What Is Prosecco?


For a Brit like myself, Prosecco basically means cheap Champagne. We don’t care how it was made, or that the grape varieties are completely different from Champagne… it’s fizzy and it’s cheap!

However, if you’re reading my blog, it’s already a sign that you’re above hoi polloi and that we should dig deeper.

If you know anything about Prosecco, it may well be that Prosecco is made using the charmat method (in contrast to Champagne and Cava.) “Charmat” means that the secondary fermentation takes place in a tank and the subsequent sparkling wine is filtered and bottled under pressure to maintain the bubbles. The majority of Prosecco that you find in conventional supermarkets is indeed made using charmat. But if you’re into your natural wines, you may have heard of col fondo prosecco, which is very different. (More about that soon.)

What is Prosecco? Well, it’s also the name of a grape variety. Helpfully enough, the prosecco grape is the dominant variety for making Prosecco wine. Less helpfully, the prosecco grape is also known as glera. *eye roll*

Anyway, to make a Prosecco DOC, a minimum of 85% prosecco/glera is required. In small quantities verdiso, bianchetta trevigiana, perera, glera lunga, chardonnay, pinot bianco, pinot grigio and pinot noir are also permitted.

Where I find myself wanting to bash my head against a wall is when I have to work out the different types of Prosecco wine.

Contrary to what you may have assumed, Prosecco is not just one DOC. There are many, they keep changing and it’s very confusing.

The Prosecco DOC is much younger than you may have thought. It was only established in 2009 (before, it was IGT.) It covers a vast area, stretching over the provinces of Belluno, Gorizia, Padua, Pordenone, Treviso, Udine, Venice and Vicenza. In 2016, in response to demand from the market, the DOC area was expanded to a total 23,250 hectares, up from 20,250 hectares.

In 2016, 500 million bottles were made of Prosecco DOC.

You may think of Prosecco being sparkling…. but not always! A Prosecco DOC can be still (“tranquillo”), lightly-sparkling (“frizzante”), or sparkling (“spumante.”)

A “Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita” may be the answer, I hear you say.

Yes, partly. The most well-known Prosecco DOCG is that of Conegliano Valdobbiadene. It is always sparkling (“spumante“) and it is made 100% of prosecco/glera. These grapes have to been grown on the hills stretching between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene (*side note – this is the first time we’re actually tied the Prosecco wine to a particular place.*)

It can be found in three different types: “Brut”, “Dry” and “Extra Dry.”

However, scratch the surface a little more and you’ll find other Prosecco DOCGs, such as the “Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG” which made a mere 8 million bottles in 2016.

A mere 8 million bottles, I said. Nevertheless, it’s a very impressive growth of 596% since 2013!

Part of this success could well be down to tourism: the picturesque town of Asolo is the third most visited place in the Veneto (after only Venice and Verona.)

But I have bad news for you: like Prosecco DOC, Asolo DOCG can also be a still wine (“tranquillo”), lightly-sparkling (“frizzante”), or sparkling (“spumante.”)

How else do they differentiate themselves? I recently received the following in a press release:

“When we sell a bottle of our wine we are first and foremost promoting the local region” believes Armando Serena, President of the Consortium Vini Asolo Montello. “This is why we have decided to use autochthonous yeasts for the creation of our institutional bottle. Tasting it, people will immediately remember Asolo hamlet its breath-taking views, secret passages, stunning villas”.

If I’ve understood correctly, the Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG will be made using indigenous yeasts… which will in turn conjugure up all that poetry for the consumer? Jeez, well, I want whatever he’s been smoking!

Just to confuse things further, you know how I started by talking about the charmat method…..? Well, there’s another type of Prosecco, called col fondo, which is not made using charmat. Instead, the initial base wine is re-fermented in the bottle and left unfiltered. The resulting frizzante wine is the traditional way in which ‘bubbly’ wine was made for generations in this area. The stainless steels tanks for charmat only arrived here in the 1970s.

So, at the end of the day, are we actually any closer to having a precise definition for Prosecco?

It seems to me that the problem is that there’s too much focus on the intellectual masturbation and far too little thought on communicating sensibly to the consumer.

Does the consumer actually care if the bottle is an “Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG” or a “Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG”?

No. There may be a momentary consideration for the packaging and the price but the key word is Prosecco.

Will a non-Italian know the difference between a frizzante and a spumante wine? Unlikely. (But the answer is here, if you’re curious!)

Will you remember, 5 minutes after you’ve finished reading this post, that Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG is supposedly made with indigenous yeasts? Probably not.

And yet, despite all this, Prosecco is Italy’s most produced wine and is remarkably successful selling in export markets! It’s absolutely baffling to me.

Thank you for indulging me with this rant. I hope it may have helped to explain (to a certain extent) what you find on the label of your favourite Italian fizz. In the meantime, I’m going to pop open a bottle of col fondo Prosecco!


2 thoughts on “What Is Prosecco?

  1. I had a similar rant a few months ago when every time I went into a bar people just ask for a Prosecco and every bottle i shopping trolleys was a Prosecco. It’s a generic thing like lemonade, a form of alcopop for many.
    And yet there are good wines there, Corvezzo that I tasted at Vinisud for example. Happy to share in your campaign.

  2. Thank you for sharing this information. I can’t seem to find a Prosecco that I like…the bubbles dissipate so quickly and they don’t seem to have many interesting flavor notes. What Prosecco do you recommend?

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