Whether I’m at a happy hour with friends, hosting a Sunday brunch at home, or lounging poolside mid-summer, Prosecco is a must. I’m even game to pop a bottle of this affordable sparkling wine mid-week as an excuse to celebrate, well, just about anything. Didn’t get stuck in traffic on the way home from work? Prosecco! My best friend finally got asked out by that dude she’s been swooning over? Prosecco! Roommate finally did her dishes? Prosecco! Woke up again today? Prosecco!
All jokes aside, Prosecco is an affordable sparkling wine I can get behind. If you’re someone who has Champagne tastes on a beer budget, Prosecco is a sparkling wine you should get behind, too. There is SO much more to this wine than the bottomless mimosa bar at Sunday Brunch. So, if you’ve been topping off your flute of Prosecco with O.J., think again, sister, and read on.
A Deeper Dive into Italy’s Most Popular Sparkler
Many tend to only associate Prosecco with affordable bubbles or a cheap alternative to Champagne. And yes, Prosecco is an affordable sparkling wine. For as little as $10-$15, there are many quality, entry-level bottles available. But there is SO much more Prosecco to discover than that cheap bottle of bubbles you picked up from the liquor store on your way home. Let’s explore the history of these Italian bubbles, how you can up your Prosecco game, and what makes this delightful sparkling wine so affordable.
Where Is The Best of Prosecco made?
Though there is a suburb in Trieste called Prosecco, counterintuitively that is not where the best of these Italian bubbles are produced. The best Prosecco is made in Veneto, Italy in the northeastern corner of the country. More specifically, it is produced in a region located about 100km from the Dolomites and 50 km from the Adriatic Sea called Valdobbiadene. Say that 3 times fast. No really, try it because my Italian boyfriend made me do it and it was hilarious. Emphasis on the double-b’s.
Many people don’t know that Prosecco-land can be found near the city of Treviso, around an hour’s trip by car from the ever-popular tourist destination of Venice. Personally, I would have spent less time meandering the canals and more time throwing back some bubbly if I would have known this years ago. But I digress.
Italy produces the best Prosecco between the two towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. Conegliano is home to Italy’s first school of winemaking where Prosecco was developed. While Valdobbiadene is the heart of Prosecco production with the highest concentration of vineyards in the region. Today, 15 communes dedicated to the production of this beautiful bubbly make up Conegliano Valdobbiadene.
D.O.C. And D.O.C.G. – Prosecco is LEGIT
The D.O.C. and D.O.C.G. Geographic Indications in Italy are the regulated standards of wine production and vineyard management which producers work tirelessly to maintain. These designations were originally intended to indicate a higher quality of wine for the consumers. However, both the best wine and the worst wine produced in a D.O.C. region, for example, are labeled the same. So, while consumers may trust that a wine is produced up to a certain set of standards, that wine might not necessarily be the best the region has to offer. Do your research – the more you taste, the more you know!
Below are Italy’s Geographic Indications for those who are not familiar.
- D.O.C.G. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) – D.O.C.G. is the highest designation in Italy and means that the wines, winery, and vineyards in which the grapes were grown and processed adhere to the strictest standards of production.
- D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) – D.O.C. wines have to comply with strict standards, but they are less strict than those of D.O.C.G. regions.
- I.T.G. (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) – The I.G.T. designation is reserved for all wines that do not meet the DOC standards of production, but are still good quality wines.
Starting from the base and working up to the highest designation, the D.O.C. and D.O.C.G. indications for Prosecco are as follows:
- Prosecco D.O.C. – This includes Prosecco grown and produced in 9 provinces in two different regions in northeast Italy—Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
- Prosecco D.O.C. includes the subregions Prosecco di Treviso D.O.C. or Prosecco di Trieste D.O.C. 100% of the grapes, winemaking, and bottling must take place in Treviso or Trieste respectively.
- Asolo Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. – A smaller hillside region located across the river from Conegliano Valdobbiadene. Similar regulations as Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G.
- Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. – Prosecco produced only in the 15 communes between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. The vineyards in this designation are allowed a yield of 13.5 tons per hectare.
- Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Rive D.O.C.G. – “Rive” refers to the steep hillsides of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene region. This is an even more specific classification within the region indicating the grapes were grown at the steepest, sheerest, highest-quality vineyards from a single commune within the region. Within this indication, there are 43 Rive, each distinctively expressing a specific combination of exposure, microclimate, and soil. Under this designation, yields are reduced to 13 tons of grapes per hectare, the fruit is harvested by hand, and the vintage is always illustrated on the label.
- Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore di Cartizze D.O.C.G. – Wines produced under the Cartizze designation come from a 107-hectare region amongst the steepest hillsides of San Pietro di Barbozza, Santo Stefano and Saccol. Cartizze has had its own regulations since 1969, including a maximum yield of 12 tons per hectare. Prosecco grown here exhibits more complex characteristics due to the unique soil composition and microclimate
You’ll typically only see Prosecco D.O.C. wines on wine lists at restaurants and bars. But if there is only one thing that you take away from reading this blog post, let it be this – Seek out Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. the next time you’re in the mood for Prosecco. The rich history of viticulture with the Glera variety in this region combined with the steep hillside vineyards, extremely diverse soils, and unique microclimates produce Prosecco that is truly inspiring and unforgettable. And the best part is, this higher quality Prosecco is STILL AFFORDABLE.
For further details on the regulations of each Geographic Indication of Prosecco, check out Italian Wine Central.
Other Prosecco Info You Should Know
All Prosecco must be produced with a minimum of 85% Glera grapes regardless of Geographic Indication. Other local varieties make up the remaining 15%, including Verdiso, Perera, and Bianchetta.
Have you heard of Glera? Though it is a lesser-known variety outside of Italy, Glera has ancient roots dating back over 300 years in the Veneto. This delicate white variety creates elegant-bodied wine with equally delicate aromas, including jasmine, honeysuckle, pear, citrus, green apple, and honeydew melon. Cartizze tends to exhibit even more complex aromas, such as apricots, peaches, roses, and almonds.
There are three styles of Prosecco as far as sweetness level goes.
- Brut – 0-12 grams/Liter of residual sugar – up to half a gram of sugar per glass
- Extra Dry – 12-17 grams/Liter of residual sugar – just over half a gram of sugar per glass
- Dry – 17-32 grams/Liter of residual sugar – up to one gram of sugar per glass
Big thanks to Wine Folly for breaking this down!
The majority of Prosecco found on the market is Brut. However, even Brut Prosecco seemingly tastes sweet because of the natural fruity characteristics of the wine. I prefer my Prosecco Extra Dry, even though I typically lean towards Brut bubbles and bone dry wines. That little bit of extra residual sugar balances the acidity in the wine while also enhancing the fruit qualities. I encourage you to try an Extra Dry Prosecco if you haven’t yet so you can see what I’m talking about – it’s beautiful!
Frizzante (semi-sparkling) or Tranquilo (still wine) are two rarer, niche styles of Prosecco. These styles of wine never include Superiore on the label.
Conegliano Valdobbiadene Climate and Soil
The climate and soil of Conegliano Valdobbiadene provide the perfect home for Glera. The delicate white variety requires a lot of water. Thankfully, heavy summer rainfall, averaging 1250mm, is characteristic of the region. Situated between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea, Conegliano Valdobbiadene experiences consistent breezes, allowing the grapes and vines to dry despite heavy rainfall. The mild temperature of the region, averaging around 12.3° C, helps preserve the grapes’ acidity while allowing Prosecco’s fruity flavors to develop.
Elevations in the region range from 100-500m with mountains running east to west. This means vines are planted on south-facing slopes to take advantage of the full benefits of sun exposure. Vineyards planted at diverse elevations also maximize the benefits of the diurnal temperature change. Though the steep slopes of Conegliano Valdobbiadene may not be fun for the growers to climb while working the vineyards, they do provide exceptional drainage to complement the heavy rainfall of the region.
The complex soils of this ancient region tell a history of their own. The influence of Conegliano Valdobbiadene’s unique position between the Dolomites and the sea is evident in the composition of the soil. the soils were influenced by the rising ancient sea and lake beds, like many other Western European wine regions. Long before you and I walked this earth, the glaciers of the Dolomites came through Conegliano Valdobbiadene, reshaping the hills and leaving behind sediments they carried downhill.
The soils in the areas touched by the ancient glaciers consist of rock, sand, and clay. Whereas the soils are more porous and illustrate marine origins with marl and sandstone in the areas untouched by the glaciers. The impact of these ancient Dolomites glaciers is also evident in the shape of the region’s hills. Near Conegliano, the hills have a gentler slope compared to the steep, south-facing slopes of Valdobbiadene. There are many unique microclimates within Conegliano Valdobbiadene due to the combination of diverse soils, slopes, and varied sun-exposure.
Why Is Prosecco So Affordable?
Many sparkling wines of the world are produced in the same style as the famous sparklers of Champagne. This sparkling winemaking process is known as the Méthode Traditionelle, or the traditional method, and involves a secondary fermentation in bottle to produce those bubbles we all know and love. The process is lengthy, labor-intensive, and requires bottle storage during the fermentation and aging process. So, wines produced under the traditional method are expensive to produce, which means higher prices for us consumers.
Prosecco is produced under the Charmat Method aka Metodo Italiano aka the tank method. Just like in the traditional method, the process starts with producing a still base wine. Rather than bottling the base wine and introducing a secondary fermentation in the bottle, the Charmat Method involves a secondary fermentation in a pressure-resistant tank called an autoclave. Here, the base wine receives the ‘Liqueur de Tirage,’ or the mixture of wine, yeast, and sugar that will initiate the second fermentation. The tank becomes pressurized as CO2 is released during fermentation, which lasts for around 10 days. The wine is then filtered and receives the dosage, a mixture of sugar and wine, to balance the sweetness and acidity of the wine to region standards. Then the wines are immediately bottled without aging.
The Charmat Method is a shorter process, less labor-intensive, and no bottle storage is required for aging, meaning production costs less than the traditional method previously discussed. Which also means, you guessed it, an affordable sparkling wine for consumers. This method also gives wine around 3 atmospheres of pressure, which is about half that of Champagne at around 5-6 atmospheres of pressure. So the bubbles in Prosecco don’t last as long as Champagne, but they do last longer than the bubbles in beer (1.5 atmospheres of pressure).
The tank method causes Prosecco to taste fruitier and fresher than sparkling wine produced under the Méthode Traditionelle. Wine has extended contact with the lees (the spent yeast cells left after fermentation) when the secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle. This lees contact contributes what are known as autolytic qualities in the wine world. A fancy word used to describe yeasty flavors and aromas like toasted bread or brioche. Since Prosecco’s Metodo Italiano skips the extended lees contact in the bottle, the fruity, fresh aromas and flavors of that special Glera variety are able to shine.
There is also an alternative method for producing Prosecco called Col Fondo. Rather than finishing the second fermentation in tank, the wine completes the secondary fermentation in the bottle. But Col Fondo wines are never disgorged. The spent yeast cells remain in the bottle when fermentation is through. The Col Fondo method produces cloudy, totally dry Prosecco with more complex flavors. However, this style is always classified as a frizzante because the bubbles are less vigorous than Prosecco produced in tank.
Which Prosecco Should I Buy?
If you want to discover what Prosecco is all about, then start exploring wines from Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superior D.O.C.G. and Asolo Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. These Geographic Indications illustrate where Glera grapes were destined to grow. While these wines can cost around $40 per bottle, there are also quality, affordable, and delicious wines available from both D.O.C.G. regions.
A bottle of Carpenè Malvolti Extra Dry Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superior D.O.C.G. only cost me $14 at Total Wine. The quality even impressed my dad, who only drinks bubbles from Gloria Ferrer in Sonoma at the $40+ price point.
The Carpenè Malvolti was a beautiful pale straw color, so fresh, with medium acidity and a hint of sweetness that balanced the wine nicely. Bursting with notes of lemon, lime, green apple, biscuit, and white flowers, this bottle went down smoothly.
I have yet to try a Rive or Cartizze Conegliano Valdobbiadene, but you better know those are on the top of my wine shopping list! If you beat me to it, I’d love to hear your thoughts and tasting notes on these styles. As you learned before, these Geographic Indications get even more site-specific, which always translates to more interesting wines in my book.
How Do I Pair This Affordable Sparkling Wine?
Prosecco is an affordable sparkling wine that is fun to play with when it comes to food and wine pairings because the wine is so versatile and pairs with a variety of cuisines. The natural fruitiness and sweetness of Prosecco make it an ideal wine to pair with dishes that are sweet, spicy, salty, or vegetal. The bubbles act as a refreshing palate cleanser while the acidity in Prosecco can stand up to dishes with higher acidity or cut through fatty characteristics of a dish.
Cantaloupe or honeydew melon with prosciutto is a classic pairing for Prosecco. The sweetness of the melon complements the sweet, fruity aromatics of Prosecco, while the salty, fatty prosciutto enhances the fruit characteristics of the wine. The acidity of the Prosecco simultaneously cuts through the prosciutto’s richness. This is such a simple pairing that everyone should experience to train the palate how sweetness, salt, and fat affect the flavor profile of a wine.
Prosecco also pairs surprisingly well with green vegetables because the fruit aromatics of the wine subdue the green vegetal characteristics. Any dishes with green fava beans, snow peas, asparagus, etc. would illustrate this pairing perfectly.
I combined both of these pairing concepts with my crispy prosciutto, arugula, and summer fruits salad and the results were INSANELY delicious. Check out the recipe and why the pairing worked here.
Southeast Asian cuisine is another perfect match for Prosecco – think spicy curries, pad thai, green papaya salad, etc. Prosecco’s fruity aromatics tame the heat of any spicy dish, while the bubbles cleanse the palate. Plus, the acidity of the wine complements the richness of coconut milk often used in Southeast Asian cuisine. Next time you grab Thai takeout, stop for a bottle of Prosecco, too, and try the pairing for yourself! Or test out my recipe for easy Thai noodle soup for your Prosecco pairing.
Now that you’ve got the full rundown on Prosecco, it’s time for you to get out there and experience this affordable sparkling wine for yourself! I’d love to know which producers you fall in love with or what delicious pairings you come up with, too. Tell me in the comments below or find me on Instagram and tag me in a photo of you having fun discovering this amazing world of wine. (@palm.and.vine) Cheers!