Everything You Think You Know About Prosecco Is Wrong

“Generic sparkling wine” and “poor man’s Champagne” are probably just a couple of the ways you’ve typecast—if not altogether dismissed—Prosecco. But if your primary belief is that it’s a budget-friendly stand-in for the good stuff, I’ve got some unfortunate news: everything you think you know about Prosecco is wrong.

Made exclusively in northeastern Italy, Prosecco and Prosecco Superiore are light, refreshing and a far more nuanced wine than many people realize. “Obviously everybody knows Prosecco, but everybody thinks they know what it is and what it isn’t,” says Alan Tardi, the U.S. ambassador for the Consortium of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG winemakers. “People dismiss it. They think it’s not a wine that represents terroir or any sort of long winemaking tradition or any kind of handcrafted, artisan winemaking practices.”

Prosecco and Prosecco Superiore are twice-fermented wines made from the grape variety Glera (it can also be blended with other specific grape varieties including Verdiso, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio), and unlike Champagne that is bottle-fermented, Prosecco traditionally undergoes its second fermentation in pressurized steel tanks called autoclaves. As such, it’s best drunk young—usually within a few years of its vintage, when its lively acidity and fresh flavors are at their peak. (Drinking young is mostly about keeping aromas intact.) 

But its delicate aromas and taste profile aren’t the only things about Prosecco and Prosecco Superiore that you’ve probably mischaracterized. So pop a bottle and let your reeducation begin.

Misconception #1: All Prosecco is the same

“There’s only one Champagne, there’s only one Barolo that come from the designated areas of production, and once upon a time there was only one Prosecco,” says Tardi. But changes introduced in 2009 defined two primary regions for Prosecco-making in Italy—the larger and flatter DOC region, which produces higher yields, and the Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG zone, which turns out far more nuanced wines made according to strict guidelines (these include daytime handpicking). Due to geological differences within Italy’s designated Prosecco-making regions, wines can be richly fruity and floral, and redolent of things like apricots and pears, or more pronounced in their minerality. Production styles vary, too. For example, cloudy, funky Prosecco Colfondo is bottle-fermented, while—get ready for your head to explode—some Proseccos don’t have any bubbles at all. In other words, the Glera grape is also vinified as a table wine without the effervescence. Sophisticated growers are now making single-vineyard expressions called Rive and of course the most prestigious growing spot is the 106-hectare Cartizze cru not far from Valdobbiadene. Cartizze is usually made as a Dry Prosecco Superiore and is considered the highest quality. 

Misconception #2: Dry means dry

What's another fact that’ll make you reconsider everything you think you know about Prosecco? The “Dry” classification is actually the sweetest Prosecco you can get, with 17 to 32 grams of residual sugar (which, though noticeably sweeter than other Proseccos, isn’t terribly sweet). Next comes “Extra Dry,” also the largest category. Local tradition dictates that the wines have some noticeable residual sugar, with 12 to 17 grams. If you’re looking for something dry and clean, go for the “Brut” that has only up to 12 grams of sugar. 

Misconception #3: Prosecco is for special occasions

One of the best things that sets Prosecco and Prosecco Superiore apart from Champagne is its price point—even boutique bottles coming out of the DOCG zone clock in at prices that make them accessible for everyday drinking. They’re surprisingly food friendly, too. “There are so many variations of this wine,” says Tardi, “that they pair with almost everything.”

“You can pair a Brut with Dover sole roasted in the oven with cream sauce and freshness, and the dryness and the minerality is a really beautiful match. On the higher sugar end of the scale, you can take an Extra Dry or even a Dry, if it has a good acidity and minerality to balance it out, and have it with Asian food or spicy food, and it’s perfect. And then you have the bubbles on top of that, which help cleanse your palate. It’s a great accompaniment to food in all its different guises.”

Misconception #4: The only way to drink it is from a flute

While a tall, elegant glass is certainly the most dramatic vessel for Prosecco (or any bubbly), the narrow shape doesn’t allow much of the surface area of the wine to come into contact with oxygen, and blocks your nose from sucking up all of those green, fruity and floral aromas—meaning you won’t enjoy your wine as much. The better option: a plain-old white wine glass with a more open bowl or even a Prosecco Superiore glass (yes, such thing exists), whose tulip shape was specifically designed to enhance Prosecco’s natural characteristics.

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