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.
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
BiancaVigna was founded in 2004 by the sister and brother team Elena and Enrico Moschetta. Enrico is the winemaker and vineyard manager, while is sister is business manager. They manage 12 ha of vineyards, including 5.5 ha in Pieve di Soligo, 3.2ha in Conegliano, and 2.8ha in Soligo. The winery is located in San Pietro di Feletto. US Importer: Indigenous Selections
BiancaVigna NV Brut Prosecco 87 This Brut is fun and easy drinking with fine bubbles and bright citrus and apple aromas and flavors. Made of 100% Glera from San Pietro di Feletto and Soligo, it would serve as a great base for a Sunday brunch mimosa. RS 12 g/l. With an annual production of 80 thousand bottles, this is the standard bearer for BiancaVigna. BiancaVigna 2016 Brut Prosecco Superiore Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG 88 Fresh, fruity apple and pear are the hallmarks of this Prosecco Superiore. It’s smooth and lightly effervescent with a bright, autumn apple core, finishing with good length and a continuation of the orchard fruit theme. Very pleasant as an aperitif wine. Grapes are sourced at the Monticella vineyards in Conegliano. 9.9 g/L RS BiancaVigna 2015 Rive di Soligo Prosecco Superiore Brut Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOC 90 This single vineyard Prosecco Superiore is a clear step up in quality from the average Prosecco. It shows light yeast and floral notes on the nose, a refined mousse, and an attractive stony minerality that persists on the finish. A very good, single vineyard sparkler from Prosecco’s best growing area. Would be a good pairing for fish dishes. BiancaVigna NV Cuvée 1931 Spumante Rosa (88) Very pale oeil de perdrix. Reticent aromas of minerals and white flowers. The Rosé Brut is clean, pure, and tart recalling green apple and pink grapefruit. A pleasant, thirst quenching beverage.
Cantina Bisol Desiderio & Figli This estate dates back to 1542, and the winery dates from 1875. Today, Gianluca Bisol is CEO, and his brother Desiderio, a graduate of Conegliano, is chief enologist. They have 20 organically farmed vineyards, including on Cartizze. They’ve grown rapidly, from 8300 cases in 1987 to 250 thousand cases today; at the same time, they’ve grown from 7 to 77 ha of estate vineyards, although they also purchase grapes from other growers. In 2014 they became partners with the sparkling wine producer Ferrari in Trento. Unusual for Prosecco, Bisol makes six Proseccos using the metodo classico (champenoise). US Importer: Wilson Daniels
Bisol 2016 Crede Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore ($24) 88 Crede is a fruity, straightforward off-dry bubbly that would pair well with fruit salad or wedding cake. It exudes ripe apple scents and flavors. The label says “brut”, but it tastes more like an “extra dry”. 85% Glera, 10% Pinot Bianco, 5% Erdiso. Alc 11.5% “Crede” refers to the marine limestone subsoil of the growing area. Bisol 2013 Private Cartizze Dosaggio Zero Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze ($85) 91 This zero dosage, bottle fermented sparkler is made from 100% Glera grapes from Cartizze. Shows minerals and bread dough with notes of apple and pear on the nose. It’s bone dry with a very fine mousse, yeasty flavors, and understated fruit. Bisol 2014 Private NoSO Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore ($47) 92 Fragrant aromas of almonds, bread dough and a touch of ripe pear lead to a dry, crisp palate with a fine mousse and vibrant acidity and overall freshness. Rich autolytic notes show on the palate and finish. 100% Glera grapes. 0.5 g/L RS. No sulfites added to this “natural” Prosecco.
Cantine Umberto Bortolotti Bruno and Emanuela Bortolotti established their winery in 1947 in Valdobbiadene. Bruno is passionate about Prosecco and is one of the founders of the Consorzio di Tutela del Prosecco. Today his son Bruno manages the winery. The wine reviewed here, the Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Rive di S. Stefano Montagnole is one of four single vineyard DOCG wines produced by Bortolotti. Annual production is about 900 thousand bottles. US Importer: Marc de Grazia Selections
Bortolotti 2012 Vigneto Montagnole Valdobbiadene Rive di S. Stefano 91 The aromas of the single vineyard Bortolotti Rive di S. Stefano recall yeasty bread dough, pear and shortbread. The palate is full and dry with appealing, generous flavors of spicy poached pear and buttery shortbread with uplifting citrus acidity. Finishes long, rich and clean. 100% Glera.
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. https://www.regalwine.com/producer/ca-furlan US Importer: Regal Wine Imports
Ca’ Furlan NV Cuvée Beatrice Extra Dry Prosecco DOC 90 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 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.
Fantinel was established by Mario Fantinel in 1969; today it is owned and managed by his grandsons. Marco Fantinel is the President of the Fantinel group. The winery owns 300 ha of vineyards in Collio, Grave, and Prosecco. The winemaker is Alberto Zanello. Annual production of Prosecco is about 3 million bottles. www.fantinel.com US Importer: Domaine Select
Fantinel 2016 One & Only Rosé Brut Spumante 89 Very pale copper pink. Showing scents of dried rose petals and cherry skins, the One & Only Rosé Brut has a light mouthfeel, tangy upfront fruit, and a medium long finish. A great aperitif and party wine. Fantinel 2015 One & Only Single Vineyard Brut Prosecco DOC 89 Reticent nose of pear, melon and bread dough. The finely textured Brut Prosecco is very dry but fresh with hints of crisp orchard fruit suffused with minerals. Touches of citrus on the finish.
Nino Franco is one of the pioneers of quality Prosecco Superiore wines. Antonio Franco established the Cantine Franco winery in 1919. Winemaker Primo Franco learned white winemaking in Burgundy and after he inherited the family winery in 1982 introduced temperature controlled steel fermentation tanks. The only vineyard owned by Nino Franco is the 2.4 ha Greve di Stecca vineyard with rocky limestone soils located just outside Valdobbiadene. Annual production is about 100 thousand cases. US Importer: Terlato Wines International
Nino Franco NV Prosecco Brut Valdobbiadene ($27) 90 Pale Straw. A very pleasant, finely textured sparkler with light orchard and citrus fruit aromas and flavors. Finishes crisply with good sugar-acid balance. Just 11% alc. 100% Glera. 25 thousand bottles produced. Nino Franco 2015 Vigneto della Riva di San Floriano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG ($29) 91+ Showing a fine mousse, this is a very fine Prosecco with scents of white flowers, citrus, and minerals. Very bright and lively with prominent minerality, a fine texture, and delicious, fresh fruit, finishing long and fine with yellow citrus notes. Made of 100% Glera using the Charmat method. Nino Franco 2010 Brut Grave di Stecca Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG ($49) 92 Pale straw. Incisive aromas of pear with nuances of sage and ginger spice. Shows understated orchard fruit with almond and herbal nuances and stony minerality that runs throughout the wine. Sourced from an ancient, walled single vineyard with southern exposure, the Grave di Stecca is one of Prosecco’s most distinctive wines, so distinctive that the authorities don’t allow it to put the name Prosecco on the label. 7 g/l RS
Primaterra NV Brut Prosecco DOC 87 An easy drinking Prosecco showing notes of poached pear and yeast on the nose. Pear and chalky minerals show on a clean palate. Its neutral character makes it an excellent mixer–add a bit of Aperol or Cassis. Primaterra NV Rosé Extra Dry Vino Spumante 88 Strawberries permeate this friendly sparkler. The color is a strawberry pink, and the aromas and flavors recall strawberry jam. It’s creamy, soft, and off dry, a perfect match for white wedding cake.
Rebuli Angelo Rebuli put this winery on the map, and today his sons Gianni, Paolo and Mauro continue his work. Mauro is the winemaker. The estate is located at the foot of the Prealpi Trevigiane in the village of Saccol di Valdobbiadene nearethe River Piave. Only the In Fondo Prosecco is reviewed here, but Rebuli makes a full range of Proseccos including Cartizze and a Zero Dosage Prosecco Superiore. US Importer: Kysela
Rebuli NV Prosecco In Fondo 89 Made using the methode ancestrale where the wine is bottled prior to the end of fermentation, with fermentation continuing in bottle, thereby creating a lightly effervescent wine. The Rebuli In Fondo shows an exuberant green apple nose and apple and pear flavors with lemon and thyme notes on a lightly fizzy palate. It has bright acidity and finishes with good fruity length and very dry (0 g/l RS). This is an unfussy, festive wine for consuming with casual fare. Light in alcohol, too. Picked by hand, softly pressed.
Zardetto Fabio Zardetto, the owner and winemaker, is the latest in a long line of winemakers on both his parents’ sides. His grandfather was a researcher at the Real Stazione Sperimentale, and his father, Pino, established the Zardetto winery in 1969. Fabio was manager of the Consorzio Prosecco di Conegliano from 1982 to 1995 prior to taking charge at the Zardetto winery in 1998. US Importer: Winebow
Zardetto NV Brut Treviso Prosecco DOC 87 An easy drinking, clean, softly textured wine with a creamy palate and light citrus and apple fruit notes. Made from east facing vineyards using proprietary yeasts and minimal addition of sulfites. 10g/L RS
Annex: Prosecco Superiore