Prosecco might be one of the most well known Italian wines due to an unstoppable growth in the past 20 years which has crowned it the undiscussed king of Aperitivo hour, with the Aperol Spritz, one of the most popular drinks throughout Italy. With many producers entering the scene the choice of Prosecco can be overwhelming and before grabbing a bottle it is best to know a few things that can help you make a better decision.
Where is Prosecco produced in Italy?
Prosecco DOC’s territory extends into the lowlands area of Veneto, Italy’s top wine producer. The processing and harvesting are carried out mainly by machine, where large expanses of rows in the plains easily allow this type of processing. Here you’ll find an abundant production with high yields. It is in the plains where the largest names are located and what has made it possible for Prosecco to reach over half a billion (yes I said billion!) bottles in production in recent years. The area extends north to Trieste near the border with Slovenia and west to the province of Verona.
The DOCG areas, where the highest quality Prosecco is made, are in the hills of Conegliano and Asolo. Here the prosecco takes the name of “ Superiore” (Superior). This area is characterized by gentle slopes, numerous old vines and a pleasant temperate climate ideal for the glera grapes. The real secret though is a small production and hand picked grapes which give birth to the best Prosecco you can taste. Machine work on these hills is in fact extremely difficult which makes for smaller quantities produced giving higher quality to the final product.
What is Prosecco, you ask?
Like any DOC wine there are grape varieties and rules that allow a bottle of bubbly to be labelled Prosecco. The grapes used for Prosecco DOC are a variety called “Glera”. The Glera grapes are dominant in the region of Veneto and have been used since Roman Times. It is a white grape that produces a large amount of straw coloured grapes. Prosecco must be composed of 85% Glera grapes while the other 15% can be a mix of three grape varieties called Verdisio, Bianchetta and Perera. In recent years Chardonnay and Pinot grapes have also been used.
History of Prosecco Wine
Prosecco has a long history and it used to be a firm wine rather than bubbly during Roman times. In fact from the pressing of the glera grapes, a wine called Puccino was obtained (from the Latin Puxinum), one of the wines of Italy most appreciated by the Romans and for its fruity and fresh flavor, sought after by the great lords and exported throughout the territory. At some point in history the inhabitants of Prosecco decided to distinguish their wine from the one of surrounding areas of Gorizia. The wine was named after the “Castello di Moncolano” also known as the tower of Prosecco.
The term Prosecco though comes from “prosek”, a slovenian word for a narrow forest where a small passage through the woods has been cut in order to get through.
What are the different types of Prosecco you can drink?
There is so much variety with wines these days that is always good to know what the label actually means. In the case of prosecco it can be a daunting task. There are 4 basic categories that indicate the sugar amount in the bottle. From the driest to the sweetest they are:
- Prosecco Brut: The driest with 0-12 grams/ liter of sugar remaining in the bottle
- Prosecco Extra Dry: Still dry with a bit more sugar, from 13-17 grams/lt
- Prosecco Dry: Pick this if you like a bit sweet but not too sweet: 18-32 g/lt
- Prosecco Demis Sec: 32/50 g/lt
As a comparison, Asti spumante, which is considered very sweet, has at least 70-95 grams of sugar per liter.
Prosecco vs Champagne. What’s the difference?
There are some obvious differences between Prosecco and Champagne, the first one being that the zone of production is not the same. No wine in Italy can be called Champagne and no Champagne can be called prosecco as the denomination of Origin is different.
The 3 most important things to remember when comparing Prosecco vs Champagne are:
Champagne is always produced with the Champenoise method ( in Italy called the Classic Method). This means that the fermentation happens inside the bottle and not inside a vat like for Prosecco.
A high quality Prosecco needs to be used within 2 years of production and does not age well (aside from rare cases). Champagne is not even released on the market before 2 years and can age sometimes indefinitely like a regular high quality wine. This contributes to the higher price of Champagne.
The grapes used for Champagne can only be.Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. While Prosecco uses only Glera as its main grape variety.
In the past 2 decades there has been a great increase in the production of Prosecco, almost to the point of unsustainability. In turn, this growth has decreased the quality of the wine. Many farmers that have never made Prosecco have planted new grapevines.
Recently, with the addition of the Prosecco region as a Unesco site, it has been prohibited to plant new grape vines unless old ones are cut out.
For these reasons we only visit smaller producers that stayed true to what Prosecco should be through sustainable practices and lower yields which in turn make for a high quality product.
Looking to explore the Unesco Prosecco hills like a local and drink top quality bubbly on your next trip to Italy?