When I grew up, very few knew of Prosecco outside of Veneto. No one meant for it to be a secret but it used to be our secret: the wine we popped open not just for a special aperitivo, at Christmas, Easter, or birthday celebrations, but anytime someone would come by the house, or even, simply, as table wine.
It was made by some wineries and many a farmer in the area around Valdobbiadene, reaching all the way to the town of Conegliano. A small area, meant for a local-ish market. The one at my parent’s table rarely had a label, it was just a dark green glass bottle with a golden top. Sometimes we bought it bottled, sometimes my dad would take the “damigiana”, a big glass flask with a plastic cover, for a refill at the contadino and he would bottle it himself.
“Un prosechin?”, a little Prosecco? The question echoes in my mind every time I travel down memory lane and reminisce of my childhood. Prosechin, the term is a diminutive, an affectionate word used just locally, it depicts a homey feeling. I remember once a priest came over to bless our house, they used to do the rounds in my hometown. In my mind it looks like a comic book vignette, but I do remember his red nose. He was chatting to us, drinking a glass of prosecco we offered him… apparently the previous houses gave him one too.
The wine I grew up with was cloudy, with delicate tiny bubbles, and a light yellow tinge. I knew nothing of aromas, taste, method Charmat, and method Champenoise, not that I know much about it today. It was a simple affair back then. We would drive up to the green, steep, hills and stock up.
In my late teens, my friends and I founded the “Club degli Amici del Prosecco” where we would take over a local restaurant and drink bottles and bottles of Prosecco. We used our heritage to be young and wild, in the meantime, Prosecco was changing.
Fast forward 25 years. The hills are still green (in spring and summer) and steep, the farmers have been outgrown by big producers (some of them turned into producers themselves) and Prosecco is known as far as China.
When people offer me a Prosecco in London I do not recognise my home wine. It is at times more sophisticated, other times just a bit too sweet for my liking, at times, well, at times the big supermarket chain went real cheap and used a bit too many chemicals or god knows what.
In the 1970s 1300 hectares were cultivated with the Glera grape, today it is more than 7500 for the DOCG area of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene which are kind of ground zero for Prosecco. The harvest and the care are done manually, as the hills are too steep for machinery to assist. They produce around 90 million bottles per year, which sounds like a lot but not enough to endlessly line supermarket shelves or to reach the shores of Asia and America. So how can the world pour so much more Prosecco? And is all Prosecco alike?
Well, there is another type of Prosecco, the DOC (instead than DOCG, the G is where the difference is). It is cultivated on the plains at the bottom of the hills, with the aid of machinery. A lot of machinery. From 2009 the area allowed to produce Prosecco DOC was legally authorised to expand and spread through the two northern regions of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia covering more than 24000 hectares.
Around 500 million bottles per year generating around 2.5 billion euros of revenue for the region are pumped out. This caused a few wars here and there… big numbers can create a little trouble.
Staying out of the wars on top of it all in 2009 the area of Asolo-Montello was granted the DOCG for Asolo Prosecco, adding 17.8 millions bottles to the tally. Here, also in the hilly area, they use a mix of manual and automated labour.
Altogether, this is a lot of wine for a big market and we know that when things go global they rarely go smooth.
Deforestation that can lead to ground erosion, intense spraying of pesticides that upset many residents and caused an increase in illnesses and monoculture became prominent local news topics. As a response to alarmist news titles, studies have been financed to find out if there was an increase in cancers given the use of pesticides – the results, for now, show no link and the life expectancy in the area remains one of the highest in Italy.
The good, excellent I’d say, news is that two of the consortiums in charge of Prosecco, one for the DOCG and the one for DOC, are moving fast to solve the issues. The first one forbid the use of 16 pesticides, the latter of 3, but is looking at going, in their own words “beyond biological”. The third one, the Asolo-Montello, is in constant dialogue with the people who live in the area.
On top of it all the Regione Veneto put a stop to new land being turned into vineyards and to the abuse of pesticides.
Now that we can sigh with relief and drink our Prosecco without worry, here is what you should know when you are faced with choosing a bottle.
What is in the Prosecco: at least 85% of Glera grape plus the local varieties of Verdiso, Bianchetta trevigiana, Perera e Glera lunga
DOCG Cartizze: the king of them all. Produced only in a small area which is the same since 1969. This is the one for celebrations.
DOCG Rive : this wine is made with the grapes from the steepest hills. It can come from any of 43 selected towns and it can use the grapes of just one town at once. No mixing.
DOCG Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore and DOCG Asolo Montello : you can find it as Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry and Dry, and it comes from , well you guessed it, Conegliano Valdobbiadene or Asolo Montello.
DOC Prosecco Spumante : you can also find as Brut, Extradry, Dry or Demi-sec and you can have Frizzante or Tranquillo. This is the one made in the wide flat land.
Where to buy Prosecco
Driving along the Strada del Prosecco
Where to eat and drink
Locanda Sandi – Producers of Prosecco DOCG
Trattoria Cima – Producers of Prosecco DOCG