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Prosecco

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The producer of one of the world’s most popular—and most imitated—sparkling wines, Italy’s Prosecco region is experiencing an exciting renaissance. The northern appellation has long been renowned for its bright, crisp wines, made primarily from the white Glera grape, and thanks to a rededication to place, variety, and sustainability—Prosecco is reclaiming its identity as one of Italy’s most versatile and enjoyable wines.

Prosecco DOC
Map courtesy of Prosecco DOC Consortium.
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The biggest change over the past decade was perhaps the all-encompassing upgrade of the region in 2009 from Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) status to Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC), which affected nine provinces. That same year, the Italian government also upgraded the Prosecco di Conegliano e Valdobbiadine DOC zone to a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG). In addition, the regulations called for yields in the newly designated zones to be reduced to help improve quality.

Before this change, both the grape and the region were simply called Prosecco (after a village outside the city of Trieste). Now the grape is identified by its viniferous name, Glera. Any wine produced in the region but outside the DOC regulation must be labeled Glera IGT and may not be called Prosecco.

The protected status of the Prosecco DOC not only distinguishes wines produced in the region as authentic but prohibits other regions and producers from falsely labeling their products as Prosecco in an attempt to benefit from its reputation.

Prosecco DOC
Photo courtesy of Prosecco DOC Consortium.

Geography

Located in Italy’s northeast corner, south of the Alps, the Prosecco region is situated in the plains between Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Veneto, nestled between the Dolomite Mountains and the Adriatic Sea. The Prosecco DOC comprises nine provinces: Belluno, Padua, Treviso, Venice, and Vicenza in the Veneto region, and Gorizia, Pordenone, Trieste, and Udine in the Friuli region.

Warm, sunny days and cool evenings during growing seasons are moderated by sea influences, resulting in long ripening days for the grapes and the diurnal temperature shift needed to produce aromatic, high-acid wines. Annual average rainfall is about 60 inches.

Originally alluvial, the soils have evolved over centuries to their present composition, which is mostly clay-loam that’s rich with minerals and microelements. Today the soils vary from calcium-rich marl and flysch sandstone in the hilly regions to clay, sand, and gravel in the valley and plains.

Photo courtesy of Prosecco DOC Consortium.

History

Prosecco dates to Roman times and was well regarded by the scholar and philosopher Pliny the Elder, who mentioned the wine in his Historia Naturalis. The 18th-century Italian poet Aureliano Acanti wrote that he wanted to “sacrifice my mouth for that apple-aromatic Prosecco.”

Although the name Prosech, or Prosecum, has roots in the 13th century, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that the name Prosecco was given to a sparkling wine. Three figures were prominent in the evolution of the wine: Federico Martinotti and Eugene Charmat, who developed the secondary-fermentation tank methods, and Antonio Carpenè Sr., a chemist who refined those methods and created industry standards. Carpenè is credited as the Father of Prosecco, having also established the Oenology School of Conegliano in 1876—the first school of viticulture and enology in Italy and still the region’s top winemaking institution.

Up to the 1960s, Prosecco was produced on the sweeter end of the spectrum, similar in style to Asti wines from Piedmont. But improved viticulture and production methods have shifted Prosecco to a drier, more elegant style that is enjoyed throughout the world and has become synonymous with the Italian lifestyle.

Appellation

Under the decade-old DOC designation, Prosecco is made primarily from Glera vines cultivated in the region, and the resulting wines must be produced and bottled in the area. There are two exceptions, however. Wines produced and bottled in the historically important provinces of Treviso and Trieste may be labeled Prosecco DOC Treviso and Prosecco DOC Trieste. Sparkling wines make up 83 percent of the region’s total production, while semi-sparkling wines make up nearly 17 percent and still wines account for just 1 percent.

The Prosecco DOC growing area consists of about 23,000 hectares. The maximum yield is 180,000 kilograms of fruit per hectare. The region’s average annual DOC production yields 464 million bottles—from 11,102 vineyards, 1,211 wineries, and 348 winemakers.

Key Grape Varieties

Prosecco DOC grapes are primarily Glera, a late-ripening, straw-colored grape known for its high yields. Glera’s origins are ambiguous, but it’s thought to have originated along the nearby Dalmatian coast or in Slovenia. In the 18th century, Glera cultivation expanded throughout the hills of Veneto and Friuli; it later spread to the lower-elevation areas.

Glera vines produce generous, long bunches on vertically trained trellises. Green harvesting, as well as pinching and tying, keeps yields in check and encourages aromatic development in the grapes. Glera’s high acidity, light body, and lower alcohol levels (8.5% ABV is the minimum permitted) make it ideal for sparkling wine.

In addition to Glera, DOC regulations allow the addition of up to 15 percent of the following grape varieties: Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera, Glera Lunga, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, and Pinot Nero.

Prosecco DOC
Photo courtesy of Prosecco DOC Consortium.

Primary Styles

Depending on the level of pressure used during production, Prosecco DOC can be made in spumante (sparkling), frizzante (semi-sparkling), or tranquillo (still) styles. Spumante is the bubbliest of the three, with 1 to 3 atmospheres (atm) of pressure inside the bottle, while frizzante has 1 to 1.5 atm and tranquillo less than 1 atm.

The most popular style of Prosecco DOC, spumante has fine, persistent bubbles and shows apple, rose, and banana notes. Spumante is further defined by sugar content (grams per liter):

Brut Less than 12 g/l
Extra Dry 12–17 g/l
Dry 17–32 g/l
Demi-Sec 32–50 g/l

 

Frizzante has light and less persistent bubbles, and delivers notes of lemon and wisteria. Tranquillo, which is bottled after primary fermentation, has virtually no perlage, a word used by Italians to describe the consistency of bubbles.

Other Styles

Essentially a pétillant naturel, col fondo Prosecco is made with one continuous fermentation inside the bottle and is not disgorged. It’s a lighter style of sparkling wine that can be cloudy and closed at first but opens up to reveal a white-flower character with notes of pears, lemon, and ginger.  

Prosecco is at its youthful prime when drunk the year after harvest and is best served chilled in a large tulip-shaped glass that allows a full expression of the wine’s aromas.

Production Methods

Prosecco DOC wines are vinified using the Charmat method (also referred to as the Martinotti, or tank method), in which secondary fermentation takes place under pressure in large steel tanks known as autoclaves rather than inside individual bottles.

The grapes are typically harvested during the first weeks of September, when sugars, acidity, and aromatics have reached their peak. After harvest, the grapes are crushed and separated from their stems in preparation for soft pressing. Selected yeasts start the fermentation process, which lasts 15 to 20 days and is maintained by a constant temperature of 18 degrees Celsius to preserve the delicate aromas of the grapes.

After fermentation, the wine is racked and filtered. Prosecco Tranquillo is the first style to be bottled; frizzante and spumante styles undergo a second fermentation. Secondary fermentation lasts a minimum of 30 days under pressure in a sealed tank to prevent the carbon dioxide from escaping. The temperature is lowered to stop fermentation, leaving the level of residual sugar desired for the producer’s individual style.

Whereas the traditional, bottle-fermented production method for sparkling wines produces a brioche-yeasty character, the Charmat method captures Glera’s fresh, fruit-forward nuances. Prosecco wine produced from this method is bright straw yellow with fine, persistent perlage. A youthful wine, Prosecco is known for showing aromas of white flowers, apple, and pear, along with honeysuckle and other floral notes. Most Proseccos have moderate levels of alcohol—around 12% ABV.


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Protecting Prosecco

The Prosecco DOC Consortium promotes and protects the reputation and tradition of this historic sparkling wine, and it has instituted a strict system of identification and authentication. These measures include an official secure seal that is applied to each bottle. If the bottle is opened, the seal is broken and therefore cannot be reused to duplicate the wine.

Additionally, labels with the Consortium logo guarantee that the wine in the bottle has been produced in compliance with Prosecco DOC regulations, and in the approved provinces. Typically, a guaranteed bottle will include the following authentication on the label:

  • Prosecco DOC (Registered Designation of Origin)
  • Prodotto in Italia (Made in Italy)
  • Fascetta di Stato (State mark and seal)
  • Spumante or Frizzante designation

 

Prosecco DOC
Photo courtesy of Prosecco DOC Consortium.

What’s Happening in the Prosecco DOC Today?

The 2018 vintage showed an increase of 6 percent in wine production—to 460 million bottles, 75 percent of which will be allocated for export. The most important markets for Prosecco include the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Prosecco DOC Consortium is currently changing its regulations to allow wines to be labeled Brut Nature and Extra Brut for those meeting the requirements of residual sugar content from 0 to 3 g/l for the former and from 0 to 6 g/l for the latter. Also, in an effort to keep up with the global tastes of consumers, the organization is evaluating the introduction of a rosé category.

The Consortium has taken a forward-thinking attitude toward sustainability, long-term productivity, and climate change. Last year, it instituted programs to address these and other environmental issues and pushed to prohibit the use of chemicals such as Mancozeb, folpet, and glyphosate.

Last fall, the Consortium introduced a collaboration with industry professionals that supports winegrowers in improving vineyard management, achieving better yields, and identifying the best organoleptic properties for high-quality sparkling wines. It also launched a separate study that aims to evaluate soil and climate, identify macro-areas, and experiment with vinifications to further identify associations between grapes, wines, and their place of origin. Additional research will focus on improving wine quality through new techniques in the cellar.

The Consortium has joined Mosaico Verde, a program that aims to increase biodiversity in the region by planting 300,000 new trees, in addition to protecting 30,000 hectares of existing forest. Other programs reward producers that incorporate hedges and groves to improve the biodiversity of the terroir.

With the support of Condifesa Treviso, an agricultural organization, the Prosecco DOC Consortium developed a Winemaker’s Handbook that is updated annually with information about sustainable strategies for vineyard management. In 2018 the Prosecco DOC Consortium was awarded the Ecofriendly Prize from the Guida Vinibuoni d’Italia

The Consortium is making a concerted effort to raise Prosecco’s profile in the U.S. with a series of events and promotions. Last year the Consortium launched National Prosecco Week, with sommelier-led master classes for press, trade, and industry influencers; consumer-facing restaurant and retail promotions; and events such as Prosecco & Pizza competitions. National Prosecco Week returns this year, from June 3 through 9, with master classes in New York, Nashville, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Miami and a nationwide program consisting of restaurant and retail promotions and consumer events.

Prosecco has long been the base of the famous Bellini cocktail and the Venetian Spritz, and the Consortium’s Italian Genio program recently commissioned the development of new Prosecco cocktails, created by Italian mixologists.

Casa Prosecco DOC USA is the official source of news and information about Prosecco DOC in the U.S.; the site is regularly updated with information on new regulations, initiatives, harvest reports, and export data.

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