In this feature, we’re going to discuss one varietal that’s made a significant comeback since 2009 called Prosecco. It’s a wonderful sparkling wine from Italy that has numerous cost-effective and profile benefits you don’t find with other sparkling wines such as champagne.
Personally, I really enjoy Prosecco and love that, in many cases, it’s not as dry and tart as champagne is, offering some very bright and fresh fruit flavors that make it the perfect wine for brunch, a casual Sunday outdoors or a perfect accompaniment to a variety of dishes.
The History of Prosecco
Prosecco dates back much farther than most people would ever guess. Since it’s a relatively new ‘phenomenon’ in the Western world, many people falsely assume that it’s a rather recent wine that’s only come into existence in the past few decades. However, it’s actually been around for over two thousand years.
Although the lineage is somewhat unclear, historians believe that Prosecco actually dates back to the Roman times when the Glera grape was grown in the surrounding area of the village of Prosecco in an area that was formerly known as Puccino. In the dawn of the eighteenth century, winemakers began to cultivate the Glera and its popularity quickly expanded throughout the region.
In the small region of Trieste during the 16th century, Ribolla was the wine of choice being marketed as the re-creation of the famous Pucinian wine from the antiquities. The famed wine was well regarded by Pliny the Elder and Emperor Augustus’ wife Livia who believed it had healing capabilities and used it as a medicine to treat a variety of ailments from stomach aches to injuries. The issue that came to be was that there was no way for locals to distinguish the Ribolla wine in Trieste from other wines that had the same name, but lacked magical powers. Those other, more inferior wines produced in Gorizia sold at a far lesser price point in Istria. The marketing gurus of the day realized very quickly that they needed to change the name of the wine so as to completely differentiate it from the other, cheaper wines if they wanted to make a profit. Since the wine was heavily marketed as being this exquisite historically produced wine in antiquity, the wine was thereafter referred to as “castellum nobile vinum Pucinum”, named after the castle adjacent to the small village of Prosecco. Fortunately for these marketers, the wine was an instant success and very quickly became known by visitors touring the region. Englishman Fynes Moryson, upon visiting the land, noted in 1593, “Histria is devided into Forum Julii, and Histria properly so called… Here growes the wine Pucinum, now called Prosecho, much celebrated by Pliny”. It was to become the first documented mention of Prosecco. Moryson then proceeded to document the wine as a famous wine of Italy saying “These are the most famous Wines of Italy. La lagrima di Christo and like wines neere Cinqueterre in Liguria: La vernaza, and the white Muskadine, especially that of Montefiaschoni in Toscany: Cecubum and Falernum in the Kingdome of Naples, and Prosecho in Histria”.
After that, history was made and Prosecco was a lifeblood of the Italian economy. Vinification began spreading like wildfire, first in Gorizia and then through Venice into Dalmatia, Treviso and Vicenza. Prosecco became a popular drink amongst literary marvels in the region and appeared in print for the first time in Aureliano Acanti’s book ‘Il roccolo Ditirambo’, where he writes ‘And now I would like to wet my mouth with that Prosecco with its apple bouquet’.
Since it was such a beautiful floral wine with a light flavor profile, it quickly became popular in the low lands of Veneto and Friuli. Once secondary fermentation came into existence, it gave birth to the production of Prosecco DOC.
The wine continued to flourish on a regional level and, at times, on a broader geographical level. Until recent years, Prosecco was a sweet wine similar to Asti produced in Piedmont. It was only after 1960 when production methods were changed to improve and further differentiate the wine from its competition.
The recipes for the wine have changed considerably since the beginning of the 20th century after the School of Oenology in Conegliano Veneto perfected its production method.
Since that time, the global sales of Prosecco has continued to rise, growing rapidly in double-digit percentages since 1998. Of course, in its report, the New York Times stated that these sales are aided by its low price in comparison to other sparkling wines. By 2000, Prosecco was introduced to the mainstream American markets by Mionetto which rapidly became a large importer and has reported “incredible growth” since 2008.
Once introduced to the US market, Italy saw significant opportunity on an international scale and moved to protect its now globally popular wine. Once 2009 hit, the formerly protected DOC labeled as Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene and Prosecco di Conegliano were changed and given grander status as a DOCG wine. To further protect the wine, the Italian Minister of Agriculture issued an order, effectively changing the name of the grape to Glera in an effort to protect the name and designation so no other country could call their wine Prosecco. The name Prosecco is now considered a geographical indicator which protects it even more. In addition, there is also a newly formed association comprised of the traditional Prosecco growers which is seeking a protected designation of origin status for Northern Italian Prosecco under European and, ideally, international law.
Today, there are more than 8000 estates and almost 300 producers that make almost 200 million bottles of Prosecco each year for public sale.
How Prosecco is Made
Unlike its major competitor, Champagne, Prosecco is made using the Charmat method which is also referred to as Metodo Charmat-Martinotti, sometimes shortened to Metodo Martinotti. It’s a production process that’s fairly localized to Italy where it was first invented. While France has copied the method, they refer to it as Méthode Charmat. Once the first fermentation is completed, the wine is given a secondary fermentation in stainless steel vessels that are covered with a vitreous enamel rather than placing the wine in individuals bottles that are under pressure. It’s actually partly due to this production method that the cost of Prosecco is so low in comparison to that of Champagne. The actually production method itself is far less costly to undertake and is easier for the staff to manage. Moët & Chandon Champagne is actually made using a similar process that was developed in the Soviet Union called Sovetskoye Shampanskoye. Moët & Chandon bought the rights to the production method in the mid 1970s.
Styles of Prosecco
For the most part, Prosecco is produced in two varietals being Spumante, meaning full sparkling and Frizzante which translates to lightly sparkling. Spumante is the more expensive version which comes in a traditional wine bottle and has undergone the secondary fermentation process. Frizzante on the other hand is often sold in individual cans as well as bottles. In addition, there is also a still version of the wine called Calmo or Tranquillo which is made from the Glera grape but accounts for less than five percent of total Prosecco production and is rarely exported outside of Italy.
The Prosecco that comes from the well known regions of Conegliano-Valdobbiadene areas are labeled as “Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene”, “Prosecco di Valdobbiadene”, “Prosecco di Conegliano” or “Prosecco DOC” if it’s from Friuli.
The wines that are labeled with a different designation are not protected and usually of far less quality. Regardless of the style you choose, most Prosecco is as inexpensive as a lower priced red or white wine with the $30+ range being considered expensive for a standard bottling.
For something slightly more refined, the hills of Cartizze are an elevated vineyard owned and operated by close to 150 growers. They produce very little Prosecco, but of course it’s considered the best quality. Often it may be labeled as “Grand Cru” despite being ranked lower than the standard bottling in blind taste tests.
Similar to Champagne, Prosecco abides by the EU Sweetness of Wine Regulations and are labelled in the following manner:
Brut – Indicates a sweetness level of up to 12g per liter of residual sugar.
Extra Dry – Indicates a sweetness level of up to 12 to 17g per liter of residual sugar.
Dry – Indicates a sweetness level of up to 17 to 32g per liter of residual sugar.
How to Serve Prosecco
Traditionally, Prosecco, like Champagne, is served as an aperitif. Just like any white wine, you’ll want to chill it before serving by cooling it in a general or speciality wine fridge. Prosecco, unlike Champagne, needs to be served while its young and should not be cellared for any period of time as it will stale. While experts claim that high quality Prosecco can be aged for up to seven years, I recommend no more than two and even then, it’s not necessary.
Prosecco tastes very different than Champagne and is ideal for those who are looking for a fruity, crisp and aromatic wine with notes of fresh orchard fruit. They are a very light wine and don’t have the brioche taste many people associate with Champagne.
Of course, one benefit of Prosecco being so inexpensive is that it’s ideal for use in mixed drinks like Mimosas and Bellinis.
Mimosas are predominantly served with brunch or consumed in the morning. To make a mimosa simply take 3/4 cup of chilled Prosecco and mix it with 1/3 cup of freshly squeezed, pulp-free orange juice.
Bellinis are a more tropical cocktail.
2 oz peach nectar
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 oz peach schnapps
3 oz chilled Prosecco
1/2 cup crushed ice
Mix all the ingredients except the ice and Prosecco in a chilled glass. Add half a cup (or more) of crushed ice, stir, and add the Prosecco. For an interesting twist, you can make it in a blender for a refreshing frozen drink.
Il Faggeto Valdobbiadene
Andrea Eby, a certified sommelier at Banville & Jones heard I was writing an article on Prosecco and was kind enough to offer to help. First, I need to thank her for providing a ton of the information that you’ve read in this article. Prosecco isn’t a wine I typically drink very often and so I relied on her expertise to cover the information I wasn’t completely sure about.
When I went down to interview her, she was also kind enough to give me a bottle of Il Faggeto Valdobbiadene Prosecco.
A really remarkable Prosecco, it was one of the more refined bottlings I’ve had in a long time. A light straw colored wine, it’s intensely aromatic with a delicious fruity tartness on the palate. It has strong bursts of fresh orchard apple, pear and a hint of green melon. It’s bright and fruity on the finish with a touch of sweetness and the perfect blend of acidity. I drank it without any accompaniment but it would pair exquisitely with fresh seafood, hard cheeses and, of course, fresh berries and fruit.
Adami Garbel Prosecco Treviso
Possibly one of the most iconic producers in the region, this bottle seems to have a hint of Chardonnay added to the mix. It’s bright and elegant with beautiful pops of fresh cut green apple, and unripened pear. It’s slightly dry but with a hint of vanilla undertones. It’s definitely a worthy glass and one that is perfect for a backyard patio party.
Prosecco is one of those sparkling wines that has the complexity and elegance of a fine Champagne at the price of a box of cheap wine. It’s the perfect blend of both worlds and is ideal for those looking to celebrate on a tight budget or those who enjoy a well produced sparkling wine on a regular basis. What’s your favorite Prosecco? Do you drink it often?