Prosecco, Prosecco Superiore, & Cartizze: Incredible Values from the Best Producers
Sales of Prosecco are exploding in the US, UK, Italy, and everywhere else where consumers seek sparkling wine at an affordable price. In this article, we review the best of the current releases. Those who can afford to drink Champagne may turn their noses up at Prosecco, but its rising sales confirm its wide appeal to consumers. There is a lot of ordinary Prosecco in the marketplace, but Prosecco is also moving up scale with terroir and single vineyard bottlings and more brut, as opposed to dry and extra dry, offerings.
Prosecco, of course, is a very different beverage from Champagne, using different grape varieties, employing different production methods, and tasting different with less fizz and flavors more fruity than autolytic. Ordinary Proseccos make great mixers for making Aperol Spritz, Mimosa, or other cocktails. The best Proseccos are consumed as one would a fine Champagne, as an aperitif by itself or with food. In this article, we take an in-depth look at Prosecco—it’s origins, where it’s grown, how it’s made, and which are the top producers.
Prosecco originated as a still, dry wine produced near Trieste, taking its name from the village of Prosecco. Today it’s made in a very large area covering the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions and is most famous for sparkling wine, although non- sparkling Proseccos are produced as well. Sparkling Prosecco was introduced to the US by Mionetto in 2000, and sales have since exploded. By 2017, Prosecco sales increased to 18.5 percent of the US market for sparkling wine driven in part by its low average price ($12.17/bottle) compared to Champagne ($52.35/bottle).
Antonio Carpenè Sr. who was a guiding force behind the creation of Italy’s first school of enology in Conegliano, the Scoula Enologica di Conegliano, in 1876, is credited with the creation of Prosecco. He founded his eponymous winery in 1868 after spending five years in Champagne; he experimented making wine with many different indigenous varieties, selecting the Glera (Prosecco) as the best. He was an inveterate researcher and teacher who taught others how to grow the Glera grape and to make sparkling wine. In 1924 Antonio’s grandson, Antonio Carpene Jr., was the first to put “Prosecco” on the label in response to French objections to the term “Italian Champagne” that had been used previously. Carpene also invented the Bellini cocktail one evening in Venice’s Harry’s Bar, according to an article written in the Herald by the young reporter Ernest Hemingway.
Sparkling Prosecco was first produced in the early 1800s using the rifermentazione in bottiglia (methode champenoise, or methode traditionelle), but modern Prosecco only came about as the result of the development of the autoclave. The autoclave, or closed tank fermentation, was first invented by the French chemist Edme-Jules Maumené in 1852, adapted for commercial use by the Italian Federico Martinotti, and perfected for use with stainless steel by another Frenchman, Eugene Charmat, in 1907. The process of using a large tank for secondary fermentation is referred to as the Martinotti process in Italy and the Charmat process elsewhere. Research at the Scuola Enologica di Conegliano by scientists like Professor Tullio de Rosa has introduced continued improvements in the Martinotti process.
Attention to terroir has led wine makers to adopt a sustainable approach in the vineyard, with many of them converting to organic farming. Others are working on improving biodiversity, such as Marchiori’s work on native grape varieties once widely used for Prosecco production: Perera, Bianchetta, Verdiso, Glera Tonda and Glera Lunga.
Prosecco can be either still or sparkling, but the native Glera grape must represent a minimum of 85 percent of all grapes used. It can be made either using the Charmat process or the methode traditionelle (methode champenoise). The wines range in sweetness from Zero Dossage to Brut (0-12 g/L RS), Extra Dry (12-17 g/L RS), and Dry (17-32 g/L RS). Prosecco wines have become less sweet over time, although Extra Dry bottlings still represent about half the total production. Dry (i.e., sweet) bottlings are about 10 percent and Brut about 40 percent of production. Prosecco is lightly effervescent with about 4 atmospheres of pressure, similar to French Cremant, compared to 6-7 for Champagne.
There are five quality levels of Prosecco. Major changes in the categories were introduced in 2009 with the creation of three DOCGs and the designation of Prosecco as a growing region rather than the name of the grape, which is now only referred to as the Glera grape.
Prosecco DOC: from mostly low lying plains in 9 provinces across the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions and includes 556 communes in total. Many of these plantings are relatively young and planted to a limited selection of clones of Glera. About 400 million bottles produced annually. Prosecco DOC includes 95 communes in the province of Treviso, home to Conegliano and Valdobbiadene; wines from this area are sometimes labeled Prosecco DOC Treviso.
Prosecco Superiore Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG (often labeled simply Prosecco Superiore) wines are from about 7550 hectares of hillside vineyards located in 15 communes in Treviso province in Veneto. [See detailed map in the Annex.] Officially recognized as a DOC in 1969 and as a DOCG in 2009. Has higher altitudes, cooler temperatures, older vines with more genetic diversity from centuries of massal selection, so the wines are more complex and have higher natural acidity. About 10 pecent of the plantings are to other indigenous grapes that add interest to the Glera blends. About 80 million bottles produced annually by 178 producers from the fruit of 3243 growers.
Prosecco Superiore Rive Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG wines are named after the village where the grapes were grown. Bortolotti’s vibrant Rive di Santo Stefano is an example. 43 communes can be labeled as such. Rive regulations require lower yields (<13 tons/ha) and hand harvesting. Some producers also make Superiore Rive Prosecco from a single vineyard, in which case the name of the vineyard is given on the label.
Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG is 106 hectares of steep hillside vineyards just outside of Valdobbiadene farmed by 140 growers. The Prosecco made here is usually on the sweet side, but several producers are now making brut cuvees, and Bisol makes a zero dosage bottling. Bottlings from Cartizze need not carry the name Prosecco on the label. Cartizze has very old and thin marl and sandstone soils and very steep hillsides. Cartizze also has the longest growing period.
Col Fondo In addition to these categories, one can also find examples of Col Fondo and Tranquillo. Col Fondo is a frizzante wine made the traditional method where still fermenting must is bottled, resulting in a naturally sparkling wine. Instead of being disgorged, the lees are left to form a sediment on the bottom of the bottle. Tranquillo is a still wine.
Spumante is not Prosecco, but many Prosecco producers have a spumante rosé in their portfolio. Since the Glera grape can’t make a rosé, producers use a blend that includes a red skinned grape and label the resulting beverage rosa spumante, which, like Prosecco, ranges in sweetness from zero dosage to lightly sweet. White sparkling wines are also called spumantes when not produced in accordance with Prosecco regulations.
The Market for Prosecco
As shown in the graph, Prosecco sales in the US continue to grow almost exponentially. But the US is far from being the most important consumer of Prosecco. Italy, the UK, and Germany consume more than the US.
Tasting Notes and Ratings
Ca’Furlan Winemaker Alessandro Furlan has made wine for years at his family’s vineyard Franco Furlan. His new venture is Ca’Furlan where he purchases fruit from selected vineyards for his fun, flavorful Proseccos. The wines are widely distributed.
Ca’ Furlan NV Cuvée Beatrice Extra Dry Prosecco DOC (90 Points) Showing white peach and pear aromas, this fruity sparkler offers rich, fresh fruit flavors on an off-dry palate. It’s nicely balanced and clean, finishing with a light yeast note. Pleasant drinking and a fabulous value.
Col Vetoraz is located in S. Stefano di Valdobbiadene with some of the highest vineyards in all of Cartizze at 400 m altitude. The winery was established in 1993 by winemaker Loris Dall’Acqua, Paolo De Bortoli, and Francesco Miotto, who is a descendant of the family that first started growing vines at Col Vetoraz in 1838. US Importer: Regal Wine Imports
Col Vetoraz 2016 Valdobbiadene Cartizze Superiore (90 Points) Platinum straw. An uplifting perfume of apple blossoms and white stone fruit provides a graceful introduction to a refined palate showing beautifully delineated fruit and a silky creamy texture. With 26 g/L RS, it’s off-dry (although labeled “dry” in Prosecco) but so well balanced that it seems much drier. Would be a perfect pairing with lightly spicy Asian food. Aged 16 months in French barriques.