From the Vineyard: Prosecco makes a holiday sparkle

It’s holiday season, and at one time, that would have made it natural for a wine column to feature Champagne. That’s not necessarily true anymore. Other sparkling wines, notably Prosecco, have overtaken Champagne and Prosecco is now the most popular bubbly in America.

Prosecco is an Italian sparkling white wine. Prosecco can be spumante (“sparkling”) or frizzante (“semi-sparkling”).

The wine is made from Glera grapes, formerly also known as Prosecco, but producers can use up to 15 percent of other grape varieties, such as Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera, Glera lunga, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio or Pinot Noir.

The name comes from the village of Prosecco near Trieste in northeast Italy where the grape and wine originate, though that’s not the source of most of the wine today. The higher volume Prosecco DOC is produced in nine provinces in the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions.

Prosecco Superiore DOCG, the “better” wine, is mostly Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG, which can only be made in the Treviso province of Veneto on the hills between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene (north of Treviso). Smaller Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG is from the town of Asolo.

Many people think that Prosecco is sweet, but it’s typically not. Until the 1960s, however, it was generally sweet and similar to Asti spumante wine.

Today’s quality dry wines were introduced into the widespread U.S. market in 2000 by Mionetto, which is now the largest importer of Prosecco. They contain about one percent sugar, similar to most Champagnes and other quality sparkling wines. They don’t taste sweet, however.

Master winemaker Francesco Mionetto opened his winery in Valdobbiadene in the heart of the Prosecco area just north of Venice in 1887. In 1982, the Mionetto family adopted the Charmat method, in which the secondary fermentation that creates the bubbles of carbon dioxide, occurs in a pressurized tank, not in a wine bottle like Champagne. In effect, the tank is like a giant bottle. It’s easier (and cheaper) to use a big tank.

The first fermentation for either kind of bubbly is conventional, but the grapes are picked less ripe and the final alcohol content of the wine is typically about 11 percent.

Prosecco is typically fresher, with more complex fruit aromas, whereas Champagne and its sisters exhibit more yeasty and less fruit flavors. Wine lore says that the complex aromas are “better” but most people naturally prefer fruit.

I think that makes Prosecco better for most family celebrations and other events where most of the people aren’t wine sophisticates. Even snobs rarely turn down good Prosecco.

Prosecco doesn’t age well, unlike some fine Champagnes and other such sparklers. Drink it within a year or two. It should be greenish yellow.

The heart of Prosecco production is Valdobbiadene, where Mionetto has worked for more than 100 years. Mionetto performs its secondary fermentation and bottling on demand from wine stored cold, which ensures freshness. Valdobbiadene and Conegliano are considered the top products, though a tiny area called Cartizze produces more expensive wines.

The “basic” Mionetto Prosecco is only $14 with the Valdobbiadene version just $19.

Paul Franson lives in Napa Valley, CA.

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