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June 7, 2021 42 min

Prosecco is not only Italy’s most popular sparkler, but recently it has surpassed Champagne to become the world’s best-selling sparkling wine. In this show we go over the details of the Prosecco region, the winemaking techniques, and I share the most important thing about the wine and how to get the best: the DOCGs that make way better wine than the cheap and cheerful stuff at the supermarket.

 

By the end of the show you’ll understand why Prosecco shouldn't be compared to Champagne (spoiler alert – it’s not made the same and that’s on purpose!) and how to get better versions of what you may already be sipping!

Photo Valdobiaddene, Unsplash

 

Here are the show notes:

Location: The Prosecco DOC is in North East Italy between the Dolomite Mountains and the Adriatic Sea. It spans four provinces of the regions of Friuli Venezia Giulia (Gorizia, Pordenone, Trieste and Udine) and 5 provinces of the region of Veneto (Belluno, Padua, Treviso, Venice, Vicenza). Treviso and Trieste can add the special titles of Prosecco DOC Treviso and Prosecco DOC Trieste given their historic importance.  Given the vast area the DOC covers (23,000 ha/56,000 acres) and the diversity of soil – from poor hilltops to fertile, loamy valleys and plains – it is difficult to name a single style of Prosecco. Climates also range –from cooler sites with mountain or marine breezes, to very warm flat areas that produce masses of grapes for industrial wine.

Source: Prosecco DOC

Grape: The Glera grape is the main grape in Prosecco (although it used to be called the Prosecco grape!). It is grape prone to high yields, which must be controlled to get high quality wine. When it is grown on good sites, it has moderately high acidity, a lighter body, and relatively low alcohol levels (the wines are usually not more than 12% alcohol by volume). Flavors range but typically Glera exhibits melon, peach, pear, and white flower notes. Prosecco can also have up to 15% Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera, Glera lunga, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, and Pinot Nero grapes in the blend.

Source: Prosecco DOC

 

Prosecco is NOT Champagne and it shouldn’t be compared to it (or any of the other wines made in that method). The key difference in the flavor of Prosecco, apart from the Glera grape, is in the winemaking techniques (again, different from Champagne!!). In this process, you harvest the grape and make wine through a primary fermentation. But whereas in the traditional method of sparkling wine, where secondary fermentation takes place in individual bottles, Prosecco’s secondary fermentation takes place in autoclaves, large steel tanks kept under pressure.

 

The process takes as little as a month (versus the required 9 months for most sparkling wine in made in the traditional method), and the wines do not rest sur lie for a long period of time, so the fruitiness of the Glera grape is maintained, rather than replaced with the yeasty, bready character from the yeast. Further, the pressure within the bottle is significantly less in Prosecco, making it a much less bubbly wine in most cases (although there are exceptions). The process has several names: the Martinotti Method, the Charmat Method, Cuve Close, Tank Method, or Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Method.

 

It’s important to recognize that for grapes like Glera (or Riesling in Germany where this method is also used) preserving aroma while getting a fresh effervescence is the goal – they should not be handled like grapes used for the traditional method – the goal of those wines is different. Hence, we should not be comparing Prosecco to Champagne or other sparkling wines – it’s apples and oranges, really.

Source: Prosecco DOC

 

There are several types of Prosecco, they vary based on how sparkling they are:

  • Spumante (sparkling), which is the most common and the most bubbly and has a regular sparkling wine cork
  • In 2020, Prosecco DOC Rosé was approved as a new sub-category of Spumante. It must contain at least 85% Glera with 10-15% Pinot Nero. The wine must use the Martinotti/Charmat Method but spend 60 days in autoclave v 30 days for Prosecco DOC. It is vintage dated.
  •  

  • Frizzante (semi-sparkling), which has light and less persistent bubbles than Spumante an is more floral than fruity and often bottled with a screw cap.
  • Proseccco Col Fondo, is a frizzante, but more specifically a pétillant naturel(pét-nat). That means a single fermentation takes place in the bottle from which you drink the wine. It is cloudy and full of lees, or dead yeast cells, and often a bit bready from years on the lees.
  • Tranquillo (still), which is very uncommon and is bottled before the secondary fermentation
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    Similar to all sparkling wines, there is a sweetness scale for these wines, which you will see on the label:

  • Brut Nature (0-3 grams per liter of residual sugar)
  • Extra Brut (0-6 g/l of residual sugar)
  • Brut (up to 12 grams per liter of residual sugar)
  • Extra Dry (12–17 g/l of residual sugar)
  • Dry (17–32 g/l of residual sugar)
  • Demi-sec (32-50 g/l of residual sugar)
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    The DOCG

    The 20% of high quality Prosecco production happens around the smaller, hilly, historic DOCG towns of Conegliano, Valdobbiadene and Asolo. These areas have strong diurnals, poorer soils (meaning, better for the vines), and the wines are a few steps above general Prosecco. They are more complex, the fruit flavors are purer – lemon, peach, pear notes are strong as well as floral notes, flintiness, chalk, and saline aromas and flavors. The wines tend to have lower levels of sugar and are more terroir driven. They are trying to distance themselves from cheaper big-brand Prosecco DOC, some even have elected to remove the world “Prosecco” from their front labels.

     

    Here are the Prosecco Superiore DOCG to seek out:

  • Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG is a cut above and it’s a fairly low risk way to see how better Prosecco tastes.
  • Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore “Rive” DOCG is from the steep hills and top vineyards of 43 designated sites – these are outstanding terroir driven wines
  • Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG is the top wine of Prosecco. It consists of 107 ha/264 acres of vineyards on the steepest hillsides of San Pietro di Barbozza, Santo Stefano and Saccol, in Valdobbiadene.
  • Asolo Prosecco DOCG is outstanding, with great salinity and minerality as well
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    Wine Access is a web site that has exclusive wines that overdeliver for the price (of which they have a range).

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