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Wine 101: Prosecco | VinePair

This episode of Wine 101 is sponsored by LaMarca Prosecco. LaMarca Prosecco is an elegant sparkling wine from the Veneto region of northern Italy. Inside each bottle of LaMarca resides a sophistication refined by generations of Italian winemaking. Designed for occasions big and small, LaMarco Prosecco aims to spread contagious joy by elevating the everyday and creating moments to share in celebration. LaMarca Prosecco: Make every day sparkle.

In this episode of Wine 101, VinePair tastings director Keith Beavers discusses the hugely popular Italian sparkling wine Prosecco. Over the last decade, Prosecco has become readily available in restaurants all over the United States, and is now a go-to for brunchers. Fizzy, fruity, and refreshing, the wine comes from a grape called Glera.

Similar to Champagne, Prosecco’s name is also the region it’s made in. The varietal can only be called “Prosecco” if it comes from a limited area in northeastern Italy. This region is most commonly associated with Valdobbiadene, but it stretches almost 35,000 acres across the country to include the wine’s namesake village: Prosecco. Today, Prosecco is a small suburb outside of Trieste, but it began as an ancient village six miles from the Slovenia border. In Slovenian, the town was called Prosek and the grape Briska Glera.

Beavers traces the complicated history and terroir of Prosecco and restrictions on Prosecco production, and explains the newest developments in the Prosecco industry. Among them are Proseco Col Fondo, which is made like a Pétillant Naturel. The organic matter in these wines allows them to age into a new, bone-dry depth. Beavers also hints at  the regions where the  best Prosecco is made, so follow along for some important Prosecco tips.

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My name is Keith Beavers, and do we dip grilled cheese into soup, or are we just going to eat that separately? This is a lot of controversy…

What’s going on, wine lovers? Welcome to Episode 28 of VinePair’s Wine 101 Podcast. My name is Keith Beavers. I am the tastings director of VinePair. How are we doing? Are we doing good? Are we doing all right out there? We’re doing good?

It just rolls off the tongue, am I right? Prosecco. It’s so easy to say. So easy to drink. So fun. Everyone loves it. But where’s it from? What are we doing? What’s Glera? You got to talk about Prosecco and get everyone up to speed.

I mean, how popular is Prosecco? Am I right? I mean, it’s everywhere. It’s in every supermarket. It’s in every wine shop. It’s in cans. It’s in bottles. I had an Italian restaurant for a long time. It was the bubbly pour all the time. It’s affordable. It’s easy to drink. Who doesn’t love Prosecco?

I mean, it’s almost part of our American drinking culture now, even though it’s not even an American wine. It’s Prosecco. But what do we actually know about this wine? There are things about this wine — up until 2009, changes were happening. There’s a lot going on with Prosecco, and you may be a little bit confused if you’ve looked into it, and you may be a little bit confused if you’ve never looked into it like, “Whoa, Keith, well, what does that mean?” The story is pretty cool. So let’s talk about this story and get to where we need to get to to understand Prosecco. It’s so fun to say. All the way up in the northeastern part of Italy is a region that I’ve talked about often in this series, Friuli, otherwise known as Friuli-Venezia Giulia. This is one of the northeasternmost regions of Italy.

In the southern tip of this region is a long strip of land, and all the way down the bottom of that tip is a city called Trieste. It is a beautiful city on the sea. It’s actually sometimes called “Vienna by the sea” because of the Hapsburg rule for so long in this area, it’s also called “the city of coffee,” which I think is very, very cool. And there is a lot of coffee happening in Trieste. It’s a serious part of their culture there. It’s amazing. There’s a lot of history about that, but this is a wine podcast, so we have to talk about wine, right?

So it’s an amazing city. Going north from Trieste, you start working your way north tour towards another really amazing place called Gorizia. And in that area, so much great wine is grown and made in that area. But before you get to Gorizia, you’re driving north from Trieste, and you drive by a suburb of the city of Trieste. The suburb is called Prosecco. It’s a suburb now, but at one time, it was an ancient village called Prosecco.

But the name is actually even older than that. The old Slovenian name for this town was called Prosek. And the suburb of Prosecco, the city of Trieste and Gorizia, this area is maybe six miles from the border of Slovenia. And this is what I find very fascinating. The word Prosek, which is now Prosecco. It’s said that that word means to cut through the woods, and I couldn’t find it anywhere, but what I did find is that there is a word in Slovenian called Presek, which means to intersect or to cut. And the whole idea here is this town, what seems to me to intersect or to cut, would be so close to the Slovenian border, but it was actually probably a town that was a major intersection, people coming in and out of these territories. And grapes were moving back and forth through this town.

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A little over two hours’ drive west of Trieste, you end up in the region of the Veneto, and you arrive at a town called Conegliano. And if you drive a few miles even further west, you hit a town called Valdobbiadene. I know it’s a big word, but once you get it down, it’s another really fun thing to say: Valdobbiadene. It’s awesome.

Between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene is an outcropping of a lot of steep hills. And it’s in these hills, of course, where wine has been made for hundreds of years from a shortlist of mainly white grape varieties. The most popular grape, of course, is the Prosecco grape. There is no other reference of Prosecco anywhere in these two towns, except for this grape. And since around the late 18th century, it seems that there have been other grapes with the name Prosecco in this area that were found because they looked different than the original one they were working with. So for a long time, there was Prosecco Tondo (tondo means round), Prosecco Lungo, because there was a sort of an elongated grape, and Prosecco Nostrano, which means our Prosecco. I’m not really sure why they called it that. And that’s not an important part of this story, but it’s something to kind of put a pin in, because I’m gonna need to reference that later.

Now, in the beginning, it was mostly all still white wine, but at some point in the 19th century, the bubbly wine that we know today began to emerge. And it was done in the traditional method. If you listen to Episode 7, we talk about the different ways of making bubbles and bottles. And this is the original way, the old-school way, the way they do it in the famous region of Champagne.

And of course this would gain in popularity, but it wasn’t until the 20th century, when Eugene Charmat created this thing called tank fermentation, otherwise known as the Charmat method. We go over this in Episode 7 as well, where a wine goes through its second fermentation to create the bubbles, not in the bottle, but into a pressurized tank so you can make more of it. And it’s also less expensive. And when this technology reached this area, it was embraced immediately. Maybe not immediately, but it became the norm. And it makes complete sense, ‘cause Prosecco is not a wine that ages, really. It’s a wine that is meant to be consumed mostly in its youth. It’s refreshing, it’s floral, it’s crisp.

The complexities of the wines made in Prosecco are not about the aging aromas and all that. It’s about what the grape gives you from the vineyard. You’re basically getting that immediate gratification from the vineyard with bubbles in it. And often with a little dollop of sugar. So like, my gosh, it makes sense. This wine became extremely popular. It was bubbly. It was dry, with a little bit of sweet. It was floral. That’s like daytime wine. It’s lunch, it’s breakfast. I mean, there’s a reason why Prosecco, added to a bunch of crushed peaches and pushed through a sieve to make a Bellini, is absolutely delicious. There’s a reason why the Mimosa is “The Mimosa,” and Prosecco is part of it. Of course, that’s not all of it. Prosecco on its own is extremely delicious and refreshing, and some Proseccos actually have a specific focus to them.

There is actually a hill area in the Valdobbiadene Conegliano hills called Cartizze. And in this particular hill, the grape that makes Prosecco, it ripens just a little bit more than other parts of the area so it’s considered a kind of a cru area. So if you see a Prosecco with the word Cartizze on it, you know you’re getting a very refined sort of focused example of the wine that comes out of this area.

We haven’t talked a lot about appellations specifically in Europe in this series, and at some point we will, but I have to say this about Italy because it’s part of the story. The Italian appellation system has really three major categories. The top is DOCG, Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, which just means it’s a very specific, demarcated area with very strict rules to have a name of that area on your label. Then there’s DOC Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which is just a little bit less restrictive than the DOCG. And then after that, there’s something called IGT Indicazione Geografica Tipica, which means as long as you make the wine in this area, it can be called a wine from this area.

And for a long time, the Prosecco wine being made in this part of the Veneto was an IGT. It didn’t have an appellation system, really. And as this crispy, fruity, floral, refreshing bubbly wine became more and more popular, other places around the country, around the region, and around the world basically would make wine and call it Prosecco, just to cash in on the popularity of the Prosecco being made in the Veneto.

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And this went on for a very long time through the ’80s, through the ’90s, through the early 2000s. And it wasn’t until I think 2007 that they started talking about it. And in 2009, something big happened in this area, but this is the moment here where things changed. This is how we see Prosecco today. And the way it changed was pretty intense.

A couple of things were happening here. The “real Prosecco” was being made in this region all over the Valdobbiadene, Conegliano. And then even around this area, up into Friuli, there was Prosecco being made here. And it was being made from the Prosecco grape, or one of the three grapes that are called Prosecco. And this area has a very rich history with this grape, with this wine. And it was very kind of insulting that they would see the wine being made with their name on it, not from their grapes, other places. Also the majority of this Prosecco that was very focused and serious was being made in those hills, between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. So the goal was to secure the legacy of the classic region in which Prosecco became known, while securing the area under an appellation to make sure that nobody else could copy their style.

To do this, it would be best to create a DOC called “Prosecco” and put rules in that DOC so that it has to be made in this area with these grapes to be called Prosecco, therefore securing their name. But the thing is, the history of Prosecco and it’s a legacy could not be told without that town two and a half hours east all the way near the southern tip of Friuli, just north of Trieste.

OK, now bear with me here for a second. In Slovenia, just over the border from Gorizia and the town of Prosecco the grape that is used to make Prosecco in Valdobbiadene and that area is called Briska Glera in Slovenia. And in Friuli, it just so happens the synonym of the grape that makes Prosecco in Friuli is called Glera. So it’s thought that this grape is of Slovenian or Croatian origin, but when it made its way through the town of Prosecco, somehow it must’ve been labeled as such or gained the name Prosecco, made its way over to the Valdobbiadene Conegliano region, and by the time it got there, they were calling it the Prosecco grape, probably named it after the village.

OK, so what happened in 2009 is to create a DOC called Prosecco, starting out in the Veneto. You cannot create the appellation without including the original town the grape is named after two and a half hours east, so what they had to do is they had to create a DOC that was large enough to cover not only the classic area over in the Veneto, but it had to stretch all the way around to the original town of Prosecco, just north of Trieste. And this created a very large DOC, almost around 35,000 acres, which is just a lot.

And then what they had to do was if the name of the DOC is Prosecco and the name of the grape is Prosecco, there could be some confusion there. So they renamed the Prosecco grape. It’s no longer called Prosecco. It’s now called Glera, the word used as a synonym for the grape Prosecco in Friuli. But because this DOC is so big, it kind of would drown out that original classic area. So what they did is they created a DOCG in the original area called Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG. That is one name. So it’s a lot to say. Even the word “Valdobbiadene” is a lot to say. So you often see on wine labels, it’ll just say DOCG Valdobbiadene.

And remember when I was talking about that special hill they have there called Cartizze? Well, that area itself is a DOCG within the larger DOCG, and the name of this one is Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore di Cartizze. It’s a lot to say. And so what you’ll see on the labels for that, it’ll just say Valdobbiadene, and in pretty much big words Cartizze. They want you to know the grapes are coming from that area where the grapes ripen so well.

And wait, there’s more. Within this DOCG that has a DOC in it, they also have this system called rive, which is basically like a village, a commune. When we talk about Burgundy, we talk about communes. So this is what this is. And on the label, it’ll say all those words and then have a name of the rive on there, letting you know it comes from a specific kind of terroir.

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And the thing is, you’ll see a lot of this around. And the thing about this area is they’re basically doing the Charmat method as well, but there are people now going backwards and doing the traditional method as well, trying to get more concentration out of these wines. And just south of all that is another DOC called Colli Asolani Prosecco. And it’s just a small outcropping of hills. They make less of it, you’re not going to see that as much on the American market. You’re mostly going to see Valdobbiadene, but it’s around.

Now the larger area, that huge area is just called the DOC. And not all of these areas have hills. It’s a lot of lower lying elevation. So some of the more affordable Proseccos that you see come from there, if you just see DOC, it’s coming from a very, very large area. If you see DOCG, it’s coming from a small, concentrated area, and now also Chardonnay along with other native grapes can be used and can be blended in. So there’s no more Prosecco grape. It’s now called Glera. And remember earlier, we talked about like there’s Prosecco Tondo, Prosecco Lungo, and Prosecco Nostrano? Well, what’s crazy is that it turns out Prosecco Tondo, which is really the Glera grape that everybody uses now, is a sibling of Prosecco Lungo. One’s a bigger one; one’s just a smaller one. And Prosecco Nostrano, actually through DNA proof, turns out to be a completely different grape called Malvasia Bianca Lunga. So now, it’s Glera Tondo, Glera Lungo, and Malvasia Bianca Lunga. And with the addition of a group called Verdiso, a grape called Bianchetta, and a grape called Pepera, that makes up all the grapes that are happening in this DOC-DOCG-DOCG area.

And last but not least, we have to talk about this new development that’s happening in this region. It’s actually not new at all. It’s actually pretty ancient, but it’s coming back in style and you’re going to see it on the American market. And it’s pretty cool. It’s Prosecco made just like a Pétillant Naturel. We talk about that in Episode 7 of the bubbly episode, it’s naturally sparkling wine. And in this area, they call it Col Fondo, which means “with sediment,” where it’s fermented in bottle, but the yeast is not taken out, and instead the crown beer cap stays on un-discorged, and then goes out to the market.

What’s really unique about this style of wine is the people that are making these wines aren’t really using the Glera grapes so much as they’re using all the other native varieties that I listed. And because of all that organic junk in that wine, the Col Fondo Proseccos can actually age for a couple of years and get a little bit of depth to them. It’s pretty wild. But because there’s no dosage, they’re actually bone dry, but they have a full mouthfeel because of all of the depth it grabs from the dead yeast cells. It’s a very cool, different take on the whole Prosecco thing. And it’s different because the dosages that are used with Prosecco you normally see on the market are going to be mostly labeled “extra dry,” which is about 12 to 17 grams per liter of residual sugar, or “dry” which is 17 to 32 grams per liter. So they’re going to be a little bit sweeter because of that dosage, and Col Fondo just doesn’t have that.

So that’s Prosecco, wine lovers. Now you know when you’re drinking one of the most popular bubblies in America, you know what’s going on. Cool. I’m stoked.

If you’re digging what I’m doing, picking up what I’m putting down, go ahead and give me a rating on iTunes or tell your friends to subscribe. You can subscribe. If you like to type, go ahead and send a review or something like that, but let’s get this wine podcast out so that everybody can learn about wine.

Check me out on Instagram. It’s @vinepairkeith. I do all my stuff in stories. And also, you got to follow VinePair on Instagram, which is @vinepair. And don’t forget to listen to the VinePair Podcast, which is hosted by Adam and Zach. It’s a great deep dive into drinks culture every week.

Now, for some credits. How about that? Wine 101 is recorded and produced by yours truly, Keith Beavers, at the VinePair headquarters in New York City. I want to give a big shout-out to co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin. I also want to thank Danielle Grinberg for making the most legit Wine 101 logo. And I got to thank Darby Cicci for making this amazing song: Listen to this epic stuff. And finally, I want to thank the VinePair staff for helping me learn more every day. Thanks for listening. I’ll see you next week.

Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.


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