Long a favored aperitif in Italy, prosecco has caught on in the U.S. in a pretty big way. This is mostly good, as it gives consumers an inexpensive sparkling wine option. It also has helped to pry more people’s minds and mouths open when it comes to Italian wines in general.
Made in the Veneto region, the majority of prosecco comes from Conegliano and Valdobbiadene north of Treviso. The area encompassing these two towns is now called Prosecco Superiore, and it was awarded DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) status with the 2009 vintage. Prosecco has two designated crus — Cartizze, long recognized as a top terroir, and the more recently distinguished Il Rive.
The grape now called glera was once known as prosecco, and the wine must account for at least 85 percent of it. The other 15 percent can be made from verdiso, bianchetta, perera and glera lunga, and in some cases pinot noir and chardonnay. Prosecco can be frizzante, a slightly effervescent version, or full-throttle spumante. On occasion, it is made into a still wine.
Most prosecco goes through secondary fermentation in the tank, not the bottle. Known as the Charmat method, this is less expensive, but the quality is much more variable. Like other sparkling wines, nonvintage — a blend of multiple vintages — dominates the market. While all prosecco is relatively dry, there are three levels going from least to most residual sugar — brut, extra dry and dry.
Light-bodied and crisp with faint apple, pear, stone fruit and almond qualities, even the most expressive versions are fairly subtle. They rarely exceed 12 percent alcohol and are meant to be consumed when they are young and fresh.
Here is the bad part about prosecco’s popularity: Most prosecco is mass-produced and insipid, so you might not have time to sift through them this holiday season. That’s my job, and over the past 12 months I’ve been sipping three that are not just reliable, but downright delicious.
Bisson Prosecco, Treviso, 2010: Known for its fantastic wines on the Ligurian coastline, Bisson also has been making prosecco from the Treviso area for many years. This wine is an IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) because it comes from several subzones. Vinified bone-dry, it is crisp with subtle almond and mineral notes and palate-invigorating acidity. Suggested retail: $19
Sorelle Bronca Prosecco Extra Dry, NV: This wine is very much a family affair, as sisters Antonella and Ersiliana Bronca run this organic estate. Most prosecco producers make a large volume at once and then sell the wine. Sorelle Bronca waits for the order to be placed by the importer or distributor so the customer receives the freshest and most vibrant wine possible. Light-bodied and elegant with hints of slivered almonds and pears, this prosecco goes down way too easy. Suggested retail: $20
Casa Coste Piane Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, Sur Lie, NV: Casa Coste Piane’s Sur Lie is a bit of an anomaly since it undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle, but that is not all. Employing “rifermentazione ancestrale,” the fermentation is triggered by the lees and residual sugar that remain from the first fermentation. Full-bodied with apple cider, almond croissant, minerals and a beautiful, long finish, this is not just a terrific prosecco but an outstanding sparkling wine. Suggested retail: $26
Some of these wines are available through Arlequin Wine Merchant, Beltramo’s Wine & Spirits, Bi-Rite Market, The Jug Shop, K&L Wine Merchants, Solano Cellars and Weimax Wines & Spirits.
Pamela Busch is a wine writer and educator who has owned several wine bars in San Francisco, including Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen.