One of the most wonderful styles of white wine is one you've probably never tried: prosecco with no bubbles.
But wait, you say. Isn't prosecco a sparkling wine?
The answer is: no, not always -- and definitely not originally.
In fact, prosecco may be the single most misunderstood and underappreciated popular wine in the world.
Outside of Italy, most prosecco drinkers believe that prosecco is: 1) a sparkling wine; 2) made like champagne; 3) always tastes the same; 4) inexpensive; and 5) something you shouldn't drink with food.
None of these beliefs is accurate.
First of all, let's define prosecco.
Prosecco is a white wine grown in a small area north of Venice, Italy, in the northeastern part of the country. The prosecco wine country is closer to the Slovenian border than it is to Milan. (And, in fact, the drink "prosecco" is named after a grape, which is named after a town, which originated as the Slovenian word "prozek," which means "path through the woods.")
The prosecco wine-growing region is also one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and it's where we're holding our second Prosecco Experience in October.
Specifically, to qualify for the "prosecco" designation, wine must be produced in Northeast part of Italy.
Three authorities govern prosecco, listed in order of geographic size are: 1) Prosecco DOC; 2) Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG; and 3) Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG.
The second authority listed above -- Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG -- produces the best prosecco, and the grapes are grown between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. The road that connects these towns is called the "Prosecco Road." Most of the very best proseccos made in this area are never exported. You've gotta go there to try it.
In order to be considered for the prosecco designation, the wine must be made from at least 85% of a grape variety called Glera. (Some proseccos are 100% Glera, but prosecco can also contain up to 15% Perera, Bianchetta, Verdiso, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and/or Pinot Noir.)
Glera used to be called prosecco. They changed the name of the grape from "prosecco" to "Glera" in 2009 in order to control the "prosecco" brand. If the grape was still called "prosecco," anyone using that grape could put the word "prosecco" on the label, and thereby mislead buyers into thinking they were buying real prosecco.
Most sparkling wines in the world, especially French champagne but also including Spanish cava and California sparkling wine, are made using the "French method," also known as méthode Champenoise. The wine is fermented, then sugar and yeast are usually added before bottling with a beer-bottle style cap for a second fermentation (called "tirage") and aging, which, for French champagne, can take years. During this aging, complex chemical reactions with the dead yeast cells, called lees, take place that give champagne its highly complex, bread-like taste and buttery mouth-feel. Later, the dead yeast cells are often purged in a process called "disgorging." The bottle is then corked and the wine is ready.
Prosecco has been historically known as "Italian champagne" -- a sparkling white wine that's like champagne, but cheaper. It's really nothing like champagne at all. And in recent years have some wine drinkers come to prefer prosecco to champagne because of its lighter, "cleaner" and subtler taste.
Prosecco is so popular that there's more prosecco produced each year than champagne.
Most sparkling proseccos are made using the "Italian method," which is also called the Charmat Method. This process is nearly unique to prosecco.
The secondary fermentation happens in special steel tanks, and it's bottled after that secondary fermentation. It's already carbonated upon bottling. This method is far more efficient and less labor intensive, and it's one of the reasons why prosecco is usually cheaper than champagne.
The Charmat Method, plus significantly less aging and aging without lees, are the two main reasons for the cleanliness of the taste of prosecco compared with champagne. It doesn't have that yeast smell when you open the bottle, and it doesn't have a yeasty taste, either.
Note that a small percentage of proseccos are made using the French method.
The most surprising fact about prosecco is this: Proseccos offer a full range of bubbliness, from the champagne-like "spumante," which is highly bubbly, to "frizzante," to "tranquillo," which is a still wine.
Everyone is used to the bubbles in sparkling wines. But proseccos that are lightly carbonated (frizzante) and uncarbonated (tranquillo) are wonderful, delightful wines. (Note that the picture in this post is a frizzante prosecco.)
(During our totally exclusive Prosecco Experience, you'll learn all about -- and, of course, taste! -- the very best proseccos in all varieties directly from the best wine-makers themselves.)
If still prosecco seems like a new thing, you should know that prosecco was always tranquillo for at least 2,000 years, only becoming available in a sparkling style in 1868. (Glera and prosecco are ancient. Pliny the Elder loved it, for example.)
And prosecco comes in a full range of sweetness from Brut to Demi-Sec and everything in between.
Prosecco tastes sweeter than it actually is. The reason is that the region produces grapes that are a riot of light-fruit flavors (honeydew melon, pear, etc.) and sweet flowers, honeycomb and vanilla with relatively low acidity. It tricks your mind into thinking it's sweeter than it actually is from a measurable sugar-content perspective.
There are exceptions to that rule. My favorite prosecco is acidic to the point of being almost lemony, due to natural-wine production methods.
In fact, I think that prosecco tranquillo will, and should, become globally favored, at some point. It's fantastic stuff, and unlike "regular" still white wine.
This is the grand irony about prosecco. Everyone thinks prosecco is uniquely uniform in taste and style, simply because the the overwhelming global demand is for a light, cheaper, bubbly alternative to champagne. The reality is that prosecco is by far the most variable and flexible style of sparkling wine. It ranges from super sweet to super dry, super bubbly to still, Italian method, French method, aged, not aged much and absolutely everything in between.
But you have to visit the Prosecco Hills to experience the full quality and variety of prosecco.
Unlike champagne, Prosecco is very good with food. And unlike cava, most prosecco is best with subtler food flavors. The food in the Veneto area is extremely subtle in flavor, and nearly all but the sweetest proseccos pair great with it. But I would pair only the sweeter proseccos with spicy food, strong cheeses or any other big flavors.
Because of its light, fruity, floral taste, prosecco is also better than other sparkling wines in cocktails. It's one of the ingredients in any good Bellini or Aperol Spritz. It's also better than champagne in a mimosa, in my opinion.
I also wouldn't drink prosecco out of a champagne flute, as is common around the world. Because of its subtly and light-fruit nose, it's much better in a big red-wine type glass or a white wine glass. There's even a prosecco-specific glass, which is like a wide flute (shown in the picture). But I like drinking prosecco out of a big glass with a wide mouth.
In any event, the prosecco you encounter along the Prosecco Road and in the region of its origin is vastly more complex, variable and often just far better than the stuff they export.
If you want to truly grasp what prosecco is all about, you've got to spend some quality time in the region with the area's most brilliant and visionary wine makers. And that's why we do our Prosecco Experience. You really should join us. But hurry! There's only one spot left in our very small group. - Mike