The Great Prosecco Surge

How did we get so friendly with this fizz?

 



Everyone loves an excuse to celebrate, and nothing punctuates a celebration better than a Champagne cork firing from its bottle.  In both image and price, Champagne has been often seen as juice for the rich and famous. So how are the rest of us supposed to celebrate?  Herein existed a gap in the market, ready and willing to be filled by the arrival of Prosecco. 
 
It is amazing to think this household name only really hit the US shelves in 2000.  Fresh, light, frothy, and of course cheap, it allowed the celebratory cork pop to signal a celebration no matter how small the budget or how minor the occasion. While perhaps united by their mutual love for celebration, Prosecco and Champagne are stylistic opposites. For starters, the grapes used are very different. The Glera grape used in Prosecco boasts pure, clean flavours of apple, blossom and citrus.  The Champagne grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier) are less aromatic and more inclined to showcase the winemaking techniques developing complex spiced brioche notes.  In terms of climate, Prosecco has a soft, approachable acidity due to the warmer weather and naturally lower acidity of the grape, as well as a light, frothy, playful mousse.  Champagne by contrast has a taut sometimes austere acidity and a crisp mousse making it a more challenging wine to enjoy, especially in its youth.  The production technique for Prosecco is geared towards retaining the clean fresh fruit character.  It undergoes a brief secondary fermentation in pressurised tanks (known as the Charmat method) which creates its bubbles, is bottled quickly, and intended to be drunk as young and fresh as possible. The traditional method of production for Champagne is very different.  It involves extended aging in the bottle on the lees (dead yeast cells) which imparts a rich, complex, yeasty character through a process called autolysis whereby the yeasts own enzymes break down the cell.  The acidity and autolytic complexity allows Champagne to continue improving with age.  Some of the top vintage Champagne can spend eight years idling away their time on their lees.  Prosecco may be less complex and age-worthy -- but perhaps it simplicity renders it an easier beverage with which to relax.  
 
The production method for Prosecco is less expensive, allowing Prosecco to make its name as the affordable fizz. But price point is not the sole reason for its popularity.  After all, Cava is at a similar price point but has not managed to dominate the market in nearly the same way.  Cava uses the traditional method of sparkling production with a minimum of 9 months on the lees and can have a more rustic, weighty palate from the indigenous varieties used.  This would suggest that it is the easy, fruity style of Prosecco which really holds the appeal for many consumers.  It is only recently that some consumers have begun to sheepishly admit to me that they don’t actually like the rich complexity of Champagne, far preferring the light fruitiness of Prosecco. This sentiment was reflected in the UK in 2014 when Prosecco sales overtook Champagne sales by volume for the first time with a 75% increase on 2013.  The Glera grape is now being planted as far afield as Australia and Hungary, a strong indication of a growing global love affair with Prosecco. 
 
Sniffing out Quality Prosecco
The biggest indicator of Prosecco quality is on the label. Don’t always assume price is an accurate guide. Do beware of the somewhat misleading statements of Brut (up to 12g/l RS), Extra Dry (12-17g/l RS) and Dry (17-32g/l RS, anything but dry).  There are cheap, generic examples of Prosecco, often boasting higher residual sugar levels and neutral fruit character.  These are often from the DOC Veneto, an area that was greatly expanded in 2009 when 8 regions previously of IGT level, encompassing the vast flat lands of the Veneto were incorporated into the DOC classification.  This was a calculated move to increase the production area to meet growing demand, while protecting the geographical name and thus value on the international market.  Although maximum yield in the DOC has been cut from 180hl/ha to 126hl/ha and more stringent vineyard and cellar controls were to be introduced, they are notoriously difficult to police and as such the extended DOC region has continued producing wines of variable quality.  
 
At the same time that this expansion was taking place, there was also a concerted effort to enhance the credibility and quality of the premium Prosecco production sub-regions.  The area around Conegliano-Valdobbiodene, more suited to quality production due to beneficial soil, aspect and microclimate was promoted to DOCG status.  These wines still have the same clean fruity style, but should boast greater concentration of flavour, more subtle nuances and often a lovely core of minerality.  If you are searching for the ‘Grand Cru’ of Prosecco then seek out wines from the hill of Cartizze, a tiny subzone of Valdobbiodene.  Here soil, aspect and micro climate combine to produce the potential for beautiful wines, and the conscientious growers who are lucky enough to own a parcel produce Prosecco that really shines.   
 
Bubbles have always been reserved for celebrations and special occasions. Prosecco, however, through a combination of affordability and clean, easy drinking style, has managed to become an everyday indulgence as well as a celebratory tipple.  Prosecco is the fun light-hearted side of wine, the icebreaker of the vinous world. And for that, we should all be grateful.  It is my hope that dabbling with this friendly fizz will encourage consumers to branch out and try a more serious version, perhaps a Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiodene DOCG, or even hunt down a Prosecco from Cartizze (or Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiodene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG to give it its full title) and see what added refinement, concentration and beauty a few extra bucks can buy you when you know where to look.  
 
Alex Tilling is an MW student from the United Kingdom. Visit her at the wine monkeys blog and on Twitter.

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Comments

  • Snooth User: jneises
    170348 181

    Our local Aldis grocery store has it at 7.99 a bottle.It was a decent wine for that price.

    Mar 05, 2015 at 12:42 PM


  • Snooth User: zinfandel1
    Hand of Snooth
    154660 1,085

    Great pricing for such a refreshing drink. We drink it regularly during the summer months.

    Mar 05, 2015 at 1:32 PM


  • Snooth User: CRobin2
    1635361 14

    It sounds like a refreshing, alternative bubbly drink. Once again, I'll have to find out how it might be available in Pennsylvania. Thanks for the good word--Prosecco!

    Mar 05, 2015 at 5:51 PM


  • Snooth User: Adam Field
    1826512 8

    Also important: spritzes! I fell in love with spritzes when I visited Venice last year, and while my favorite aperitif is impossible to find anywhere but there, I was pleasantly surprised to discover when I came back to the states, how easy it was to find a good affordable prosecco at least. (I'll just have to make do with Aperol (not the same!) once I run out of the bottle of Select I brought back.

    Mar 05, 2015 at 8:07 PM


  • Snooth User: Niclou
    1826536 24

    After living in Italy for a spell( Where Prossecco is available in the Grocery for 3 or 4dollars a bottle) I had become convinced that Valdobiaddenne was the only kind to look for. How nice to hear my findings validated

    Mar 05, 2015 at 10:52 PM


  • Don't forget the other Superiore DOCG - Asolo. Giusti Brut is one of the best Proseccos out there.

    Mar 09, 2015 at 8:05 AM


  • Why drink Champagne, when you can drink Prosecco from the the Valdobiaddenne region!

    Mar 12, 2015 at 4:00 PM


  • Or the Asolo DOCG region (see above)

    Mar 13, 2015 at 6:38 AM


  • It sounds like a refreshing, alternative bubbly drink. Once again, I'll have to find out how it might be available in Pennsylvania. Thanks for the good word--Prosecco!

    Mar 23, 2015 at 12:50 AM


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