Prosecco 101: A Guide to the Budget-Friendly Bubbly

No, it's not Champagne — but that doesn't mean you shouldn't toast with it.

<p>JGI / Jamie Grill / Getty Images</p>

JGI / Jamie Grill / Getty Images

Let’s get something important out of the way: Prosecco is not Champagne. It doesn’t taste the same, nor is it produced in the same way. So, now that we know what Prosecco isn’t, let’s explore what it is.

Prosecco is a white wine produced in the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions of northern Italy. It’s generally bubbly, dry, and made with a grape variety known as Glera. It’s been enjoyed around the world for centuries, thanks to a bright, crisp profile packed with vibrant, fruity flavors, a lively body, and a refreshing finish.

Originally named after a village of the same name in Italy, the Italian government officially categorized Prosecco under the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) in 2009 to differentiate between the grape variety and the actual wine. Like Champagne, which must legally be produced in the Champagne region of France to be labeled as such, DOC is a geographical indicator and quality standard with rules that Prosecco producers must follow for their wines to be sold as Prosecco.

Related: 11 Cocktails to Make With 1 Bottle of Prosecco

There are nine provinces within the designated regions where the grapes must be harvested, fermented, and bottled to fall under the Prosecco DOC: Trieste, Gorizia, Pordenone, and Udine (in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region) and Venice, Belluno, Vicenza, Padua, and Treviso (in the Veneto region). At least 85 percent of the grapes used in the blend must be Glera, leaving no more than 15 percent for other grapes.

In addition to the broader Prosecco DOC, more stringent specifications must be met for a wine to qualify for the category’s Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG). DOCG wines meet the same standards as DOC wines, but must also pass a quality control test to ensure it meets a certain standard approved by the local government.

Prosecco is almost always either sparkling (spumante) or semi-sparkling (frizzante), but a small number of producers do make still (tranquillo) Proseccos.

How is Prosecco made?

Like all wine, Prosecco starts with grapes. Almost all Glera grapes are grown in Italy, and are prized for their high acidity and fruity aromatics, which make a delightfully refreshing wine that typically falls around 11–12% ABV.

Grapes are usually harvested in early September, after which winemakers press them and prepare their juice for filtering and fermentation.

Unlike Champagne, Prosecco goes through the Charmat, or tank method, which means secondary fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks instead of individual bottles. Fermentation in bottles is generally called the “traditional method” (or “Champagne method”) and generally takes between nine months to a few years to complete. Secondary fermentation using the Charmat method takes only a few weeks, resulting in a younger, brighter wine. 

Related: 10 Editor-Approved Proseccos

How to shop for Prosecco

By fermenting for less time in tanks rather than bottles, winemakers can minimize their production costs, which is why Prosecco tends to be less expensive than Champagne. Some Prosecco producers occasionally opt to ferment their wine for a few months rather than a few weeks to increase the complexity of the bottling, and the current DOCG standards allow for this fluidity of fermentation time.

There are a few different types of Prosecco on the market today. To get a sense of how sweet a certain Prosecco is, winemakers will identify the residual sugar content per liter on the label using one of these terms, ordered from driest to sweetest: extra brut, brut, extra dry, dry, or demi-sec. 

How much sugar is in Prosecco?

  • Extra Brut: between zero and 6g per liter

  • Brut: less than 12g per liter

  • Extra Dry: between 12g and 17 g per liter

  • Dry: between 17g and 32g per liter

  • Demi-Sec: between 32g and 50 g per liter

The residual sugar that remains after fermentation makes for a sweeter finish, while lower amounts of sugar create a drier finish. Most Proseccos tend to run a bit sweeter than traditional Champagnes, but it’s worth noting that the comparatively fresher fruit flavors also contribute to a slight increase in perceived sweetness.

What does Prosecco taste like?

Thanks to a faster fermentation and use of Glera grapes, Proseccos tend to impart flavors like apple, honey, melon, and peach with floral aromatics, while Champagne’s more complex body tends to emit richer flavors like toast, nuts, or cherries with a fuller mouthfeel.

Excellent versions of both can be found all over the world, so really, choosing between them is a matter of preference, occasion, and budget. Prosecco’s affordability and fresh, fun flavors make it an everyday treat that’s best enjoyed immediately, so the next time you have a fancy for something not too fancy, snag a bottle of Prosecco and see how it hits you.

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