There is no denying that Prosecco just keeps going from strength to strength in the Italian wine industry. Now one of the top selling wines in the world, Prosecco’s popularity has eclipsed that of Champagne, and the hits keep on coming. The 2015 vintage is considered by many to be among the absolute best, and may are predicting that the 2017 vintage is going to be a banner year for the wine too.
It really does seem as though the sky is the limit for Prosecco, which has made us wonder how this once humble Italian wine has managed to assume the position it currently occupies as one of the most popular wines on the world. After all, it wasn’t always like this. Though Prosecco has always been popular, it wasn’t always the behemoth that it is today.
That got us thinking about the rich history of the wine, which has surely played an important part in leading it to where it is today.
The Early Days
The first written mention of Prosecco comes from 1754. That is when Aureliano Acanti first began mentioning the wine in his work. However, it is likely that Prosecco had existed for several centuries before it has that name. For example, the legend goes that when Poland’s King Henry III passed through Conegliano on his way to assume his position as the King of France, the community made white wine pour from the hills as though the drink came from Neptune’s fountain. It’s not a stretch to imagine that this white wine may have been Prosecco, or at least an ancient forebear that laid the foundations for what Prosecco would become.
In fact, the Glera grape that is so important to Prosecco production had been used for hundreds of years before the Prosecco name even existed. Records trace the grape all the way back to the Roman era, which makes Prosecco even more historical than the records show. Of course, it is likely that these early Glera wines were not sparkling wines, however, this early usage shows how much respect the grape had earned.
Coming back to that first mention of the name, it was a little less than 20 years later that Francesco Maria Malvolti first made the link between Prosecco and the Conegliano Valdobbiadene. All famous wines must have a region to call home, and Malvoti’s work established what we all know today as the region that produces Prosecco.
The 1800s were an equally interesting period for Prosecco. It was in 1868, almost a hundred years after the association had been made between Prosecco and its region, that Count Marco Giulio Balbi Valier helped the wine take its next major step forward. He was able to cultivate a grape that he named Prosecco Balbi that many believed to be better than all of the varieties of Glera grape that had previously been used in Prosecco production. He went on to publish a booklet that detailed his exploits, which became something of a mini-Bible for Prosecco producers of the time.
1876 saw the founding of Conegliano’s School of Winemaking, which was a watershed moment for the entire winemaking industry. Prosecco led the charge into a new wave of education that would go on to influence the work of many of the winemakers that the next century or so would produce. The early sparks where there that Prosecco was going to be something major, but the wine made even bigger leaps forward in the 20th century.
Entering the 1900s
The efforts of Prosecco producers in the 20th century seemed to focus more on improving the quality of the wine itself. Though already enjoying a great reputation, Prosecco wasn’t really making dents in the white sparkling wine industry. It came a distant second to Champagne, with many people seeing it as something of a poor man’s version of that most famous of wines.
Still, the innovations kept coming. 1923 saw the creation of the Experimental Station for Viticulture, another important wine landmark and educational facility that was based in the Prosecco region. The 1930s saw the industry provide more distinct boundaries for the region itself, which limited the production area and ensured that greater quality was achieved in the majority of vintages.
Prosecco has gathered an even greater following, so much so that the end of the Second World War coincided with the creation of the Brotherhood of Prosecco. This later evolved into what we now know as the Consortium for the Protection of Prosecco from Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, but both organisations dedicated themselves to improving what we would now call the Prosecco “brand”.
Prosecco finally received DOC status in 1969, just a few short years after the creation of the Strada del Prosecco. The first wine road in Italy, the strada paved the way for the wine tourism industry that thrives today.
This important period for Prosecco production culminated in the 1979s, when Professor Tullio De Rosa wrote several texts that informed producers on how to perfect their techniques and make Prosecco in the way it was intended. Much like Valier’s work in the 1800s, De Rosa’s books proved instrumental to the continually improving standards of Prosecco.
The Modern Era
That brings us squarely into the modern era, or the 2000s if you would prefer to call them that. Prosecco has just gone from strength to strength thanks to the work of those in the 1900s.
In 2009, Conegliano Valdobbiadene took its rightful place as a DOCG region, being the 44th region in Italy to do so. It had been a long time coming, as the quality of Prosecco more than justified that designation.
The advent of the Internet has played a major role in the increasing popularity of Prosecco, as it has made the wine even easier to access than ever before. It should come as no surprise that it has grown into the most popular sparkling white wine in the world. Today, people no longer see Prosecco as a poor man’s Champagne. Instead, it is rightfully revered as a superb sparkling white that is every bit as good as any other.