From the particularities of its terroir to the origins of its name, Musement shares some facts about the Prosecco wine region, a part of which was recently acknowledged by UNESCO.
Italians are raising their glasses to toast to some exciting news on the UNESCO front: the Prosecco hills of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene were granted a coveted spot on the prestigious cultural list. According to UNESCO, “The landscape is characterized by ‘hogback’ hills, ciglioni – small plots of vines on narrow grassy terraces – forests, small villages, and farmland. For centuries, this rugged terrain has been shaped and adapted by man.”
Many people know Prosecco as an Italian sparkling wine that’s an alternative to Champagne–some people even use the wines interchangeably…which is a big no-no. So, we decided to take a look at what makes this bubbly so particular. Here are seven things you should know about Prosecco.
1. The terroir
Terroir, the French word for earth, is one of the most crucial elements of winemaking, as each sip and scent of wine tells the story of the grapes’ surroundings. Prosecco is produced in the regions of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and the grapes are harvested on steep, predominantly chalk and limestone, hills west of Venice and north of Valpolicella. Also with traces of clay, marl and marine sandstone, these hills are perched between the towering Dolomite mountains and the Adriatic Sea, which temper the warm climate with plenty of annual rainfall.
2. It is significantly different than Champagne
Prosecco is often referred to as an Italian version of Champagne…it’s not. Yes, they are both sparkling wines, but the similarities more or less end there. In addition to the terroir being completely different, Champagne is a sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France. Only “Champagne” can be called “Champagne”, and it is made predominantly from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, using a method known as the “méthode champenoise” during which the second fermentation, the one that triggers carbonation, occurs in the bottle.
Prosecco is made from the Glera grape via the Charmat method, which is characterized by a second fermentation in a single pressure tank instead of in the individual bottles, which traps the carbon dioxide to give the wine its bubbles and a distinct flavor. Once complete the wine is filtered, a dosage is added and then it’s bottled under pressure–the procedure is much less costly. Prosecco tends to be a little sweeter than Champagne and, unlike Champagne, it should be consumed young as it doesn’t benefit from bottle aging. Prosecco is usually classified into one of three styles indicative the amount of residual sugar per liter: Brut (up to 12 grams), Dry (12-17 grams), or Extra-Dry (17-32 grams). You might be wondering if there are Italian wines made using the “méthode champenoise”, and the answer is yes. In Italy, it’s referred to as the “metodo classico” and the regions of Franciacorta and Trentodoc produce some of the most noteworthy. (Yet, rumor has it that there are some Prosecco producers who are experimenting with “metodo classico” wines. If you know of any, let us know in the comments.)
So, of Italy’s wine designations that classify authenticity, DOCG (Guaranteed Designation of Controlled Origin) is the highest, and DOC (Designation of Controlled Origin) is just behind it.
The Prosecco DOC covers four provinces in Friuli-Venezia Giulia (Gorizia, Pordenone, Udine, and Trieste) and five in Veneto (Padua, Venice, Treviso, Vicenza, and Belluno). Two DOCGs fall within the DOC: Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG and Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG. For the first, the wines are harvested on the hills between the two eponymous towns while the latter is produced from its namesake town and is known for its exclusive Extra-Brut dosage (up to 6 grams of residual sugar per liter). Both are so steep that the vineyards can only be worked by hand, which only adds to the value of the wine. It should come as no surprise that it’s a lovely place to visit. Take a road trip from Venice or you can just head to a historic estate or even make a stop on the fabled Grand Wine Tour route.
4. What’s in a name?
As mentioned, the predominant grape used for Prosecco is Glera. However, the grapes used to be called Prosecco, but as the sparkler grew more popular, the producers officially changed the name of the grape to Glera and registered Prosecco as a geographical region to prevent tricky imitations. There is, however, a small town near Trieste called Prosecco where the grapes and/or the wine could have possibly originated. Its first written mention was in 1794, though it’s believed the wine existed for centuries before.
5. “Col fondo”
Remember how I mentioned the Charmat method in item #2? Well, this process so closely associated with Prosecco was invented in 1895 by an Italian, Federico Martinotti, and Eugène Charmat designed the pressurized tanks in 1910. (The process is also sometimes referred to as the Martinotti method.) Yet, Prosecco had been sipped for centuries before the method had been implemented, so you might be wondering how it had been produced prior to?
Like Champagne, the second fermentation occurred in the bottle, and some producers are returning to this method. If you see a Prosecco bottle labeled “col fondo” that literally means “with the bottom”, an indication that the lees and sediment are sitting at the bottom of the bottle. (The French term for this is “sur lies”.) Unlike Champagne, there is no disgorgement, so the Prosecco is unfiltered and consequently much less sweet–it’s murkier, yeastier, bitter, much more complex, and quite delightful. Some producers to keep an eye out for Bele Casel, Zago, Zanotto, Casa Belfi, and Mongarda.
A subzone of the Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG, Cartizze is home to what are considered some of the finest versions. The steep, one-thousand-foot-high hill is known as the “Grand Cru” of the region. This south-facing hilly chain is always exposed to the sun, yet it constantly catches a breeze from the north-east as well as cold air from the Alps at night which enhance the flavor of the grapes.
The Rive subzones are 43 areas, also within the Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG, among the highest vineyard and it also indicates quality.
7. An occasional cocktail mixer
It should come as no surprise that prosecco is also a key ingredient in some cocktails, many of which we know and love. The Negroni Sbagliato swaps the gin for prosecco mixed with the typical Campari and Vermouth. Prosecco is also mixed with Aperol or Campari and a splash of soda to make the iconic Italian spritz as well as with elderflower syrup and mint for an Ugo, an aperitivo cocktail that originated in South Tyrol. Add it to fresh peach puree for a Bellini, what some know as an iconic brunch cocktail that was created in 1948 at Harry’s Bar in Venice.