Prosecco is the most important and best-known Italian spumante in the world. In 2020, 500 million bottles were produced, a record figure comparable to Champagne alone. The best vineyards, located in the Veneto region, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, Prosecco Superiore, Prosecco Millesimato, Extra Dry and now rosé: let's find out how prosecco is made, which are the best ones and how they work at the table!
How is prosecco made?
Prosecco is made from single variety or almost Glera grapes (locally called “prosecco”). It is a typical grape of Veneto, now widespread in neighbouring regions, which does not have very high acidity but great ability to concentrate sugars in the berry and to develop elegant and intriguing aromas, with notes of apple and pear, herbs, and wild flowers.
Almost all Prosecco is produced using the Charmat method, i.e. frothing does not take place in each individual bottle as in the Champenoise method, but in large steel autoclaves. In itself, the process is identical, i.e. a mixture of yeasts and sugars is injected into a base wine that has already been prepared and fermentation is restarted under pressure, but on a larger scale.
Is this a convenient way to speed up the process? Far from it. This production technique is optimal for Glera, as it preserves and enhances its subtle aromaticity and fruity bouquet. The Champenoise method, on the other hand, would cover up these aromas with the typical scents of yeast and bread crust, which develop with the long ageing process that prosecco is not generally suited to. But be careful: not all Italian spumante wine is prosecco! Even in Italy there are spumante wines made using the Champenoise method, such as Franciacorta, Ferrari's Trento and others, and they have nothing to do with prosecco!
The class, style and complexity of Glera differ according to the production areas. There is a big difference between Proseccos from the hills, such as Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, which is complex and multifaceted, and Proseccos from the plains, which are more neutral and easy to drink.
How should Prosecco be stored? Some effervescence will be lost, but a Prosecco can be stored in the fridge for 24 hours using a good bottlestopper. And if you're wondering how many calories a glass of Prosecco has, we can reassure you straight away: Prosecco generally has less alcohol than a Champenoise method (around 11% compared to 12.5%), so it's the ideal bubbly for those who want to raise a, well, light glass!
Prosecco extra dry, and then what?
The Prosecco considered to be the most classic is the Prosecco Extra Dry. Slightly dosed with residual sugar, in fact, it has traditionally been considered better, more enveloping and creamy, with a touch of softness that gives it body and aromatic completeness. Even today some Proseccos from the best Valdobbiadene crus are vinified with dry dosage, making them even sweeter and more structured.
But tastes change, and today the Prosecco Brut is very much in the limelight, more taut and straight, drier and therefore more territorial, straightforward, with a more immediate aroma. There is no shortage of Prosecco Extra Brut and even some Pas Dosé for the finer palates: austere and uncompromising expressions for those who want to get to the heart of this marvellous spumante, allowing themselves to be tickled by high acidity and the very rich sapidity of the most suitable terroirs.
What types of Prosecco are there?
Apart from classification by dosage, there are various types of Prosecco. If the spumante is made from Glera from the same harvest, it can be a Prosecco Millesimato (vintage), i.e. with the year shown on the label. Generally the noblest and most complex Proseccos are vintage.
As for production technique, Prosecco can also be produced with less bubbles, i.e. with less gas under pressure: in this case a frizzante (sparkling) Prosecco is obtained. For lovers of natural wine, there is no shortage of Proseccos made using the ancestral method, i.e. re-fermentation in the bottle without dégorgement, therefore with the yeast lees still in suspension. Some producers have also experimented with Prosecco made using the Champenoise method, while others use ancient traditions by bottling still Prosecco. And some bottle a Prosecco that is clearly intended for long ageing.
A growing number of producers are also turning to organic Prosecco: not easy to adopt in a complex area in the hills and which has high yields in the plains, but which now occupies an important slice of the product, even for some top labels. The innovation of the moment is Prosecco rosé: an original blend of Glera and sparkling Pinot Noir that has recently been approved in the production regulations.
What is the best prosecco?
A good question! And yet, no one will be offended if we say that the best Prosecco is from the steep hills of Treviso, between Asolo, Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. Here, the mineral soils, the high day/night temperature range and excellent exposure make Glera a true masterpiece of aromatic finesse and, in some cases, minerality and structure. These are the UNESCO World Heritage areas, where Prosecco was Prosecco before it became fashionable. Where Prosecco is Superiore and governed by no less than two DOCGs: Asolo, saline and structured, and Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, elegant and subtle.
But even within these small districts there are considerable differences of expression, so much so that these denominations have recently established a number of important crus, called “rive”, which guarantee a Prosecco of absolute territorial excellence. The most famous cru is undoubtedly Cartizze, 100 hectares of a perfectly exposed and sunny hill that 100 producers share to produce the finest Prosecco: only here is it so opulent, full, rounded and usually bottled with dry dosage.
Two quick questions. How much does Prosecco cost? Obviously there is a wide range, but in general it varies from €6-7 for a simple product from the plains to €18 for a great Cartizze. Second question: can a Prosecco evolve over time? As a delicately aromatic wine, a Prosecco is usually at its best when young, yet some great crus can surprise you even five or ten years after harvest!
How do I pair Prosecco?
Be careful: Prosecco from the plains is by no means a waste of money, quite the contrary! It is often a highly respectable product for those looking for an intriguing aperitif bubbly. The immediacy and can’t-stop-drinking-it are the added value of these products: Proseccos to be tried with simple hors d'oeuvres, fresh and light cheeses, and if you wish (especially if Dry or Extra Dry), also with sweets and delicacies that are not too elaborate. A prosecco that degreases, excellent with fresh cold cuts. A product to keep in the fridge at all times. Those that fall under the historic DOC Treviso are more classic and qualitative, but the other territories are also to be explored glass by glass: Prosecco, on the strength of its great commercial success, is now cultivated throughout the North-East as far as the Friulian plain.
Naturally, the residual sugar has a great influence on the pairing of Prosecco. Sweeter doses will go well with some desserts or even slightly more savoury cheeses, while Brut and Extra Brut should be reserved for more demanding pairings. Prosecco Superiore, perhaps Vintage, will also go very well with savoury pies, medium-aged cheeses and cured meats, almost all fish-based first and second courses, pasta stuffed with vegetables, shellfish and much more.
Which are the most important Prosecco cellars?
Despite the fact that Prosecco is a worldwide phenomenon with immense volumes, in reality a large part of the product is still governed by the great families of Veneto bubbly. Names such as Bortolomiol, Bisol (also with its pop and snappy Belstar line), Ruggeri, Adami, Merotto, Nino Franco, Spagnol, Andreola, Foss Marai and Mionetto are part of the history of this splendid territory, and they are all rooted in the hills of Valdobbiadene. There is no shortage of large groups, but they always have strong family roots, so much so that the best Proseccos from Astoria and Casa Sant'Orsola (the Martini brothers) represent some of the spearheads of Prosecco Superiore or Prosecco from the plains.