The Italian propensity for creating superb wines is perfectly demonstrated by Prosecco.
Considered by many to be a cheaper substitute for Champagne outside of Italy, in its native country the wine is much more widely consumed and is considered a superb accompaniment to any meal or occasion.
At its core, Prosecco is a sparkling white wine, usually falling into the dry or extra dry category. Named after a small village near Trieste, it is now produced mainly in the regions of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia, though many other variants are also produced on foreign shores.
The origin of Prosecco
As previously mentioned, Prosecco is named after a small village near Trieste. However its origin is slightly more convoluted than that would lead many to believe. It is generally accepted that Prosecco actually began life as a wine named Ribolla back in the sixteenth century. Ribolla was native to the area and was its main local product, with some sources claiming that it was the result of the evolution of the famed Punician wine favoured by many prominent figures including famed Roman author Pliny the Elder. This was a belief that the locals in the Trieste area were all too happy to indulge in an effort to gain more exposure for their local product.
Eventually it was decided that the wine needed to be associated with a location in the Trieste region to provide a more tangible link to its place of origin, which led to the name Prosecco being chosen and eventually associated with the wine.
Over time the production of Prosecco has improved to make it one of the more easily distinguishable and popular dry whites on the market. This improvement in quality has allowed the wine to explode in popularity in foreign markets, meaning that today the Prosecco industry is estimated to be worth somewhere in the region of 350-400 million Euros.
Generally speaking Prosecco comes from to different sources – those produced in Italy, which are held to a higher to a higher standard, and those produced in foreign territories which tend to vary wodely in quality.
In the case of Italian production the vast majority of versions of the wine come from the Conegliano and Valdobbiadene areas, marking a departure from the wine’s place of origin. In fact it is believed that almost two thirds of all the Prosecco made in the world hails from this region and bottles produced there will be subject to the strict standards of the Denominazione di origine controllata (DOCG) to ensure its quality.
Figure 1 – Image courtesy of prosecco.it
However, as the popularity of the wine continued to increase at the beginning of the century, the Glera grapes used in its production began to be widely cultivated, meaning that there are now vintages of Prosecco hailing from countries as diverse as Brazil and Australia. These versions are not subjected to the DOCG regulations, meaning that quality can often vary wildly from bottle to bottle.
Regardless of the place of production, Prosecco is generally created using the Charmat method, in which secondary fermentation of the grapes can be conducted in stainless steel tanks. This makes the wine far less expensive to produce than traditional competitors, such as Champagne, however it also generally means that it should be consumed fairly soon after fermentation to enjoy the best quality.
Unlike Champagne and its other more prominent competitors, Prosecco does not ferment in the bottle, which means that it does not improve with age. As mentioned, this generally means that the wine should be consumed within a couple of years of its production else it will begin to go stale and lose its taste.
It features an extremely vivid fruity taste, often bringing apricot, pear and yellow apple to mind. This is coupled with a crispness that is immediately noticeable, making Prosecco a fresh and light wine. The primary aromas featured in the wine take immediate precedence, however this is often at the expense of the rich secondary aromas experienced with richer products.
This in turn ensures that the wine is a popular sparkling white that is suitable for consumption regardless of the occasion.
While Prosecco is a sparkling white, this can come in a variety of forms depending on the fermenting methods that are used. Firstly there is the spumante variant, which is the full sparkling variety and will generally be more expensive than other varieties. This is because this version undergoes a full secondary fermentation in a stainless steel tank, as mentioned previously.
Secondary to this is the frizzante, or lightly sparkling variant. This will usually only undergo either just the first stage of fermentation or very little of the secondary stage, creating a gentler drink that is easier to consume but lacks some of the subtleties exhibited by the more its more vigorously fermented cousin.
Finally there is also a still wine created from the Glera grape. However those in the international market will generally be unaware of the product as it rarely leaves the shores of Italy. Even then it only accounts for a small percentage of Prosecco production and is mostly considered to be an acquired taste.
Consumption Habits both in Italy and Abroad
As previously mentioned, in its native land Prosecco is generally a wine that can be enjoyed during any occasion, providing a wonderful complement to a meal or acting as the ideal celebratory drink. Its low alcohol content sometimes sees producers add a small amount of Pinot Grigio or Pinot Bianco, adding to the overall richness of the flavour.
In fact the wine has become so popular in its native country that it is not uncommon to find it served in cans as well as the traditional bottles. While this is likely not the preferred method of consumption for many, it does demonstrate that enormous versatility of the wine and its popularity with the Italian people.
Outside Italy the wine is generally considered to be primarily a celebratory drink in the same vein as a good champagne. It will often be presented as a gift during wedding celebrations or other occasions and is especially favoured by those who do not enjoy the rich aromas of champagne.
For some it can even be used in cocktails and mixed drinks, with the Bellini cocktail and the Mimosa featuring the wine quite heavily as part of their makeup.
As such this makes Prosecco one of the single most popular dry whites in the world at this moment in time. Its crisp aromas, fresh taste and versatility all combine to ensure that the drink is likely to be a staple of meals and celebrations for many years to come.