It’s Prime Time for Prosecco

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These days, when you hear the sound of a cork popping, there’s a good chance a bottle of Prosecco is nearby. According to the Prosecco DOC Consortium, more than 638.5 million bottles of the bubbly stuff were sold in 2022. On top of that, about 81 percent of Prosecco produced is exported, making it a global sensation.

Despite this ubiquity, Prosecco has had a bit of a … reputation, shall we say. “Often, I’ve found that a large segment of customers lump Prosecco into the inexpensive, sweeter-styled sparkling wine categories, like Moscato d’Asti or fruit-based sparkling wines,” says Arielle DeSoucey, wine director at Tap and Bottle in Tucson, Arizona. “So it’s been challenging to overcome those misperceptions.” But with more education comes a willingness to try exemplary Prosecco, and with that willingness comes more awareness of the wine’s many virtues.

Appellations

Prosecco DOC is sandwiched between the regions of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Veneto in northeastern Italy. Nine communes comprise the designation: Belluno, Padua, Treviso, Venice, and Vicenza in the Veneto; and Gorizia, Pordenone, Trieste, and Udine in Friuli. 

Imagining tiers of quality as a pyramid, Prosecco DOC forms the base. Go one step up and Treviso and Trieste are the sole communes that can add their specific names to a label. Asolo DOCG forms the next tier. 

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco
The landscape of Conegliano Valdobbiadene. | Photo by Archangelo Piai

Go above Asolo DOCG and that’s when things really start to get serious. In 2009, the same year Prosecco was elevated from IGT (indicazione geografica tipica) to DOC status, the hilly area of Conegliano Valdobbiadene was boosted to Prosecco Superiore DOCG status—the highest-quality level for Italian wines. Within the DOCG, you’ll find single-vineyard wines. Further solidifying the area’s uniqueness, Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene joined the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 2019. “It has been exciting to introduce customers to the single-vineyard, terroir-driven styles found within the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG,” says DeSoucey. “Customers are surprised at the minerality, structure, and freshness of these small-production Prosecco wines.” 

For bottle recommendations, check out our Prosecco Taste Test.

More recently joining the party is Prosecco Rosé. In 2020, the sparkling pink wine earned a DOC designation—formerly, the wines were considered IGT—a move indicating a quality revolution for the style.

Key Grapes 

The grape variety Glera forms the backbone of all Prosecco wines. A late-ripening, high-yielding, and high-acid white grape, it’s ideal for sparkling wine production. The DOC allows up to 15 percent of the native varieties Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera, and Glera Lunga, as well as the international grapes Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) as part of the cuvée. 

Just as the Champagne region fiercely protects the use of the name “Champagne,” Prosecco also fights the same battle. Its biggest weapon? The name of a grape. Before 2009, Glera had been called Prosecco. However, when the region was elevated to DOC status that year, the grape’s name had to be changed as well. Otherwise, producers outside the official DOC could simply use Prosecco grapes and label their wine as such. Glera, a synonym for the Prosecco grape in Friuli, became the official name, and any wines produced with it outside of the Prosecco DOC must now be labeled as IGT with Glera on the label.

Harvest in the hills of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore by Beatrice Pilotto
Harvest in the hills of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore. | Photo by Beatrice Pilotto

Styles and Production

Although it’s possible to find a smattering of still wines, Prosecco is sparkling wine country and is synonymous with the Charmat method of production. After the first fermentation, base wines go into a pressurized tank for the second fermentation, resulting in the wine’s signature bubbles. Because Prosecco spends little time aging on the lees—as opposed to the traditional method sparkling wine production and its hallmark long lees-aging time–the wine expresses a fruity, fresh style, rather than one with toasty and brioche-like notes. But far from being simply cheap and cheerful, “The versatility of Prosecco is what makes it stand out for me as a wine retailer,” says DeSoucey. “From the bone-dry extra brut styles to the sweet demi-sec styles, there is an opportunity to position Prosecco as the ‘user-friendly, all-purpose’ sparkling wine.”

Despite the prevalence of modern equipment, Conegliano Valdobbiandene DOCG captures ancient techniques with its col fondo sparkling wine. With this style, secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle but, rather than being disgorged, the lees remain. Common wisdom says never shake a bottle of bubbly. But for col fondo, you want to give it a good jiggle so the lees incorporate into the wine, creating its signature cloudiness.  

For Prosecco Rosé, 80 to 85 percent of the wine must be made from Glera. Although other red grapes were added in the past, by the new DOC regulations, only Pinot Noir may now be used and comprise no more than 15 percent of the total blend. 

Despite Prosecco’s brunch-y reputation, change is underway. “Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a shift in the conversation, with higher-quality Prosecco wines finally getting the attention they deserve,” says DeSoucey.



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