Saluti to National Prosecco Day
Ciao a tutti, this is an updated version of a USA National Prosecco Day article published in 2018 on the official day, which is August 13th. Because I’ve been busy, today is the 15th and Ferragosto in Italy – a national holiday and the Festa dell’Assunzione di Maria (the Assumption of Mary), so let’s raise glass to the Virgin and celebrate both.
Photo by Oliver Sherwin
What is Prosecco?
Prosecco is actually four things: One, it’s the name of the Italian sparkling adult beverage that this blog article is devoted to. Two, it’s the name of (or was) the grape varietal used to create said beverage. Three, it’s the name of a village. And four, most importantly, it’s the name of the northern Italian region where all the geographical, meteorological, and la dolce vita magic happens to make producing the sparkling wine that it’s famous for possible.
Whether you imbibe or not, unless you’ve been living off the grid, you’ve probably at least heard of Prosecco. But for the unfamiliar, it’s a sparkling Italian wine with notes of apple, pear, honey-flowers, and lemon that’s the main ingredient in an Aperol Spritz, the Italian cocktail that tourists and locals alike are drinking everywhere you look right now in Italy as a way to survive the stifling August heat.
Prosecco is also the main ingredient in a Bellini, which I prefer to a Spritz, yet never remember to order. But I digress…prepare to be fascinated (or at least distracted for a few minutes) by some basics and a quick history of this bubbly bottle of refreshment.
Photo of Susegana, Italia by Alberto Caliman
The Prosecco Region
First things first, the actual Prosecco region is wedged between the Dolomites range of the northern Italian Alps and the Adriatic Sea, with over 20,230 hectares (50,000 acres) of grapes growing 50 to 500(ish) meters above sea level in vineyards covering the dramatically wavy hills as they have for generations, because that’s how Italy rolls.
The area spans from the town of Valdobbiadene 70 km north of Venice, past Treviso and Conegliano, all the way to Vittorio Veneto in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region in the far northeastern portion of Italy. Its fiercely unforgiving topography, ancient viticulture, and two-hundred-year-old lovingly cultivated Prosecco vines earned it UNESCO World Heritage status in 2010. (A year after the Dolomites themselves were inscribed, so there’s way more than Prosecco going on regionally, and sì, it’s breathtakingly beautiful.)
The Village of Prosecco
Prosecco, the village, on the other hand, is a province (i.e., suburb) of Trieste that stretches along the Gulf of Trieste on the Adriatic Sea coast 8 km west of the Slovenian border and 30 km to the north of Croatia. It’s 240(ish) meters above sea level and has a population of roughly 1500, 90%(ish) of whom are Slovene, not Italian, which is an interesting side story that would require its own post to tell.
NOTE: the village of Prosecco is not where you go if you want to taste Prosecco…hai capito? For that, you need to visit the Prosecco region.
Photo by Luca
Prosecco is made from an Italian white grape called Glera, which used to be called Prosecco until trademark problems led to protecting the name of the wine by changing the name of the grape. Glera has to account for a minimum of 85% in the final blend, and vintners use Italian grapes like Bianchetta Trevigiana, Verdiso, or Perera, along with French grapes like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir (minus the skins*), Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris to make up the other 15%.
*As of 2021, pink Prosecco (aka Rosécco) officially exists thanks to the approval of the addition of Pinot Noir skins. I personally like Prosecco AND Pinot Noir, and pink is my favorite color, so for me, it’s the best of both worlds. It’s a controversial topic among purists though, who can sort of breathe a sigh of relief since all pink varieties have to be labeled as Prosecco DOC (“Denominazione di Origine Controllata,” the Italian system for defining regions and naming wines).
Prosecco DOCGs, on the other hand (“Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita” – the designation reserved for regions willing to meet stricter control requirements and tasting approval), referred to as Prosecco Superiore, will remain as it is. So really, the only thing that changed is that now the Pinot Noir grape color can be used in DOC varieties, not just the flavor.
Prosecco is made using the Charmat method, which means the secondary fermentation (the one that gives rise to the bubbles) happens in pressurized stainless-steel tanks. It’s also called “cuve close” (“closed tank” in French), which differs from the Méthode Traditionnelle of Champagnes, with its in-bottle second fermentation.
Two quick things before we get to the best part, which is drinking Prosecco:
- Sparkling wine has three levels of effervescence: spumante is the bubbliest, followed by frizzante, then tranquillo, which is the calmest.
- Prosecco comes in three sweet to dry levels, with brut being the driest, extra-dry in between, and dry, which is the sweetest.
Prosecco, the Beverage
Now that you know where it’s grown, what it’s made from, and how, feel free to pour yourself a chilled glass of Prosecco and sip it as it is, pour it over ice and make yourself a Spritz (basic recipe, courtesy of Aperol: 3 parts Prosecco, 2 parts Aperol, and 1 part soda), or go all in with Amy Zavatto’s recipe book, Prosecco Made Me Do It: 60 Seriously Sparkling Cocktails.
Other fun reads: Prosecco Drinking Games: Pick a Game, Pour Some Bubbles, and Get the Party Started, by Abbie Cammidge or The Wit and Wisdom of Prosecco by Emotional Rescue, which is a refrigerator magnet-style retro humor photo book.
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