclusively Italian term. Wines that were formerly and legitimately labeled Prosecco in Austria, for example, must now find new names, such as “sparkling Glera.”
The Tank Method
Prosecco’s method of production distinguishes it from Champagne among other sparkling wines. All sparkling wines require a second fermentation to produce carbonation. The so-called “traditional method” used for Champagne features secondary fermentation inside each bottle - a process that produces unique flavors but is also time-consuming and expensive. Prosecco, by contrast, sees a secondary fermentation in large, stainless steel tanks that drastically reduce the cost and labor of production - a process known as the “Tank” or “Charmat” Method. The result of tank method production is wine that preserves fresh fruit flavors from the grapes without the added “yeastiness” that characterizes Champagne. A large portion of the population actually prefers Prosecco to Champagne in blind tasting comparisons, which is good news for them. They can save money by drinking the wine they love. Prosecco is becoming a wine for enjoying year round, not just on special occasions.
Levels of Quality
While the majority of Prosecco produced is given the mid-level designation “DOC” (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), there are some producers who can use the prestigious designation “DOCG” (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita). These producers are located above the plains in the foothills of the Alps, where vineyards have lower yields but more complex and saturated flavor. Keep an eye out for the term Valdobbiadene (“val-doh-bee-ah-dee-nay”), the most famous village for the production of higher quality Prosecco. A small number of winemakers are experimenting with the use of grapes other than Glera, and with methods other than Charmat. As time goes on, the quality and variety of Prosecco seems likely to increase. Here’s to Prosecco past, present, and future!