Bubbly wine, synonymous with celebration and special occasions, finds something of a different ally in Prosecco. In northeast Italy, where it originates, Prosecco is used more as an event starter, a palate cleanser (both physically and mentally) used to wash away the grime and tumult of the day. Traditionally, Prosecco is served at the beginning of every northeastern Italian meal or gathering, whether you want it or not. The wine is made of a grape whose high acidity, almost-neutral flavor profile, and low alcohol makes it an ideal candidate for sparkling wine, especially one of the cleansing variety.
Unlike Champagne, the perlage (bubbles of a sparkling wine) is often large and boisterous, creating a frothy sensation in the mouth, considered to be one of its many charms.
Prosecco, an ever-more-popular Italian sparkling wine, has been storming the international market more and more within the last decade and a half. Yet, its name has been in circulation since its first mention in 1593. To make matters even more interesting, Prosecco is speculated to be the legendary vinum pucinum of antiquity, praised by Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) during the early years of the Roman Empire.
Within its extensive lifetime, Prosecco has undergone a variety of name changes. Today, “Prosecco” refers to the wine and the region from which it hails, with the primary grape being called Glera – similar to how Champagne is made of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, yet the wine itself is referred to as Champagne. This change to Glera is largely due to its popularity, with more and more producers making knockoff Prosecco to try and grab a cut of the market boom. In reaction to this, the name of the grape was officially changed from Prosecco to Glera, with the former only brandished on bottles made within the demarcated areas of Prosecco (also just like Champagne). This effectively resolved the issue.
Glera comes from the village of Prosecco, near the city of Trieste, where it may have originated. Today the wine is made within 9 provinces under the Prosecco DOC system (like France’s AOC) in the northeastern Italian region of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia. Prosecco has two DOCGs (the highest possible quality rank for Italian wines): Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG, where the grape was traditionally grown; and Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG near the town of Asolo.
While Proseccos have a characteristically inviting and pleasant flavor, one of the reasons we can find quality Proseccos for such a great price is due in part to their production method. Whereas Champagne is produced using the strenuous and time consuming methode classique (or, the Traditional Method), in which the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation within the bottle and then aged an additional 15-36 months, Prosecco follows the Charmat-Martinotti Method which is substantially quicker and cheaper.
In order to create sparkling wine, Carbon Dioxide must be formed through a secondary fermentation process (the first fermentation is what creates the alcohol by converting sugars into ethanol). In the Charmat-Martinotti method the wine ferments in a steel vat through heat, yeast, and the grapes’ natural sugars producing alcohol and eventually Carbon Dioxide. The wine is then filtered in order to remove the lees (yeast residue formed through fermentation) and immediately bottled.
For perspective, when using Champagne’s Traditional Method, the first fermentation is done in barrel, after which the wine is bottled and gradually turned upside down (remuage) in order to push the lees into the neck. Once upside down, the neck of the wine is frozen solid and returned upright. All the while, the wine is resting within the lees and any actual yeast remaining (sur lie), allowing for bottle fermentation. The frozen neck is then punctured, utilizing the pressured Carbon Dioxide to gradually purge the lees (disgorging). After all of this, the Champagne is rested in a cellar to age for the aforementioned 15-36 months.
I told you it was complicated. This is what ultimately sets the price so high for Champagne – that and the highly renowned name, of course.
But, until we have an occasion to spend Champagne money, it’s a good thing we have Prosecco.