How is Prosecco Made

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Is Prosecco Made Like Champagne?

To understand how Prosecco is made we need to understand how bubbles get into wine. Any wine could be made to have bubbles, and there are seven basic methods. To keep this article short we’ll just talk about the two that are used for Prosecco and Champagne. Prosecco uses the Charmat or tank method, where a secondary fermentation takes place in a pressurized vat. Champagne uses the traditional method where the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle.

The initial fermentation of grape must (juice) does in fact produce carbon dioxide and bubbles. However as fermentation continues the bubbles turn to gas and vanish. So if we want a sparkling wine the bubbles have to be put back. Here are the methods involved with both Champagne and Prosecco.

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The Traditional Method

With the traditional method used for Champagne a flat base wine is first made. To be more precise, Champagne starts as a blend of flat wines. This is then bottled with yeast and sugar to create a secondary fermentation, and this is when the magical bubbles are produced. The method produces fine bubbles which are very desirable. However it’s a slow and delicate processes requiring extensive know how. Though it’s been mechanized to some extent it’s still somewhat labor intensive and it takes between eighteen to thirty months to produce Champagne. Obviously this all goes to make it an expensive beverage. For many the final result is well worth it, and the yeasty taste of Champagne derives from this method.

Vats showing how Prosecco is made

Pressure vats for the secondary fermentation in the making of Prosecco

The Charmat or Tank Method

So how is Prosecco made and does it differ from its more “prestigious” cousin? Yes it does, and I’d say significantly. Prosecco is made using the Charmat or Tank Method. It was developed and patented in 1895 by the Italian Federico Martinotti (1860–1924). The method was further developed with a new patent by the inventor Eugène Charmat in 1907 and is now named after the latter.

In this method sugar and yeast are added to the base wine, which is then put into a stainless steel pressure tank for the secondary fermentation. As the yeast eats the sugar and ferments it releases CO2 which causes the tank to pressurize. Since the pressure has nowhere to go, it carbonates the wine. And there you have it…a sparkling wine!

The time the wine spends in the tank is variable and it affects the final quality; longer fermentation preserves the wine’s aromas and gives finer and more durable bubbles. This of course will add to the cost, so you can immediately understand why there are price differences when buying Prosecco. Obviously cheaper bottles will have had a shorter fermentation period. However if you enjoy that particular flavor profile, you could save money. As I always say “the best wine is the one you like.”

Because tank method secondary fermentation is so efficient, Prosecco is less expensive to make, and less expensive to purchase. It’s also a lot quicker. The total time to produce a Prosecco can vary significantly and ranges between three to fifteen months.

So is Prosecco just a cheap Champagne?

Well it’s sometimes seen this way, but it’s wrong. Just because the production method is quicker and “more efficient,” it doesn’t mean Prosecco doesn’t obtain levels of excellence. It’s made from highly aromatic grapes, called Glera, (+ up to 15% of ither grapes) and the tank method allows the aromatics to prevail. Thus giving us much fruiter wine than its French cousin, which is exactly what people like.

Some Prosecco doesn’t’ have bubbles

Prosecco comes in three levels of fizz, or to use the correct term “perlage” The most bubbly is “spumante,” then a step down is “frizzante” and the entirely still is called “tranquillo.”

Prosecco didn’t always have bubbles

Though prosecco has a history going back to Roman times, it wasn’t until the chemist and oenologist Antonio Carpenè 1838 – 1902 had the idea of subjecting the still white wine to a second fermentation that Prosecco acquired it’s bubbles. The Carpenè Malvolti winery became the first to produce Prosecco as we know it today.

Prosecco tastings notes

Aromas

Green Apple
Honeydew
Pear
Lager
Cream

Taste profile

Dry & light bodied

No tannins with a medium-high acidity of 11.5–13.5% ABV

Handling

SERVE 38–45°F / 3-7°C
GLASS TYPE White
DECANT No
CELLAR 1–3 Years

Food pairing

Prosecco can be paired with a very wide variety of foods. In particular cured meats, strong cheeses, fish and spicy Asian. It’s just fine on its own too.

Sweetness levels

Brut: With 0–12 g/L of residual sugar.
Extra Dry: With 12–17 g/L of residual sugar.
Dry: With 17–32 g/L of residual sugar.

The fourth level is “Extra Brut” but only the DOCG from Asolo is allowed to produce wines with to 3 g/L of residual sugar.

Quality levels

There are three categories  D.O.C, D.O.C.G, and SUPERIORE.

Prosecco DOC is the basic Prosecco. It can be produced all over Northeastern Italy. While some OK DOCs can be found, you won’t find the best Prosecco here. However it’s significantly cheaper than the other designations. Wines labelled D.O.C.G and SUPERIORE are subject to stricter standards. These include location, a higher percentage Glera grapes (optional 100%) and lower yields of the grapes themselves. Lower yields means better quality grapes with more aromatic compounds. The finished Proseccos have a slightly heavier mouthfeel in the Superiore regions, with more apple notes, and even creamy peach and citrus.

The regions and their labels

Prosecco Trieste DOC & Prosecco Treviso DOC
These two regional designations represent the basic Prosecco.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG
This is a small area within the province of Treviso.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Rive DOCG
Rive means bank or slope in Italian and references 43 hilly locales within Conegliano Valdobbiadene that produce exceptional grapes. This is a tiny sub-region and very hard to find.

Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG
Cartizze is perhaps one of the smallest wine regions in the world, (only 264 acres -107 hectares). It’s located right outside the town of Valdobbiadene. Cartizze has a very low production, and is very highly regarded, but unfortunately it’s not easy to find.

Asolo Prosecco DOCG
Great wines come from here, though the area isn’t well known. There are two hilly spots with excellent growing conditions for the Glera (and other rare grapes). Asolo Prosecco DOCG is the only region that allows for an “Extra Brut” style.


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