In 2013, Italian Prosecco replaced French champagne as the world’s favorite sparkling wine, probably because it is less expensive and better at comparable prices. A $12 bottle of Prosecco is tastier than French champagne at the same price, especially outside of the regulated Champagne appellation.
At the high end, Prosecco from the tiny Cartizze appellation is around $50 a bottle and is a meticulously farmed and hand-made wine. At the same price, its French equivalent from Champagne is a mass-produced wine from a sprawling vineyard. A fine Champagne, equivalent to Cartizze, will cost at least double the price.
Most Prosecco is made in stainless-steel, temperature-controlled tanks, which permit lower pricing. But some producers are experimenting with the older, labor-intensive methode champenoise, used to make fine Champagne, aging the wine on its leis and adding yeast and sugar to the bottle for the secondary fermentation.
In some sense, Prosecco has been compromised by its own success. To keep up with soaring world-wide demand, vineyard plantings in Northeastern Italy have lately increased enormously. Originally confined to a part of the Veneto, the Prosecco DOC now includes the entire region and has spread into neighboring Friuli-Venezia Giulia, altogether almost 50,000 acres, mostly farmed with high-yields and mechanically harvested for inexpensive bottles.
For a truly vibrant and elegant Prosecco, you’ll need to pay closer attention to the label and spend more, although not a lot. Look for Prosecco Superiore DOCG from Conegliano and Valdobbiadene in the province of Treviso, about $20 a bottle, a great price for such a delicious wine from pristine vineyards. The vineyards are tiny plots on extremely steep hills that have been in families for generations. Nino Franco, Ruggieri & C., Villa Sandi, and Bisol are all fine producers.
Prosecco refers to the area where the vineyards are located, but the grape is Glera. Generally, Prosecco is an aromatic, vibrant, and fruity sparkling wine with pronounced citrus flavors. But if you are dedicated to Champagne, made mostly from Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, and to its rich, yeasty, and complex flavors, you will want to enjoy it during the holidays. But once again, the bargains come from Italy, where its best producers are making equivalent quality at much lower prices.