Prosecco is fast becoming “the” drink for a night out, not just when we’re celebrating a special occasion. Price is undoubtedly a major factor in the decision making process, as a good bottle of Prosecco is usually less expensive than a mediocre bottle of champagne, but, also, there are now more and more manufacturers producing truly charming bottles of Prosecco which can be consumed within a year of their vintage. Prosecco is appealing to a wider spectrum of wine drinkers as it is sweeter and lighter than Champagne and less dry than Cava. Such is the growth in demand for Prosecco since 2009 that, according to various trusted market researchers, in 2014 consumers in the UK spent more on Prosecco at their local supermarkets than they spent on champagne, for the first time. In fact, Prosecco outsold both Champagne and Cava combined.
The market research company, Kantar, found that UK buyers had spent more than £180 million on Prosecco sparkling wine in 2014 and just over £140 million on Champagne.
The number of bottles of Prosecco sold doubled to 28 million which is greater than the number of bottles of Cava and Champagne combined.
According to Kantar, the average selling price for a bottle of Prosecco is £6.49 a bottle. When compared with £16.23 per bottle for Champagne, it’s easy to see why consumers have chosen Prosecco over Champagne.
Due to the meteoric rise to the top for Prosecco, some wine experts have even suggested the name is at risk of being adopted as a generic term for any bottle of sparkling wine that isn’t champagne. There is a growing trend for Prosecco to be sold on tap in many British wine bars which has caused great upset among Italian producers, who are claiming that this serving method is actually illegal under 2009 EU rules that lay out strict guidelines regarding the selling methods for Prosecco, similar to the rules which determine the wines that can be called champagne, legitimately. The claim is that Prosecco can only be sold in the bottle.
What is Prosecco?
Prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine, known by many Italians as “the welcoming wine”. It is an increasingly popular alternative to Cava and even Champagne. The name “Prosecco” comes from the variety of grape used to make it, although nowadays it’s more commonly known as the “Glera” grape. The more expensive bottles are made exclusively using this one variety of grape. It is an “off-dry” sparkling wine with tones of fresh, crisp apple and zingy citrus. The simpler production process produces a softer, more widely appealing wine.
Prosecco has a low alcohol content (usually around 11% vol.) which makes it a great, refreshing wine that can be served to guests as they arrive at your celebration or consumed with a light meal of salad, chicken or fish.
Where does Prosecco come from?
This light, refreshing sparkler is mostly made in the district of Valdobbiadene (Val-do-bi-ad-en-ay) close to the town of Conegliano in the Veneto region of North Eastern Italy. This breathtakingly beautiful region of Italy has the sunny Adriatic coast to the East, the Dolomite Mountains to the North and the famously romantic city of Venice in the South. The Glera grape is one of the oldest varieties of grape known to Italian winemakers and can be traced back to a town named Prosecco in Trieste, Northern Italy, as far back as the Roman era. Producers in the Prosecco region are fiercely protective of their tradition and heritage so, technically, outside of this region producers are making a Sparkling Glera wine.
The grapes are grown on South Easterly facing slopes to protect them from the colder Alpine wind and rain coming from the North. The early morning sun provides a beneficial increase in carbon dioxide content required for sugar production within the grape. Northern Italy’s continental climate of warm, dry summers and cold winters with marked seasonal variations in average temperature is the perfect climate for growing Glera grapes and these conditions produce their soft flavours of peach and apple. The slightly sharper tasting grapes tend to be grown on cooler slopes at higher altitudes where the vine roots have to go deeper to find nourishing soil which tends to be more mineral rich.
The growers take their viticulture very seriously, carefully overseeing the wellbeing of their vines from first bud through to harvesting of the grapes at the exact moment they are ready.
How is Prosecco made?
The Glera grape is a delicately flavoured grape and thus Prosecco is not made using the traditional Champagne manufacturing method, which involves allowing the wine to age for several years. The Prosecco “taste” begins with its freshness and so most bottles are released for sale within a year of their vintage.
The Glera grapes are made into Prosecco using the Charmat wine production method. Large enamel covered stainless steel tanks are used and yeast is then added to promote a natural second fermentation rather than the wine being allowed to ferment in the bottles as with Champagne and Cava. The Prosecco can then be bottled under pressure in a continuous process. The whole wine making process takes about 2 months. Use of the Charmat production method means that the original flavours and perfumes of the grape can be preserved for longer.
Critics of the Charmat method have been heard to say that it is used to make some really rather poor quality sparkling wine (consider the worst fizz you may have had to force down at a celebration of some sort), but in this case, the main producers of Prosecco use this winemaking method carefully and creatively to produce some wonderfully charming wines.
How do I ascertain the quality of a particular brand of Prosecco?
With Prosecco being produced in larger and larger volumes in an attempt to meet demand, there can be a tendency for producers to shift their focus from quality to volume.
A wine tasting expert will be able to distinguish the quality of a Prosecco but for those of us who are not real connoisseurs, there are a couple of indicators other than taste that we can use as a quality reference:
Origin: Prosecco is produced over a large region of North-Eastern Italy but at the centre of this region are the villages of Valdobbiadene and Conegliano. Here, producers wanted be able to guarantee their product quality by adhering to a strict production standard under the control of the Italian winemaking authorities. These Proseccos are labelled as “Conegliano Valdobbiadene D.O.C.G. The “D.O.C.G.” reference indicates that the production has been conducted within these strict guidelines.
This label, however, certainly does not mean that a Prosecco produced without it is an inferior quality liquid. Indeed, there are many outstanding, award winning varieties produced outside of this tiny central area.
The Grapes: A quality Prosecco is made using Glera grapes either exclusively or predominantly and then adding a small quantity of Chardonnay or Verdisio to produce subtle variations in taste. The very best Glera grapes are sourced from the Cartizze hills near Valdobbiadene and Conegliano but even these grapes have a slight quality variance depending upon the particular slope where they were grown. If the particular winemaker is also producing Cartizze, then this means that they have access to the very best Glera grapes.
When and how should I drink Prosecco?
One of the main reasons for the rapidly increasing popularity of Prosecco is its versatility. To enjoy Prosecco to the full it needs to be served chilled and preferably on ice, but it can be enjoyed as an aperitif, with a meal or just on its own.
Prosecco has also been cleverly blended with various light fruit juices such as apple, pear, peach or mango juice through collaboration between various beverage manufacturers. These blends are becoming very popular in wine bars and restaurants throughout the UK.