Ask any wine lover about Prosecco and you’ll probably get some pretty similar responses. It’s a fun wine, it’s bubbly and it’s inexpensive. All of those are true and those factors have helped make Prosecco a substantial success in the United States.
But ask those same wine drinkers if they think that Prosecco is an excellent or a serious wine and chances are you’ll get some strange looks. Very few people really think much about Prosecco – they just drink it! That’s not a bad thing to be certain, but it’s difficult to get consumers to consider the wine’s quality.
I have to admit that while I have enjoyed some special bottlings of Prosecco over the past few years, I don’t think much about the wine and if I want a sparkling wine for dinner, it’s usually Franciacorta from Italy or Champagne. So a recent trip I took to the Conegliano Valdiobbiadene area courtesy of the Prosecco Consorzio of was a bit of an eye-opening experience.
Let me start by defining Prosecco; where it’s grown, the grapes used, etc. The name Prosecco is now used in a few zones in Italy as the wine has become a major phenomenon. Prosecco can be made in Friuli, but the original area and the heart of the true Prosecco is located in the province of Treviso in northern Veneto in an area between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. It is in hillside vineyards in this territory where the finest bottlings of Prosecco emerge and to honor these offerings, the coveted DOCG status has recently been awarded to the wines of this zone. The wines are now known as Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore; in this case, the word Superiore does not denote longer aging, but rather it signifies the highest quality. (The neighboring zone of Colli Asolani has also been classified as DOCG for Prosecco). The first DOCG wines from the 2009 vintage went on sale in the market on April 1, 2010.
Prosecco is a sparkling wine that has two types: frizzante, or lightly sparkling (recognizable by the string – spago – closure) and spumante or fully sparkling. The grape used is also called Prosecco and the minimum requirement is 85%; other varieties such as Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay can be used up to 15%, but in reality, most bottlings of Prosecco are made from 100% Prosecco grape. One note about the grape: in the area of Conegliano Valdobbiadene, the grape is known as Glera, but that is the only place where it is permissible for that name to be used. In other areas where Prosecco DOC (not DOCG) will still be produced (a total of eight other provinces in northern Italy), the grape must be identified as Prosecco.
The wine itself is made by a method called Charmat where the secondary fermentation takes place in a tank instead of the bottle itself, which is how Champagne and other famous sparkling wines are produced. The Charmat method is ideal with Prosecco, as it emphasizes the delicate fruitiness of the Prosecco grape; these are wines to be enjoyed in their youth. Note also that Prosecco is bottled under less pressure than Champagne, which means is is a bit softer on the palate, which helps explain its popularity.
Most producers make different bottlings based on residual sugar level; the driest is Brut, the next level (slightly sweet) is Extra Dry – this is the most typical and usually the best-selling wine a producer makes – and then Dry, which in this case means medium-sweet! For the record, the numbers are as follows: Brut is a category with 0-13 grams of residual sugar, Extra Dry is 12-20, while Dry is 17-35.
Here is a brief list of some of the top producers of Prosecco in the Conegliano Valdobbiadene area:
- Carpene Malvolti
- Le Manzane
- Nino Franco
- Sorelle Branca
- Villa Sandi
These producers not only make the traditional Extra Dry and Brut versions of Prosecco, but also special bottlings that are richer on the palate and more aromatic and with much greater complexity than the regular offerings. Some of these are from single vineyards known as rive, while there are also some spectacular bottlings from the Cartizze hill. Several of these producers (such as Mionetto and Perlage, just to name two) are making wines from biodynamically farmed vineyards. In my next post, I will share my thoughts on some of these products.