Some of us know Prosecco as a celebratory drink. Special occasions are often marked by a glass and it has become so popular in some countries that it is beginning to rival champagne. Others know it simply as a sparkling white wine that makes a perfect companion to practically any dish but is best served with something a little light in texture.
Whatever your own relationship with the wine, we always find that it is interesting to know exactly where it came from and the processes that need to be undertaken to ensure that you get a good bottle of Prosecco.
Prosecco, like most wines, is restricted to manufacture in a particular area as per the DOC regulations. In this case the regions of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene are the main producers, though some other wineries exist closer to the Trieste region that brought the wine to prominence in the first place.
The regions are perhaps best known for their cone-shaped hills, which provide a rich area for the grape to grow in. Vineyards generally take up much of the region, which is best known for the wine above practically any other industry.
The wine is produced using the Glera grape, which was actually called the Prosecco grape until a name change in 2009. The grape is amongst the most important of all of the Italian grapes and some lists place it as high as number thirty out of more than 2,000 grape varieties.
Some speculate that Glera has been in used for hundreds, if not thousands, of years and there is some evidence to point towards it being cultivated during the Ancient Roman era. This would in turn make Prosecco a wine that is rich in history and has an interesting ancestry to call upon to help establish itself from other wines.
In many cases the grape is harvested early in an effort to retain as much of its acidity as possible. This is then balanced out by blending it with another grape, though in some cases producers may create a pure Prosecco that only uses the Glera grape. This will generally be characterised by a sharper taste than the more widely available variants.
Prosecco makes use of the Charmat method of production in many cases, which helps it to stand apart from Champagne as fermentation occurs outside of the bottle. The highest quality variants will generally undergo a secondary fermentation process as well.
Known as Metodo Charmat-Martinotti in Italy, the Charmat method is a process that was invented in the country but has since been adopted by a large number of wine makers from across the world. One of the key reasons that many use the method is that it generally costs less than traditional fermentation methods but does not sacrifice quality in the bargain. This means that the bottles produced are often of a high quality but can be sold for less. This pricing is perhaps one of the main reasons that Prosecco has gained such popularity across the world.
Specifically the Charmat method refers to the secondary fermentation of the wine. This sees the wine placed in a stainless steel tank and covered with a vitreous enamel to allow it to ferment further. In many cases the residual sugars left over by this process will continue to ferment when the wine is placed in the bottle, though this will have little effect on the wine itself.
In recent years Prosecco has exploded in popularity, which has in turn led to the creation of many more vineyards in the region where the Glera grape is grown. A recent figure suggests that as many as 150 million bottles of the wine are produced every single year, with much of it being consumed outside of Italy.
The grape has also attained popularity outside of its native Italy and winemakers in countries as diverse as Brazil and Romania are now using it to create their own wines. It must be pointed out that potential buyers must be wary of any bottle of Prosecco that does not carry the DOC label as they may not have been produced in Italy.
Prosecco makers have responded to this growth in popularity with expansion of their own. Today the regions of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene alone boast more than 150 winemakers that all produce their own variety of the drink, though there are many more besides dotted around Trieste and the hills of the surrounding region.
The wide majority of Proseccos created in the region will be of the type most are familiar, which is to say a sparkling white wine. Italians tend to enjoy the drink during practically any occasion, making it one of the more versatile wines around.
Having said that, there are other versions of the drink that some may be unaware of. This is because they take up a relatively small amount of the production of Prosecco and, in many cases, are rarely made available outside of Italy.
The first is a still white wine made from the same grape. This will rarely be sold in stores outside of Italy and it is estimated that only about 5% of production is dedicated to the drink. The reasoning for this perhaps lies in the fact that most international territories, particularly England, view Prosecco as a celebratory drink and so the sparkling version is much more popular.
A further variant of the drink known as Cartizze Prosecco is also produced. The wine is considered amongst to be of great quality and this is usually represented in the price one would pay for it. The wine is made from a grapes grown in a vineyard of 107 hectares in the Cartizze region, which is shared by a number of Prosecco producers. Some estimates place extreme value on the land due to the reputation for the grapes that are grown there, with some figures stating that a hectare is worth approximately $1 million to a winemaker. Cartizze Prosecco is rarely exported due to this extra cost, though it is truly a drink to experience if you are an enthusiast.