HomeAbout UsWine ReviewsArchivesAdvertiseContact Us

THE GRAPEVINE

Wine Columns

Wine Reviews

WineReviewOnline.com on Twitter

Critics Challenge International Wine Competition

Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition

Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition

Is Prosecco the New Champagne?
By Ed McCarthy
Apr 28, 2015
Printable Version
Email this Article

Prosecco, an appealing, low-priced, sparkling wine, with a fresh taste reminiscent of Golden Delicious apples, has become amazingly popular, especially when served by the glass, with or without food appetizers.  

 

Nevertheless, even though I specialize in sparkling wines, the main reason I have not written about Prosecco is that so many others have written about this wine, including two of my colleagues at Wine Review Online (the two Michaels, Apstein and Franz, within the last year and a half).  What new information could I add to the subject of Prosecco?

 

But then two incidents took place that caught my attention.  I read that for the first time Prosecco had outsold Champagne in the U.S. last year.  And it is also selling extremely well in a country that has always been a bastion of Champagne, the UK (annually the biggest export market for Champagne).  Still reeling from that news, I spoke to a colleague at a seminar on Prosecco the other day.  She told me that she had attended an art gallery opening recently and a woman asked her if she wanted “a glass of Prosecco?”  My colleague took the glass and went over to the table to note the brand.  It was not Prosecco; it was the Spanish sparkler, Cava.

 

It hit me.  Prosecco is now akin to Kleenex.  For as long as I can remember, people have been offering me all sorts of bubbly wine and calling it “champagne.”  Perhaps 80 to 90 percent of the time, it was not Champagne, but something else--ironically, sometimes it was a Prosecco.

 

Will “prosecco” now replace “champagne” as the all-encompassing name for any sparkling wine?  In his column on Prosecco, Michael Apstein noted that, when he was in Venice ordering Prosecco, Italian bartenders and servers would give him all sorts of bubbly wines, such as sparkling Soave, etc., and when Michael questioned them, the bartenders/servers would insist that it was prosecco.

 

Prosecco, in a remarkably short time, has become the “it” wine; the sparkling equivalent of that other Italian import, Pinot Grigio.  Since 1998, Prosecco has doubled its production.  Prosecco has been around Italy for a long time, in fact, for centuries.  So, why now has it caught on fire?

 

Reason # 1

 

Up until the 1960s, Prosecco was a sweet wine (similar to Asti), mainly sparkling, and not very well made.  But then, as has happened in most regions throughout the wine world, production methods improved for Prosecco, and it also began to be made primarily as a dry, sparkling wine.  In fact, according to the Commissioner of the Prosecco Consorzio, 94 percent of Prosecco today is now made as spumante (fully sparkling), with just 5 percent frizzante (lightly sparkling), and 1 percent still.  And most Prosecco is made today as brut, with the rest mainly extra dry.  It is a pleasant, easy-drinking apéritif, and low in alcohol (11 to 12 percent).

 

Reasons # 2 and # 3

 

Prosecco’s price has always been low, perhaps because it has never quite had the cachet of Champagne or other sparklers made--like Champagne--from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Another key factor in Prosecco’s favor has been the huge number of Italian restaurants, in the U.S., the UK, and throughout the world…almost all of which serve Prosecco, by the glass and by the bottle.  And with its new success, Prosecco is now being served by the glass in almost every restaurant and bar regardless of whether the establishment is Italian-themed.  This is especially true in the U.S., which recently became Prosecco’s largest export market.

 

Will Success Spoil Prosecco?

 

Despite its apparent success, Prosecco faces a danger.  As has happened to other popular Italian wines, such as Soave, the danger is demand-driven over-production, with plantings extending into less-than-optimal areas. The best region for Prosecco is in its original home, the hillsides between the towns of Valdobbiadene and Conegliano in northeast Veneto.  And on the steepest slope in this area, called Cartizze, the so-called “Grand Cru” of Prosecco is made, appropriately named Cartizze.

 

To protect the image of the best Prosecco wines, in 2009 producers in the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene area got together and appealed to the local Consorzio to create a DOCG appellation for their wines to distinguish them from Proseccos being made in the valleys and other areas outside of the best regions.


The Consorzio agreed, and so today, there are two controlled and regulated levels for Prosecco, DOCG and DOC.  The two DOCG appellations for Prosecco now are the following:

 

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG (by far the larger and more important of the two); and

 

Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG, a.k.a. Colli Asolani (the Colli Asolani area, with its main town, Asolo, is directly south of Valdobbiadene, and has similar terroir, but is smaller and less-known than Conegliano Valdobbiadene).

 

All other regulated areas making Prosecco, both in the Veneto region and nearby Friuli, are entitled only to produce Prosecco DOC.  Sometimes the name of the area is included in the appellation, such as Treviso Prosecco DOC.

 

Reason #4

 

The largest importer of Prosecco, Mionetto, decided to launch a big promotional campaign to bring its Prosecco around the world, and took special aim at the U.S. market, between 1997 and 2000.  Needless to say, the campaign was a huge success, especially in the U.S.  You can now find Mionetto Prosecco all over the U.S.

 

I mentioned Prosecco’s low price. Almost all Prosecco DOC wines retail for under $12 a bottle.  I have seen it advertised for $7!  Even Asolo DOCG Prosecco can be purchased for less than $12.  The DOCG Proseccos from Conegliano Valdobbiadene are mainly in the $12 to $18 range (which I consider a great value).  The premium Proseccos from the very best producers retail for $20 to $30 a bottle.

 

Compared to Champagne, are these still a bargain, you might ask?  Well, no one I know would compare Prosecco to Champagne.  Prosecco’s second fermentation takes place in a stainless steel tank, not in the bottle, as Champagne’s does.  It does not have the extended aging of Champagne, and will never have the complexity and biscuity flavors of Champagne.  Prosecco’s leading qualities are freshness and drinkability.  Serve it cold like Champagne and it is quite delicious.

 

In alphabetical order, here are my recommended Prosecco producers:

 

Adami, Bisol, Bisson, Bortolomiol, Carpenè Malvolti, Gregoletto, Mionetto, Nino Franco, Malibràn, Terre di San Venanzio Fortuato, and Zardetto.

 

Look for the DOCG Conegliano Valdobbiadene, or Asolo (Colli Asolani) on the label, because large producers, such as Mionetto, make both DOC and DOCG Proseccos.

 

Nino Franco is perhaps the “Lafite-Rothschild” of Prosecco producers, with his best vintage-dated wines retailing for up to $39, but his basic “Rustico” Prosecco sells in the $14 to $17 range and is excellent.  Another Prosecco producer I admire is Bisol; his entire line of wines is of high quality, as is Adami’s Proseccos.

 

Darn, after all this work, I feel like having a glass of Prosecco right now!