Jeff Siegel, the Wine Curmudgeon, is a wine writer, wine critic and wine judge who specializes in inexpensive wine—the wine, he says, that most of us drink. He is author of The Wine Curmudgeon’s Guide to Cheap Wineand teaches wine, spirits and beer at El Centro College in Dallas. WineCurmudgeon.com
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Prosecco, with its light, fruity-flowery flavor profile and affordable price point, has become an everyday wine and the best-selling sparkling wine in the US, as well as the world. And it can be the perfect way to ring in the New Year or any other holiday…birthday…or accomplishment you want to celebrate without paying a small fortune for a similar amount of Champagne. If you want to learn about this tasty tipple that is taking the world by storm, plus some budget-friendly top-shelf bottles for your next bash, keep reading…
From Cheap To Cheerful
At the turn of this century, Prosecco all too often was poorly made—too sweet or even too bitter…fizzy instead of bubbly…and bland, without any recognizable flavors. Then, about a decade ago, Italy’s Prosecco producers changed all of that. They were facing increasing competition from Spain, where Cava sparkling wines offered a better wine for the price. So the Italians started to use higher-quality grapes and paid more attention to the production process.
Today, most of the wines are competent and professional, and many are even better than that. Best yet, Prosecco remains a value, with the majority costing less than $15 a bottle—about one-third the price of entry-level Champagne.
It’s made with the glera grape, a white grape that used to be called prosecco, until about 10 years ago. Glera grapes give the wine lemon and stone fruit flavors, much different from the apple and pear flavors in the Chardonnay grape used to make Champagne.
Most sparkling wine is non-vintage—that is, the grapes used to make the wine come from several years of harvests. Prosecco is no exception.
Prosecco tends to be lower in alcohol, often just 10% or 11% and rarely more than 11.5%. That compares with 13% to 15% for still wines and 12% for most other sparkling wines.
Prosecco is made in northeastern Italy, and only wine made there can be called Prosecco. The lone exception is Australia, which is not bound by the rules of the European Union. The country is in the middle of a legal battle to be able to use the name, which its winemakers feel entitled to as the grape that they’re growing for this wine was called “prosecco” until fairly recently.
Prosecco is a little sweeter than other sparkling wines, even when it’s labeled brut—which is sparkling-wine talk for a dry wine. You’ll also see Prosecco labeled as “extra dry,” which, confusingly, is a little sweeter than brut. In both cases, the wines aren’t as sweet as white Zinfandel, for instance.
Prosecco has a second fermentation in a steel tank, which still wine doesn’t go through. All wine is fermented, of course. This process is what turns the sugars in the grape juice into alcohol. But Prosecco and other sparkling wines go through a second fermentation, which gives them those great little bubbles. Prosecco’s bubbles aren’t quite as tight or persistent as Champagne, giving it a softer texture.
Top Prosecco Picks
These Proseccos, at a variety of prices, provide a taste of what the Italian sparkling wine has to offer…
Carpenè Malvolti 1868 Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG NV, about $30. This higher-end product competes admirably with the Champagne market. It is balanced with tight, bursting bubbles and lemon-lime fruit. The DOCG designation is part of the Italian wine-naming system, which is based on where the grapes are grown. It’s meant to denote a high-quality product made under strict regulations and to assure the buyer that it was produced in the region it claims, since some pieces of land within the same area produce grapes that make higher-quality wine.
Adami Prosecco Brut Garbèl NV, about $16. A bit like a Spanish Cava, with an almost green-apple fruit taste and less lemon and lime. The bubbles also are sturdier. That makes it a zestier wine, and it’s mild sweetness comes across as part of the whole and not something that stands out. Adami is one of my favorite Proseccos.
Nino Franco Rustico Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG NV, about $16. This sparkler is one of Prosecco’s great values, costing about as much as the most popular supermarket labels but offering layers and layers of interest. It’s not quite as soft as the most well-known brands, and the bubbles are tinier and race more quickly to the top of the glass, making a very pleasing sensation while you’re drinking it. There’s also a fuller, richer mouthfeel, and the lemon-lime fruit isn’t quite as candied. This is a great holiday sparkling wine—consumer-friendly in both price and taste.
Valdo Prosecco Brut NV, about $13. This is a Prosecco for wine drinkers who don’t think they will like anything other than Champagne. Whereas most Proseccos have a single note of sweetness, Valdo has more structure, with a noticeable beginning, middle and end. The beginning is almost yeasty, a common quality in Champagne, while the lemon fruit is barely sweet and the bubbles are tight and zippy. It speaks to what wine geeks call terroir—making a wine that reflects where the grapes are grown.
Astoria Prosecco del Veneto NV, about $13. Another oustanding value, the Astoria has an almost creamy quality that takes it beyond the sweetness of the grape. There is some apple fruit to go with the lemon, and the bubbles are tiny and firm.
Prosecco’s less expensive price and softer approach also make it ideal for adding mixers to create fun cocktails. Its sweetness doesn’t need to be enhanced much at all, allowing the character of the wine to show through.
Prosecco Mimosa: This twist on the brunch standard has a tart and herbal flair. Take one-half cup of grapefruit juice, thyme leaves from five to six sprigs of fresh thyme, one tablespoon of honey and a handful of ice. Mix well, strain into two Champagne flutes and add chilled Prosecco. Garnish with additional thyme leaves.
Prosecco Negroni: This delicious twist on the famous cocktail couldn’t be much easier to make. Mix four parts chilled Prosecco, one part sweet vermouth and one part Campari. Serve in an old-fashioned glass with a twist of orange peel.