The increasing popularity of Italian Prosecco among Americans dazzles just like its bubbles. It is everywhere at various prices, mostly inexpensive. Between 2007 and 2009, case sales jumped 65.5% to 750,000 and leaped another 30% in 2010. Without resting, sales bounced another 50% in 2011. In 2012, Prosecco is expected to be the first sparkling wine in the history of bubbly to outsell Champagne. What’s going on here?
During the Millennial celebration, Americans learned to love sparkling wine, and even during the dark years that followed, they never forgot its joys. After the recession hit, price mattered. You can buy Mionetto Prosecco for as little as $10 whereas Veuve Clicquot starts at about $35. Premium French Champagne is a lot more, whereas premium Prosecco from its best older growing regions in Valdobbiadene and Cognegliano goes for as little as $18 a bottle, and the most expensive from Cartizze, a zone within Valdobbiadne, is less than $50.
But the preference is not just for price. Prosecco, made from the Glara grape, is fragrant, fresh, and lively and has fine and long-lasting bubbles and a low alcohol content around 11%. Made with the Charmat method that creates its effervescence, the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in stainless steel tanks and is bottled under pressure. Prosecco is remarkably refreshing but at the same time elegant. Easy to love, it serves as an aperitif but pairs well with a variety of foods, especially appetizers, salads, and light main courses of fish or poultry.
Champagne is another matter entirely. Made from Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and/or Pinot Noir, Champagne is a complex wine that obtains its effervescence from a secondary fermentation in the bottle after yeast and sugar are introduced into the existing wine. Champagne is full bodied and full flavored with yeasty qualities and a higher alcohol content. It can age for years. But while Champagne is more labor intensive to make, it’s far easier to farm the grapes. The premium Prosecco vineyards of Valdobbiadne are so steep that workers have to tie themselves to vines to prevent themselves from slipping down slopes. Vineyards are mostly very small and remain in families for generations unlike the large vineyards of Champagne.
The elegance and complexity of fine Champagne is well established. But to experience the true beauty of Prosecco, you need to taste its finest expressions from the old vineyards of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene in the province of Treviso, wines that will range in price from $18 to under $50 a bottle, for instance the wines of Ruggeri & C. The NV Prosecco di Valdobbiadene “Gold Label” is just $18 a bottle. Also from Ruggeri & C., the 2010 “Giustino Bisol” Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Riserva at $36 a bottle has won the distinguished Tre Bicchieri (Three Glasses) award from wine guide Gambero Rosso for two years in a row. The Giustino Bisol approaches fine Champagne with its richer flavors and creamier, longer finish. These wines are a staple in my house. If you’re not already aware of Prosecco, the winter holidays provide a great opportunity to serve them to family and friends. Happy Holidays to each and all of you, from my house to yours!