July 6, 2018

Has the Prosecco Bubble Popped?

Prosecco has become the people’s choice of bubbles as the wine’s popularity continues to grow.

According to prosecco.wine, 440 million bottles of Prosecco, which is mostly in sparkling form, is sold globally. It is true that more tourists are visiting Italy and falling in love with these uncomplicated wines and being so easy to find back at home it is easy to recapture that holiday mood. However, two more reasons for the continued excitement around Prosecco – the price and its fruity personality.

It has had a meteoric rise in popularity. And no wonder, the Prosecco Consortium have taken a very, very aggressive, guns blazing attitude to redefining their product as something to be considered unique and making their product accessible to all to capture those very lucrative export dollars.

In times of financial uncertainty such as these, the lower price of Prosecco makes it undeniably attractive. Whereas, Champagne houses have spent more than a century associating themselves with luxury, Prosecco makers have come and told us that we can have it as an everyday treat. Whenever we want to. Good day. Bad day. Birthday. Everyday.

What is Prosecco?

Prosecco is a small town in Italy, in an area that started making white wines centuries ago. The grape that they used was named after this town.

In 2009, after identifying that Prosecco had huge potential, it was decided to call this grape Glera. All wines bearing Prosecco DOC or DOCG on the label need to be made from at least 85% Glera. An advantage of Glera and the other grapes used for making Prosecco is that they can be allowed to produce high yields of grapes and still retain that fruitiness that drinkers crave. Champagnes, for example, require lower yields so that the resulting wines have greater character.

The grapes used in Champagne and Prosecco are different. Most Champagne is made from one of, or a blend of a trio of grapes that are native to France- either Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or the great blender, Pinot Meunier.  

Apart from using very different grape varieties, they are usually made in a very different way.   

It is not just about the bubbles with Prosecco. Prosecco can be still (tranquillo), lightly frizzante or will be fully fizzy in the spumante style. Whereas a wine labelled as Champagne has to have had its second fermentation in the bottle, most Prosecco has its second ferment in a stainless steel tank making it less expensive and quicker to produce.

Many other sparkling wines made around the world is made in the style of Champagne using this ‘traditional method’.  One of these is one of Italy’s other sparkling wines, those from Franciacorta.

This process also retains more of the purity of the fruit’s character, partly due to spending less time in contact with yeast from that second ferment. It also may have less or larger bubbles than Champagne, and those bubbles may not last as long in the glass.

The region that Prosecco can be produced from has been largely expanded over the centuries well outside those original vineyards and it will continue to expand to satisfy these growth targets. This means that vineyards that perhaps had been left because they were not capable of producing high-quality Glera for the finer expressions of Prosecco have come online with lesser quality grapes that will still be able to be labeled Prosecco DOC.

We have seen this occur before around the world, including when new Marlborough vineyards came online in New Zealand in the 2000’s and began to offer lower priced sauvignon blanc that fulfilled demand but lowered the overall quality you could expect from that region at the time.

So, what do you need to look for if you want quality Prosecco?

Firstly, the better quality wines have more complexity and more detailed aromas and flavours.

This quality journey starts in the vineyard and these wines have been made from vines with lower yields, giving the vine a chance to make each grape more characterful. They generally will have the following terms on their labels:

DOC wines represent the base quality Proseccos. Grapes grown in the province of Treviso can be bottled under the seal ‘Prosecco DOC Treviso’ and will have more character.

DOCGDenominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita –An Italian wine with a DOCG seal, or where this appears on the label, will be a wine that is the best quality produced from that region.

For the highest quality Prosecco wines, look for Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG, DOCG Superiore di Cartizze or Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG. The area between the two villages of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene has long been recognized as producing the finest quality Prosecco.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG can only be made in the Treviso province of Veneto on the hills between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. The steepness of the hills of Valdobbiadene means that everything, from pruning to picking, is principally done by hand.  

Then there is the Rive Proseccos. These Proseccos are considered the next quality level up and should have Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Rive DOCG on the label.

Also look for the Rive subzones. There are 43 Rive (or communes) that qualify for DOCG status and wines from these subzones have plenty of potential that is really only being discussed on the world stage now.

Cartizze is a small area with unique soils on the steepest hillsides around San Pietro di Barbozza, Santo Stefano and Saccol. This combination of soil and slope allows the grapes to ripen fully and slowly and showcase the best characters of Prosecco: apples, pears, citrus and almonds with some floral overtones and in good years stonefruit. DOCG Superiore di Cartizze is considered the finest Prosecco.

Now, every family will have that member that dances to their own beat, and Prosecco is no different. The Col Fondo Proseccos do not go through their second ferment in the tank, but in the bottle in which they are sold. When ready, they are sold without removing the dead yeast that has added all that texture and complexity. This is how Prosecco was originally made even until the 70s. Just a tip for the uninitiated, allow these wines to settle before carefully opening and serving.

That three-quarters of the sparkling Prosecco production is made in the Extra Dry, Dry and Demi-Sec styles means that we, as consumers, are going for the fruity, sweeter styles. Whereas, Champagne tends to be on the drier side of the equation with Brut being the most popular. While sweetness is not a statement of quality, this extra ‘dosage’ of sugar lifts the fruit appeal and balances out the acid in the mouth. There is no way to sugar coat it, but a dry wine does need to rely more on the quality of the grapes and the winemaking.

The current love affair drinkers have with Prosecco is set to continue. The forecasts released by the industry in 2011 (decanter.com) indicated that the production volume would grow five times the 220 million bottle sales of that time to reach over one billion bottles by 2035. It has certainly doubled to 440 million in less than a decade.

So, now is the time to understand where the quality lies when buying your prosecco. The shelves and wine menus are only going to get more and more crowded and confusing.

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This article was first published 6th July, 2018. 


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