Sunday, December 2, 2012

Prosecco: Production method and styles

Prosecco has headlined an Italian usurpation of the traditional French role of sparkling wine market leader.  As a precursor to a discussion of this phenomenon, I follow up on a recent post on the Prosecco production areas with today's post on production method and styles.

To summarize our learnings to date, Glera wines produced in specified Veneto provinces and in Friuli-Venezia Giulia are classified as Prosecco DOC while Glera wines produced in the Conegliano-Valdiobbadene and Colli Asolani areas of Treviso are classified Prosecco DOCG.  Glera wines produced in other parts of Italy are classified IGT and are not allowed to use the name Prosecco. Within the Valdobbiadene area, the steep hills around the villages of San Pietro di Barbozza, Santo Stefano, and Saccol are considered the Grand Cru of the DOCG. Another cru-style called Rive has been added where 43 localities with steep hills in the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene region are allowed to so designate their wines.  The requirements for a Rive are : (i) it must be so designated; (ii) production is limited to 14.3 tons/ha; (iii) the grapes must be harvested annually; and (iv) the vintage must be indicated on the label.

The Glera grapes are handpicked and transported to the winery for further processing. The grapes from the Cartizze area are the last to be harvested as, coming from the steepest hills, they are the most difficult to be accessed.

The grape stalks are removed and the grapes crushed after which the must is moved to a press for separation of the juice from the skin and seeds. The grapes are pressed gently in order to ensure that only the most desirable juice makes it into the wine. The remaining material is set aside to be used in the production of grappa.

Alcoholic fermentation is conducted in stainless steel tanks at 18-20 degrees C over a 15- to 20-day period.  At the conclusion of this fermentation, the base wines are assembled into batches and pumped into large, sealed tanks (autoclaves) for the second fermentation.  Sugar and yeast are added to the tanks and the consumption of the sugar by the yeast results in the Carbon Dioxide that gives the sparkling characteristic to the finished wine.  This method of sparkling wine production is called the Italian (because it was first demonstrated as industrially viable by an Italian, Martinotti) or Charmat (the name of the Frenchman who refined the process such that it became feasible for large-scale industrial production), or Martinotti-Charmat method.  It is felt that this method preserves the aroma of the grapes yielding fruity, floral wines.

The second fermentation can run between 20 days and 3 months after which the wine is bottled.  The wine rests in bottle for between 20 and 40 days before being shipped.

The DOCG wine styles are as follows:
  • Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore -- Sparkling
    • Brut -- 0-12 g/l of residual sugar
    • Extra-Dry -- 12-17 g/l residual sugar
    • Dry -- 17-32 g/l
  • Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore -- Frizzante
    • One version undergoes in-bottle fermentation
  • Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore -- Still
    • Least common version
    • From most densely planted vineyards
  • Superiore di Cartizze
    • Sparkling
      • Dry
      • Brut
  • Rive
    • Sparkling

The Prosecco DOC wines are produced in Still, Frizzante, and Sparkling styles.  The difference between the Frizzante and Sparkling styles is that the former is bottled under 2.5 bars of pressure while the latter is bottled under 3.

Top Prosecco producers include:
  • Adriano Adami
  • Bisol
  • Bortolin
  • Carpene Malvolti
  • Nino Franco
  • Ruggeri
  • Villa Sandi
  • Zardetto.

The Prosecco rules provide a fairly tight correlation between yields and wine style as follows: Prosecco DOC wines are limited to 20 tons/ha max; Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Prosecco wines are limited to 13.5 tons/ha and minimum 9.5% abv on entry into winery;  Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Prosecco Frizzante and Spumante are limited to 13 tons/ha and a minimum of 9.5% abv; and Superiore de Cartizze is limited to 12 tons/ha and abv of 9.5%.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme


  1. Congratulations for your post! It was really interesting to read so many details about what I consider one of my favourite Italian wines!

    In my opinion, Prosecco is one of those wines I could drink in any occasion, because it is perfect as aperitif but also for lunch and dinner, in particular to accompany fish dishes. And also with desserts it is great!

    Of course there are many varieties of Prosecco, as you have pointed out in your post, and probably each type of Prosecco goes better with a given food.

    Your post was very interesting also to understand the way Prosecco is classified: I knew that it was a DOC product but I did not know about the differences between different types of Prosecco, and thanks to your post now I am more informed about that!

    I know that the best-known Prosecco is produced in Valdobbiadene, but I also like the Prosecco that is produced in the province of Verona, in Valpolicella! What do you think about that?

    1. Thank you for your very extensive and informative comment. As you do, I also have a soft spot for the Proseccos produced in Valdobbiadene but I have drunk quality Proseccos from many areas outside of that zone to include Valpolicella.