I have no doubt this article might cause consternation amongst some readers, and indeed I hope it does. In academic discourse, any idea presented is also one that can be challenged. While this is more difficult when dealing with objective concepts such as one’s taste in wine, sometimes it is worth putting in the effort. There is no dearth of good sparkling wine from most parts of the word, so it often baffles me that Britons, and indeed Americans, embrace this cheap wine so readily.
Like most things wine-related in Italy, the history and terminology behind Prosecco is both convoluted and wordy. Like most Italian wines it traces its roots to the period of the Roman Empire, though it’s likely it was made well before that in some capacity. This nascent Prosecco was made in the area around Trieste from a grape called Glera. Until 2009, there was a confused situation between Glera (which had long fallen out of use) and Prosecco, which had come to refer to both the grape and the final product. To deal with this, the grape was once again named Glera and Prosecco as a general area was made into a full DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) which represents all Prosecco, produced across nine provinces. Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG, which is a much smaller production area, represents the “higher end”. Although predominately made from Glera, it often incorporates other grapes such as Verdiso, Perera and Bianchetta, as well as Pinot Noir or Chardonnay on occasion.
I suspect the problems begin with the main grape, Glera, which produces an oppressively fruit-forward, overly floral wine, with a natural sweetness to it. Prosecco wines follow the same European Union regulations as Champagne, Cava, Cremant and so on, thus a “Brut” Prosecco will have a similar dosage to any other Brut sparkling wine. However, because of the grape itself you are left with those fruity and unpleasant tasting notes.
This compounded by what some would call the “easier method” (read: cheaper) of making sparkling wine. This is sometimes referred to as the Metodo Charmat-Martinotti if you are a particularly savvy industry member, though it is far more often and appropriately called the “Tank Method”. The main difference between this process and Method Champenoise is that secondary fermentation following the adding of sugar and yeast takes place in a steel tank, not the bottle. There is also no period of bottle aging which means there is no real development of character or flavour. The result of this is a generally low-cost, low-quality sparkling alcopop. The manufacturing of goods is the same in any industry: a cheap method of production will create a low-quality product.
Prosecco has often been called the “poor man’s Champagne”, which I find frankly ridiculous, since there is a plethora of products cheaper than Champagne and better than Prosecco, from pretty much any wine producing nation and region in the world. The only rival in oppressively fruity and crap sparkling wine I could conceive of is Prosecco’s cousin, nasty Asti. Both are similarly made and thus both are similarly rotten.
I will have to admit to readers that much as I loathe this wine, you will probably find me drinking it anyway. When it’s Saturday morning and you’ve just started brunch with your friends after one too many Old Fashioneds the night before, suddenly the harsh realities of adulthood and choice set in. You either drink the bottomless Prosecco in front of you, or spend the rest of the day dying miserably. If I had my way, I’d scrap any form of branding on a Prosecco bottle, and instead slap over a large label which reads “Drink Only In Emergencies”.
Image: Adrian Scottow